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Google NFC to be unveiled May 26, say reports

May 25, 2011 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

On May 26, Google will introduce a widely anticipated near field communication (NFC) mobile payment system for Android 2.3x phones with Sprint, Mastercard, Citibank, and VeriFone Systems, say multiple reports. Meanwhile, Motorola says its Droid X, Droid 2, Droid 2 Global, and Droid Pro phones are all getting Android 2.3 (“Gingerbread”) updates this year.

Google's long-rumored mobile payment system is expected to come to fruition May 26, with company officials demonstrating a service that lets users purchase goods, cash in coupons, and perform other short-range wireless transactions with their smartphones. The mobile payment platform, which will be demonstrated Thursday in Google's New York office, will leverage the near field communication (NFC) technology on the Samsung Nexus S 4G smartphone (pictured) offered by Sprint, according to a story in Bloomberg, among other reports.

The service will debut in five U.S. markets: New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., Bloomberg says. According to Reuters, meanwhile, participating retailers include Macys and American Eagle Outfitters, as well as the Subway sandwich franchise.

The retailers will use point of sale systems from VeriFone Systems capable of reading and responding to NFC. The service will use a Citibank-issued MasterCard credit card number and a virtual Google MasterCard prepaid card, according to the New York Times. Consumers will be able to make NFC payments at any of the 124,000 merchants that employ MasterCard's PayPass terminals.

Google in March was widely reported to be working with MasterCard and Citigroup to let consumers make NFC purchases via their Android smartphones at VeriFone terminals in selected retail stores in New York and San Francisco. Thursday's event in New York appears to mark the expansion of that program.

NFC is a wireless protocol that enables communications between sensors brought within close proximity. The technology is widely adopted in Japan, where consumers simply wave their mobile phone in front of an NFC reader at check-out counters. NFC has yet to catch on in the U.S., with retailers slow to adopt the required readers and other infrastructure.

Google and its partners aim to change that. Google expects that over time software developers will write mobile applications that take advantage of NFC. Google would then pair ads, as well as local deals and discounts, with these services.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt last November waved around a smartphone he said was fitted with NFC technology. Google in December revealed the device as the new Samsung Nexus S (pictured), running the company's Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" operating system in a "pure Google" configuration.

Gingerbread added native support for NFC, which requires a special controller chip to operate. The Nexus S 4G smartphone, launched by Sprint earlier this month, also carries such a chip.

Motorola's Droid line to get Gingerbread

Although none of Motorola Mobility's Verizon-sold "Droid" phones offer an NFC chip, they will at least receive the Android 2.3 release that supports it. A Motorola spokesperson confirmed in a company support forum that the Droid X, Droid Pro, Droid 2, and Droid 2 Global handsets would get the latest build later this year, as reported by ComputerWorld. Motorola support staffer "Moto Calvin" confirmed the Gingerbread upgrades were coming in a Motorola support forum thread about Exchange ActiveSync.

"The Gingerbread (GB) software update will include improved Exchange Activesync functionality," writes Moto Calvin. "The following Motorola Droid devices will be updated to GB: Droid X, Droid Pro, Droid 2, Droid 2 Global." 

Moto Calvin noted in this follow-up thread that the update for the Droid X (pictured) is currently scheduled to be released before the end of the second quarter or sooner. That would target the release for sometime in June. Moto Calvin added that updates for the Droid 2, Droid 2 Global and Droid Pro are currently scheduled to be released before the end of the third quarter or sooner, noting that the estimates are dependent on Verizon approving the OTA (over-the-air) updates.

The list of devices in Moto Calvin's original thread was later deleted by the forum's manager, suggesting the possibility that the info may have been inaccurate. eWEEK emailed Motorola for confirmation, but has not received a response as of this writing.

Gingerbread sports a speedier user experience and improved virtual keyboard and copy-and-paste functionality. The build, which appeared first on the Samsung Nexus S last December and most recently on the Samsung Nexus S 4G from Sprint this month, is most famous for its NFC support. However, NFC, which enables mobile payments and other tag reading, requires a special chip controller not included in Motorola Droid phones to date.

Gingerbread was allegedly going to arrive on the new Motorola Droid X2 but that device offers Android 2.2 "Froyo," which is what the other Motorola Droids still use. The original Motorola Droid, now updated to Android 2.2, was not on the list, and appears to be stuck in Froyo-land for good.

Amazon, Asus Android tablets rumored

In other Android-related coverage on eWEEK this week, Creative Strategies analyst Tim Bajarin has gone on record saying Amazon will release a 10-inch Android tablet, and possibly a seven-inch tablet later this year, based on Nvidia's Tegra 3 quad-core processor.

Meanwhile, Asus will launch a new Android tablet at next week's Computex show in Taiwan, according to another eWEEK report.

Clint Boulton is a writer for eWEEK.

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