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Visa and MasterCard use Android KitKat to make mobile payments easier

Visa and MasterCard use Android KitKat to make mobile payments easier

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Visa and MasterCard are trying to make mobile payments a lot more accessible today as they both announce support for a new way to pay over NFC. Both companies are beginning to allow their cards to be stored in the cloud for NFC payments, letting even more consumers check out at stores just by tapping their smartphone to a reader. Previously, doing so generally required that a phone have — and allow access to — a "secure element" for storing the card, but that will no longer be necessary.

HCE should subvert carrier restrictions

That's potentially a big change for mobile payments. While it's primarily a behind-the-scenes adjustment, any app on a smartphone that supports the service should be able to act as a mobile wallet in the near future. The new process is called Host Card Emulation (HCE), and it's supported by both Android KitKat — which is cited as part of the impetus behind today's announcements — and BlackBerry 10. Visa appears to be ready to offer the feature to developers already, and MasterCard intends to publish specifications for its use before July.

Critically, this new method for payments should be able to subvert restrictions from mobile carriers. Because the secure element is frequently under carrier control, carriers have been able to limit what apps can access it. Google Wallet in particular has been significantly limited — if not outright unusable — because of carrier opposition. Once Visa and MasterCard enable HCE support, Google should be able to enable tap-to-pay for consumers who use their cards instead of resorting to inelegant workarounds. Even with HCE support from Visa and MasterCard, NFC payments are still a long way from widespread adoption, but one big roadblock is starting to be lifted.