Forget Android Pay, Google wants you to leave the phone behind with Hands Free

Turns out Android Pay is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Google’s plans for payments. At a Google I/O developer session, the company demonstrated Hands Free, a mobile commerce system that works sans wallet and smartphone.

Still in the “early prototype stage,” according to Google ads and commerce exec Sridhar Ramaswamy, Hands Free seems fairly seamless. Tell the cashier or clerk behind the counter of a participating business that you “want to pay with Google,” and the cashier will see an image of your face and your name on the register. Then, the service works its magic, which is presumably a combination of geofencing and cloud-saved banking credentials, to verify your identity and the transaction behind the scenes. Once the transaction has gone through, you’ll have made your purchase without ever pulling out your wallet or phone.

Google’s launched a website for Hands Free with a sign-up form for individuals and merchants looking to partake in future tests. “When you make a purchase, your full card details will not be shared with stores,” the page’s description reads. “Once you complete a purchase, you’ll receive an instant notification right on your phone. We’ll also alert you to any unusual activity so you can go hands-free and be worry-free.”

Google plans to field test Hands Free at McDonald’s and Papa John’s branches throughout the San Francisco Bay Area soon, Ramaswamy said. Chief Digital Officer of McDonald’s Atif Rafiq, who made a surprise appearance at the session, said Hands Free ushers in “an entirely new level of convenience.”

However, it’s not clear whether Google’s attempt at truly touchless payments will prove any more successful than the projects that’ve come before it. Square launched a similar effort, Wallet (which launched as Pay with Square) two years ago, but despite deals with big-name chains like Starbucks, low usage forced the company to shutter the service for good last May.

It won’t be easy to convince customers to leave the credit card at home, and Google likely knows it, but the company’s in it for the long game — Ramaswamy said the plan is to roll out Hands Free over “years.”


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