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Can Google Solve The Age-Old Problem Of Splitting Checks?

A patent filing shows the company is thinking of incorporating bill-splitting capabilities into Google Wallet.

Tired of shouldering the burden of deadbeat friends? Splitting the bill isn't exactly a new concept—we've seen it with Uber fares, and OpenTable is also considering adding it as a feature as it tests mobile payments—but Google is going one step further, filing a patent for tracking and managing group expenditures.

The title of the patent filing might sound more like software for business expenses, but the technology detailed seems more destined for an app that notes the amount each person owes and transfers funds to the person in the party who picked up the tab. The patent filing shows the Mountain View company is likely thinking of incorporating bill-splitting capabilities into Google Wallet. Earlier this year, Google also debuted a way to send money using Gmail and Google Wallet.

As an example, the filing gives a hypothetical situation where four friends are vacationing in Miami.

While on vacation, one of the days only three of the friends (Friends 1-3) go eat lunch at a restaurant because Friend 4 is not hungry at the time. The bill for lunch is $60 and Friend 1 pays the bill using a mobile payment service available on his device 104. Friend 1 adds the lunch as an expenditure of the group. When the form is presented to Friend 1 for the lunch, Friend 1 indicates that the lunch should be allocated to Friends 1-3. The lunch is not allocated to Friend 4 because Friend 4 did not participate in the lunch. Further, Friend 1 provides the following amounts of allocation in the form: Friend 1 $25, Friend 2 $16, and Friend 3 $19. In this example, the amount of allocation for each friend is based on what each friend ordered during lunch.

The flow chart below details how the feature would work. Though the app makes it easy to collect money owed, it does require the group or the person paying the group bill to do basic arithmetic to figure out how much each person owes.

[Image: Flickr user Steve Snodgrass]

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  • Tristan Ratchford

    This problem only exists in the US! The software in restaurants can already support organizing and splitting items, but requires the server to enter them. In Canada, it's very common to ask them to split the bill and receive individual bills. Many times in Montreal I have been in a group of ten plus people and the servers were able to split the bill among us and even split items among subgroups (e.g. some people splitting a bottle of wine or a plate of nachos, but not others).

    I know that the counter argument will be that it substantially slows down the server, but I don't buy that. It takes only takes a bit of bookkeeping and an extra button presses on the computer. Also, you'll get higher table turnover because you don't have ten people crowded around a bill with a pen writing credit card numbers on the back of the bill.