Google Beats Apple To NFC Mobile Payments With Google Wallet

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As rumored, Google just announced their new service, Google Wallet… and unless Apple has some surprises up its sleeves when it comes to NFC, it looks likely that the search giant will have a year’s head start on Cupertino when it comes to the lucrative and burgeoning market of mobile payments.

Calling Google Wallet an “open” platform — a claim that will inspire either skeptical guffaws or trepidations of horror from those who have been following the debate about the Android platform’s so-called “openness” — Google Wallet will allow you to store your credit card, loyalty card or gift card information locally and securely on your Android phone, beaming it to merchants with just a wave of your NFC-equipped handset.

At first, Google will be just partnering with Mastercard, who will allow Google Wallet to be used at hundreds of thousands of existing PayPass terminals. As a stop gap until Google gets more credit partners on board, they’ll also be offering a virtual Google Prepaid Card which can be funded by any credit card, and which also comes with a $10 sign-up bonus and no transactions fees.

Google will also be launching Google Offers, which is a virtual couponing service tightly linked to Wallet. You will be able to store “clippings” of offers or deals at various merchants in Google Wallet, and these deals will then automatically be applied when you pay for the service with Google Wallet. This is actually pretty neat.

Right now, there’s not a lot of handsets short of Sprint’s Nexus S 4G that come with NFC, but by 2014, it’s thought that over 150 million handsets will be sold every year with NFC… including the iPhone.

This is potentially a huge business for Google… and they are establishing an early lead by getting in on NFC payments way before Apple is scheduled to do so. Is this a market Apple can afford to let Google conquer, or even have a year’s head start in? Let us know what you think in the comments.