Rumor has it Google might buy mobile payments company Softcard — a move that could help Google compete with Apple’s fledgling Apple Pay payments service.
Softcard is a joint venture between Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile that was formerly known as ISIS. Like Apply Pay, it relies on Near-Field Communications (NFC) to let people make payments with their phones — or other devices — without having to swipe a credit card. But Softcard and Google have something of a sordid relationship. When Google Wallet first launched, Verizon blocked it from accessing the secure chip it placed in phones, which was a necessary step to ensure safe transactions. Many think Verizon did this to slow down Google Wallet and give ISIS, as it was then called, a chance at success.
Despite its best efforts, Softcard has fallen flat on its face. Thus far, the overall consumer response to Softcard’s app has been lackluster and last week the company laid off 60 employees. Some think Softcard could be heading toward a merger or acquisition.
Google is purportedly offering less than $100 million for the carrier-backed mobile payments company, according to TechCrunch. That’s not much, considering the hundreds of millions that its parent companies reportedly spent on the project.
But why would Google buy Softcard?
The search giant has a few good reasons. Google could take advantage of Softcard’s patent portfolio, as TechCrunch notes. Softcard has something like 120 of them in total. And by combining resources, Google could (and this might be a stretch) improve the user experience of Google Wallet, making it more competitive with Apple Pay.
There’s one more reason, and it’s a biggie: Acquiring and shutting down Softcard would greatly simplify the mobile payments game. With Softcard out of the way, Google could flex its muscles and pitch Google Wallet as the Android counterpart to Apple Pay, while reaping all the benefits of carrier support: Google would finally get the OK to preinstall the app on Android devices.
One thing is for certain, the mobile payments market is wide open. Now is the time to put forward a refined product. Can Google do this? It didn’t the first time around. Maybe a Softcard deal would afford Google a second chance to make this happen.