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Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Google’s Mobile Payment Gambit

A Google rumor and a Google patent have had the tech world talking this week.

Google’s GphoneSomeone noticed that there was a patent by Google for a mobile component to GPay, their online payment system. It’s not a new concept, but it will be interesting if they do pull it off in conjunction with the rumor circulating about the new Google GPhone.

You see, there is a void in the market for a payment system that is accepted globally, but not necessarily tied to a bank or phone carrier. Any thoughts I have on what will eventually happen once they roll out any new device and/or payment system are pure speculation. I would like to believe that Google has a bigger picture in mind than just the US market when developing it though.

I’m sure the services work best together, but they would never tie a payment system to just one device. I’ll be happy to see either of them work in Africa. The GPay model branching out would make me the most excited though.

[I also find it interesting that PayPal is having some serious problems at the same time as rumors of this are coming out. PayPal needs some serious competition, and I hope this is it.]


  1. great, paypal is very limiting for African users. But i’m worried that Google is taking over too many aspects of my online life as far away as Nairobi

  2. I read about this today http://www.payforituk.com/ . Could we not just license the technology?

  3. A mobile version of Google GPay should be a good fit for African consumers and entrepreneurs given limited broadband access. However my real interest in these systems is their international transaction capability. Via PayPal, I can send money to virtually every African country but cannot receive payments from any of them. I suspect that this is a regulatory issue rather than a technical one. Nonetheless, it would be nice to have a single provider that supported transactions between the US and the continent.

  4. Very neat blog, I look forward to reading more in the future.

    I have to say though that I’m skeptical about how great this will be. For one, payment by text message doesn’t seem to me a fantastic idea for security reasons. Payment through RFID tags seems simpler, less error prone, and is already implemented in several places.

    Moreover, Google doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to revolutionary technology. Beyond PageRank and subsequent revisions of their ranking algorithm they haven’t done a ton to revolutionize anything. Google maps has a neat interface, and I like google scholar a lot, but I find regular google just as effective most of the time..

    What Google seems to do best is take existing technology and make the user interface slightly better and make the code faster. This is basically what they did with webmail. Other “revolutionary” projects just aren’t that great. Think Orkut, google groups, froogle, and tons of other projects that I’m forgetting. Google video wasn’t fantastic until they bought YouTube, and the Google photo application is less cool than Flikr, which is less used that Facebook.

    The patent for GPay was filed in 2006 when there was a lot of speculation that Google was going to release a paypal killer. Then they released Google Checkout (which was also originally dubbed GPay by many) and nobody seemed to care. I imagine GPay is a way to get patents on existing pay-by-SMS services.

  5. Greg, I agree with you in most respects. I do think Google does a good job of taking a look at existing technologies and rethinking them completely. Sort of like what they have done with Google Calendar and GMail. There is no doubt that they have missed the mark from time-to-time too though.

    Regardless of what they’ve done in the past, I’m interested in seeing what they do, if they do in fact, create a mobile phone with associated OS and app integration.

    From reading your blog I see you have spent some time in Uganda. If Google is able to crack open a better platform on mobile phones that works worldwide, I am all for it.

    For instance, you already realize that Gtalk is nothing more than a rebranded version of Jabber. Imagine if that were to supplant SMS in Uganda. The cost of sending text on a data plan is far cheaper than any SMS rate. If that comes natural on an inexpensive Google phone, or is available on any phone running a Java Google OS, that would be significant.

  6. Yeah you’re absolutely right that it would be great to offload things like SMS onto data networks. T-mobile has a cool phone that supposedly will transparently switch your mobile calls to VOIP when you pass through a T-mobile hotzone.

    What I was commenting on was more that I’m not convinced yet that Google is going to play a big role in that sort of thing.

    Personally, I think the OpenMoko project is going to do more cool things for cheap phone service in places like Africa. They’ll have all the things like Jabber but without any possible copyright restrictions that plague other phone hardware and software.

    And then of course there are issues of pricing that don’t seem to depend on technology but on lack of credit and cash. Pre-paid data plans in Uganda from my experience are quite expensive and horribly slow. In Gulu, which is not exactly a hotbed of technological progress, both the CDMA and GPRS networks were pretty saturated. Post-paid plans are much cheaper, but the problem is that most Africans in places like that don’t have sufficient credit or upfront cash to get one.

    If people did start getting GPRS phones the networks would be even more saturated which is likely to make data plans more expensive anyway.

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