Isis has been in development for years and will go mainstream shortly. Isis will allow AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless customers to tap their NFC-equipped smartphone to make payments at participating retailers. Isis was trialed extensively in Austin and Salt Lake City with mixed results.
For starters, only Android phones will be supported at launch. The devices will be required to have a near-field communication (NFC) radio on board. Many of today's leading devices already do. The iPhone will not be supported at launch because the iPhone doesn't include NFC. iPhone owners who want to use Isis will need to pick up an NFC-equipped case (cost unknown) for their phone. The case won't be available to iPhones for several months. That hamstrings Isis out of the gate, given U.S. consumers' wide adoption of the iPhone.
[ Want to know the latest on Google Wallet? Read Google Wallet Arrives For iOS. ]
Worse, some of the initial financial backers of Isis have already called it quits. The service went to trial with four credit card companies: AmericanExpress, BarclayCard, CapitalOne and Chase. Both BarclayCard and CapitalOne have since dropped support for Isis, leaving only AmericanExpress and Chase.
In other words, only Android smartphone owners who also happen to be AmericanExpress or Chase credit card holders will be able to use Isis when it goes live.
Where will this select group of smartphone owners be able to make tap-and-go payments? At launch, Isis expects users to be able to make purchases at approximately 1.3 million contactless payment locations at 24 of the top 100 merchants spread across the country. Isis will work with existing MasterCard PayPass, Visa PayWave and American Express ExpressPay terminals, which will have new symbols and stickers that indicate their compatibility. Isis hasn't published a list of the merchants, but some include American Eagle, BP, Champs, Duane Reade, Jamba Juice, Macy's, New York & Company, Shop Rite, Sunoco, Urban Outfitters and others. The service will also support loyalty cards and offer savings and deals here and there.
The Jamba Juice giveaway announced Wednesday might convince a few people to give Isis a shot, but it needs heavy support from its carrier partners if it is going to get off the ground. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon need to provide an incentive for people to sign up.
Isis is entering the mobile payment game late. Google Wallet has been around for several years now, although it's had limited success. PayPal has been moving into the real-world mobile payment space aggressively. Further, Square is out there letting smaller retailers take advantage of easy credit card payments. Isis's greatest advantage over these competitors is its carrier support. Isis expects there will be about 30 million Isis-compatible devices in the market by the end of 2014.
The company has not yet specified a launch date.