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To Fend Off Apple, Google Might Let You Pay With Your Voice

Plaso is a new experimental system being tested by Google employees.

To Fend Off Apple, Google Might Let You Pay With Your Voice
[Photo: Flickr user Sergio Uceda]

For a while, it seemed like mobile payments were a geek’s dream wrapped in a whole lot of hype. But with last year’s launch of Apple Pay, the space has heated up, forcing Cupertino’s competitors to get serious about the future of how we’ll pay for things.

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For its part, Google is betting we’ll want to buy things using only our voices. That’s the idea behind Plaso, a new payments system that Google is reportedly testing out at a few select retailers. To authenticate a purchase, the user need only say his initials out loud.

The original report from The Information reveals very little detail about how Plaso actually works, but says the system is being used by Google employees to buy grub at Panera Bread and Papa John’s locations. Presumably, Google is using some kind of biometric audio identification here to verify one’s voice, much like Apple does with fingerprints in Touch ID.

As The Information is quick to point out, Plaso is only experimental at this point, so it might not ever see the light of day (outside of Papa and Panera). But either way, it’s a bold new technological feat designed to breathe new life into Google Wallet, the company’s older, yet decidedly underutilized, mobile payments system.

The pressure is on for Google to devise a strategy against Apple Pay, even if Plaso turns out to be another moonshot stuck in the Google X lab. Apple’s system launched last year with several prominent retail partners–including Urban Outfitters, Macy’s, and Walgreens–and enjoys the typical auto-legitimatization that tends to happen when Apple launches a new product, regardless of who was doing it first. Just today, Starbucks added support for Apple Pay within its own iOS app.

Meanwhile, Square–which was once a celebrated pioneer of mobile money–is now trying figure out its own role in the future of wireless payments. The high-valued startup was already struggling to find its way and forge new revenue sources after losing $100 million in 2013. Then Apple unveiled Apple Pay. (Starbucks, now an Apple Pay partner, broke off its partnership with Square just two months ago.)

Now, Square is reportedly working on an Android-based tablet of its own as a replacement for the iPad-based register many small businesses use today.

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If any incumbent can forge a formidable competitor to Apple Pay, it’s probably Google. That isn’t to say that there aren’t hurdles to overcome, the least of which is convincing you not to feel weird paying for your frappuccino by yelling your initials.

[via The Information]

About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things.

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