Google’s Acquisition of Zetawire brings Electronic Wallets Nearer

Will Google be bringing us electronic wallets in the future?

If you look through your wallet, you’ll find a mix of objects such as credit cards, identification cards, and business cards. Google made an acquisition of Canadian startup Zetawire, in August, that makes an electronic version of a wallet a step closer.

Imagine visiting a museum for a day. You pull into a parking lot, and an alert on your phone tells you that information about the lot is available to you on your phone, including rates, hours of operation, and a map of the area. You park, and follow the directions on the map out to the museum.

Once inside, you stop off at the gift shop where you purchase a few postcards to send off to friends, using your phone to pay for the cards. Your phone logs into the museum system to access your donor membership before the payment is made, and your member discount is applied to the cost of the cards.

Stepping into the museum, another alert rings, and an offer to have a phone guided tour of the museum becomes available, showing you details about every exhibit as you approach them.

You take advantage of the tour, and when you’re finishing up, a kiosk offers paper pamphlets as well as the chance to sign up to receive information about future exhibitions. Interested in a future show, you wave your phone over the kiosk so that it can collect contact information from your ID card. Back at the parking lot, you wave your phone at the exit to pay for parking. A receipt is sent to your phone.

You stop off at a coffee shop on the way home, and wave your phone in front of the Google Places decal on the front door. The website for the coffeeshop comes up, along with an electronic coupon for a free pastry with your purchase of a coffee.

An electronic wallet can contain digital versions of objects such as:

  • Cash,
  • Credit cards,
  • Debit cards,
  • Gift cards,
  • Coupons,
  • Receipts,
  • Membership cards,
  • Business cards,
  • Identification cards,
  • Photographs,
  • Digital videos, music, etc.

Zetawire and Near Field Communication

Google’s 10-Q financial statement published on October 31, 2010 explicitly notes the aquisition of Slide, Inc. in August, AdMob, Inc., in May, and On2 Technologies in February. It also notes that Google “completed 37 other acquisitions” in the first nine months of 2010, but it doesn’t tell us anything about those companies. Information about 26 Google acquisitions from 2010 have been made public in one way or another. News about an Auqust acquisition of a mobile payments startup, Zetawire, Surfaced on the 451 blog yesterday.

One of the technologies that Zetawire has an expertise in is Near Field Communication, or NFC. Near field communications is being built into the “Recommended on Google” window stickers available to businesses listed in Google Places. If you place your NFC enabled phone within a few inches, information will be streamed to your phone.

Google has created a video on how the technology works with the Nexus S phone:

It’s easy to focus upon the near field communications aspect of what Zetawire brings in this acquisition, but a look at the USPTO provides a glimpse at a pending patent filed by Zetawire that describes a more fully defined look at ways that a phone can digitally replace a wallet, and goes beyond NFC and payment platforms to describe how information can be shared back and forth via a phone.

The patent filing is very detailed, and explores many different aspects of electronic payments by phone, and other ways that an electronic wallet system can be used:

Secured Electronic Transaction System
Invented by Philipp Frank Hermann Udo Hertel, Alexander Wolfgang Karl Kurt Hertel, John David Trevor Graham, Mark Braverman
Assigned to Zetawire Inc.
US Patent Application 20090288012
Published November 19, 2009
Filed: May 18, 2009


A configuration (a system and/or a method) are disclosed that includes a unified and integrated configuration that is composed of a payment system, an advertising system, and an identity management system as well as their associated methods such that the unified system has all of the benefits of the individual systems as well as several additional synergistic benefits.

Also described are specific configurations (subsystems and/or methods) including the system’s access point architecture, a user interface that acts as a visual wallet simulator, a security architecture, coupon handling as well as the system’s structure and means for delivering them as targeted advertising, business card handling, membership card handling for the purposes of login management, receipt handling, and the editors and grammars provided for customizing the different types of objects in the system as well as the creation of new custom objects with custom behaviors.

The configurations are operable on-line as well as through physical presence transactions, e.g., mobile transaction through a mobile phone or dedicated device at a physical site for a transaction.

Combine the ability of an electronic wallet that allows for financial transactions and informational transactions with Google’s increasing focus on location-based services, and it seems that smart phones are increasingly the focus of a lot of attention from Google.

The patent filing provides a large number of examples of how a digital wallet can be used both by merchants and by consumers. It’s definitely worth spending some time with if you’re interested in how the online and offline world might start getting a lot more interactive in a manner that makes it easier to interact.

We can’t tell how much of what is described in the patent will become part of what Google will offer us in the future, but Google Places has already started showing how NFC can be used with Google Places decals. It’s likely that NFC chips will be a standard offering in smart phones in the near future. As a business owner and a website owner, will you be ready?


Author: Bill Slawski

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