MasterCard Explores Google Glass

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MasterCard is actively building payments capabilities for Google Glass, Google's wearable computing device.

The Purchase, N.Y. card network is working to combine Google Glass with its MasterPass digital wallet and with QkR, a MasterCard mobile application that enables payments by reading QR codes and through other means.

"Every device is going to be a commerce device," says Garry Lyons, chief innovation officer and head of MasterCard Labs. "It's not about the payment but about making life easier."

Google is currently testing its Google Glass headset with app developers and other users who paid $1,500 for early access to the device. The headset fits like a pair of glasses, with a small screen above the wearer's right eye. It responds to voice commands and has a built-in camera and touch-based controls.

"[MasterCard's project] helps people understand how Google Glass can work for payments," Lyons says.

With MasterCard's technology, consumers would use Google Glass to order food, groceries or other services ahead of time—which is the core function of QkR. MasterPass users could search for local merchants and initiate payments through Google Glass. There's no upgrade needed on the merchant's end, and the consumer can access payment cards that have been loaded onto the MasterPass wallet. 

"I may have multiple cards, prepaid or credit, and can make the payment directly from Google Glass," Lyons says. "The merchant doesn't know if it's the Google Glass, or a mobile device or a PC. They just know they've gotten paid."

MasterCard's Google Glass projects are still a "proof of concept," and have not yet been rolled out. Google Glass is itself still under development, with an app store planned for next year.

MasterCard has also developed notifications for Google Glass. Users are alerted when a card is used. "It's similar to a text message, but it's slicker because you see it on Google Glass," Lyons says

There is room for improvement in the user experience for Google Glass, Lyons says. Google Glass could make broader use of voice controls instead of requiring the user to tap the side of the device to execute certain functions — a "clunky" experience, he says, though he predicts it will improve over time.

MasterCard is also examining uses for Samsung's new Galaxy Gear smartwatch. Wearable computing fits well with MasterCard's strategy of adding services ahead of the payment.

"When I wake up I don't think, 'I can't wait to go the coffee shop and pay for my breakfast.' What I want to do is know if there's a special offer, so I can order ahead and pay easily," Lyons says.

Other payments companies are also experimenting with the early version of Google Glass.

LevelUp, for example, is focusing on ways for merchants to use Google Glass in their stores. In LevelUp's tests, Google Glass replaces the handheld QR-code reader the company uses as part of its mobile payment system.

"As with all new wearable computing, there is an experimental phase going on where companies are exploring multiple revenue streams to see what will stick," says Nick Holland, a senior payments analyst for Javelin Strategy & Research.  "Certainly the idea of seeing something you like in a store or being worn by someone on the street and being able to make a purchase of said item online there-and-then is something companies such as Amazon and Google are looking into already, and Google Glass lends itself well to this form of commerce."

However, Google is currently limiting its distribution of Google Glass, meaning any Glass-based payment systems are a proof of concept at this time, Holland says.

"Even mobile payments are still in their infancy, and that is with more than half of mobile subscribers owning smartphones," he says. "We are probably still years off from wearable devices reaching any level of ubiquity that would allow transactions to reach a meaningful level."

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