Android 4.4 KitKat may finally change the way we do NFC payments

October 31, 2013
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Just yesterday we reported on how the LG Nexus 5 utilized a BCM20793M NFC chip. What made this stand out is that this particular chip lacked the secure element needed to work nicely with Google Wallet. At the time it was speculated that this meant Google was getting ready to introduce a new system that no longer needed the secure element to function. As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.

Android 4.4 KitKat now utilizes something called “Host Card Emulation” technology. With the HCE, your device basically emulates a ISO/IEC 7816 smart card, which basically allows it to work the same as a device that has a secure element. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the gist anyhow.

What makes HCE even more exciting is that ANY app can utilize it. This means that developers can now build apps that easily allow for NFC payments, card access, transit passes and more – without the secure element needed.

What this change means for mobile payments and Google Wallet

Up until now NFC payments have been a cool idea, but a very limited one. Part of the problem is carriers have flat out refused to support Google Wallet, claiming that the secure element poses a potential security risk. The truth is that these carriers likely just want to promote their own payment standards.

With HCE, it doesn’t seem to matter what carriers what or think. Any Android 4.4 KitKat device with NFC should now easily work with Google Wallet and other mobile payment services, on any mobile carrier.

Without the secure element controversy, mobile carriers will find it hard to shut this down. In fact, with the new payment system being a part of Android 4.4’s core, it may prove to near impossible to remove it without incurring Google’s wrath.

In short, this one change could potentially be all it takes to finally make NFC payments take off in a bigger way. Of course devices will still need Android 4.4 KitKat to work with this new NFC method, but with Google optimizing the new version of Android to work with devices to work smoothly with as little as 512MB RAM - it hopefully won’t be a problem for long.

What do you think, could NFC payments finally take off or will other roadblocks still get in the way?

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