Google is ending a Bay Area pilot test of its mobile Hands Free payment application on Feb. 8, roughly 11 months after it began.
Google stated in a Frequently Asked Questions post on its site: “We’re going to focus our efforts on bringing the best of Hands Free technology to a wider audience.” The company did not offer any specifics related to that pledge.
Available in the form of an application for both Google Android and Apple iOS mobile devices, Hands Free relies on WiFi, Bluetooth and location services to help connect users to participating retailers, letting them complete purchases just by saying the phrase "I'll pay with Google." Checkout clerks confirm user identities based on a photo uploaded to the app before the transaction is completed.
This seemed like a pretty interesting experiment by Google, coming at a time when a variety of companies are exploring all different methods of paying via mobile at checkout. There has been a lot of fussing over whether we should tap, wave or just say how we want to pay. Alibaba even has talked about enabling virtual reality users to pay with a nod. The experiments are getting to the point where some company eventually may announce a test of pay by shrug. (Google's approach also has been referred to as "pay by face," which sounds like it might hurt.)
But Hands Free was also a little perplexing, as Google never tried to associate its payment tech with its very own Android Pay (Why not say, “I’ll pay with Android?”) platform. Instead, it created an app for both Android and iOS devices, as if it was going to go head-to-head with Apple Pay for the hearts of iOS loyalists.
Perhaps Google was being careful not to confuse Android Pay users with a new payment option, or maybe it was just getting a sense of how well the capability worked before taking that step. There is not much to be gleaned from Google’s vague comments about bringing Hands Free to a wider audience, but it could mean it will eventually be incorporated into Android Pay. It's clear that in recent months Google has been increasing its efforts to expand Android Pay through new relationships, so it's possible this capability and other new features could be added to Android Pay at some point.
Google didn't hint that Hands Free showed any shortcomings during its test, though we have to wonder if that also had something to do with ending the pilot so that its engineers can work out some kinks. Were there a lot of awkward pauses when shoppers said they wanted to pay with Google, and then had nothing to do with their hands? Did they get strange looks from new checkout personnel who hadn't been clued in to the test? Tapping your phone to a payment terminal is an act of finality that at least has some tenuous connection to the tradition of exchanging money for goods, but during our transition to an age of automated everything, we may need a little more time to get used to the awkward pauses that come with having to do even less than that.