Use Your Phone to Pay for That Dress, Courtesy Google

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You’re wrapping up dinner at your favorite restaurant, but how do you reply to the maître d’ who hands you the bill and asks “paper, plastic, or semiconductor”?

With your phone, of course, and that’s just what Google’s hoping you’ll do when its new mobile payment service goes live sometime during the next four months, according to sources whispering to Bloomberg.

While Google hasn’t announced the test publicly, word is the company plans to deploy thousands of high-tech checkout machines from VeriFone, known for its electronic payment products. Think “tap-to-pay” checkout for clothes, restaurants, toys–even concert tickets. All you’ll need is a phone capable of “near-field-communication,” a new wireless protocol that lets devices chat at distances of around 4 centimeters or less. Google’s already demonstrated NFC working in Gingerbread-flavored versions of its Android phones.

Bloomberg’s tipsters say Google’s service could mix your financial info with everything from gift and loyalty cards to coupon subscriptions. Hello Star Trek then, except we’re talking the conceptual descendants of those fat little flip-top communicators in lieu of invisible credits tied to slender cards.

Where’s Apple’s iPhone in all this? Apple’s reportedly eyeballing NFC technology in the iPhone 5, but don’t look for Google to reach across the aisle anytime soon. The company’s Android operating system would be the surefire beneficiary of a Google-driven mobile transaction system. In fact the will-they-or-won’t-they merchant support question heralds a whole new dimension in the ongoing mobile device smackdown.

Add EBay’s PayPal to the party, which already lets you send payments by phone, as well as ISIS, a “mobile wallet” venture endorsed by Verizon and AT&T, and you’re looking at the new “Visa or Mastercard?” wars of the twenty-first century.

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