OnQ Blog

Buying Chips with Credit: NFC Invades the Break Room

Apr 5, 2013

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Earlier this year, Qualcomm’s break rooms got a serious technology upgrade with NFC vending machines. Although we’re still stuck with the same candy options, the new machines now accept both credit card and smartphone payments via Near Field Communications (NFC).

The mechanism in the picture (above) is the payment point of contact for credit cards and smartphones. After you choose a junk food, all it takes is a swipe of a credit card or tap of a NFC smartphone to make the purchase.  Similarly, you can tap your credit card against the machine to pay if it has a RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) chip.

Most of the popular phones from 2012 have NFC, but only a handful can actually make NFC payments.  This barrier is not because of technical hurters, but about partnerships and politics.  For example, Google has a NFC payment app for Android called “Google Wallet,” which allows you to make payments with most major credit cards. Unfortunately, most carriers block this app from use on many popular Android smartphones because these carriers are developing their own versions of the technology.

For example, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have created their own mobile payment application called ISIS. The app is currently available on select Android phones in Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City.In June Microsoft announced that an ISIS app is coming to Windows Phone 8 sometime in 2013.

To buy potato chips from this vending machine, I used a Google Nexus 4 -- one of the carrier unlocked Android smartphones with Google Wallet. After I selected potato chips, I held my phone up to the credit card mechanism on the vending machine. I didn’t even have to open the app before making the purchase. By holding the Nexus 4 against the vending machine, the mechanism’s RFID ping’ed the NFC radio on the Nexus 4 and the smartphone opened Google Wallet and processed my credit card information.  Check out the video below to see the process in action. 

Do I hope that this trend will become the norm for all vending machines? Yes. I love being able to use my credit card at a vending machine, simply because I hate using cash. Spending time trying to flatten a dollar bill to work with the vending machine, or not being able to make a purchase because I don’t have cash on me is the worst.

The larger question is whether we will eventually eliminate our plastic credit cards all together and use our smartphones instead. I think the ultimate endgame is eliminating the wallet all together, perhaps in exchange for a smartphone or a smartphone wristwatch.

Nearly everything that used to live in our wallets can now be stored in our smartphones: business cards, coupons and now credit cards. My wallet used to be huge! It was filled with business cards, loyalty cards, a Starbucks card, and random coupons. Now I have a Starbucks app, a CVS app , Groupon, and I just email people my contact information. If credit card payments via NFC become the norm, we’ll be one step closer to leaving our wallets at home.

I’m not sure the US government is rushing to create a driver’s license for our virtual smartphone wallets just yet, but hopefully someone is working on it. I’m looking at you Facebook, Google and Microsoft—figure it out! I hate carrying a wallet!

PJ Jacobowitz

Senior Manager, Marketing

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