Costanza, Has Google Got a Wallet for You

It Only Took 13 Years to Find a Solution for the Overstuffed Wallet

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The beginning of the end of the wallet didn't start just now with Google pioneering a new way to pay for goods in physical stores. No, the beginning was in January 1998, when an episode of Seinfeld aired where George Costanza (Jason Alexander) desperately clung on to his overstuffed wallet. It just took 13 years to find a viable alternative for the "Costanza wallet," (and embedded below) which became an emblem of the American hoarder who can't even let go of his trash.

If a Seinfeld reunion were to happen outside of a Curb Your Enthusiasm plot, we'd see a new side of Costanza: the early adopter. He'd be the first to use Google Wallet. To find out why, turn to the quotes from Costanza himself.

Costanza: "Important things go in a case. You've got a skull for your brain, a plastic sleeve for your comb, and a WALLET for your MONEY."

George would go crazy over Google Wallet. It's a case within a case within a case, a veritable matryoskha doll. Inside the case of the mobile handset is the device itself. Then inside the mobile device is the Google operating system. Within Android is Google Wallet, which ties in with Google Offers to provide targeted deals connected with the payment process. Inside Google Wallet will be a virtual array of your credit cards, loyalty cards, gift cards, mileage programs, bills, receipts, and tickets. Plus your phone already has your kids' baby pictures.

Costanza: "I need everything in there."

Given how digital storage is far more scalable than physical storage, it's possible to keep everything in Google Wallet. That is precisely why wallets will join the long list of consumer goods made obsolete by smartphones, including watches, alarm clocks, GPS devices, low-end cameras, and portable gaming systems.

Costanza: "This is an organizer, a secretary, and a friend."

George, who knew you were such a visionary? With near-field communication (NFC), every time you make a transaction, your phone learns more about you and can tailor offers accordingly. Today, when you pay with a credit card and swipe a loyalty card at a grocery store, you might get a printable coupon. With Google Wallet and other mobile payment systems that emerge, you might enter the store and get an offer for a free tub of Cool Whip with the purchase of a package of Oreos, and when you tap the phone at the payment terminal to check out, you might get an offer to share the deal on Facebook with the first three friends who opt in. Okay, there's one downside for consumers: Google Wallet will have to know more about you than any of your friends do.

Costanza: "It is a part of me."

Nielsen Company just reported that more than half of smartphone owners use their devices while watching TV, lying in bed, socializing with friends and family, and waiting for something, and 59% use their handsets while shopping and running errands. These devices are a part of our lives. It will be some time before most handsets have NFC capabilities, especially since Google can't control the hardware and software ecosystem in the same way Apple can, but the day's coming soon enough. In the meantime, expect a stopgap approach using NFC stickers that can attach to the back of handsets (for more on the sticker-based approach, see my talk on NFC from South by Southwest).

On Seinfeld, Jerry sniped at George, "You've got a filing cabinet under half of your ass." In this bizarro world, it's George who has the last laugh, while Jerry 's the fool. We can fit thousands of filing cabinets in our pocket with all the loyalty cards we've ever accumulated, but now they'll be easily retrievable with a simple tap of the my talk on NFCphone.

David Berkowitz is senior director of emerging media and innovation, 360i.
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