Boku Inc, a big online mobile payments company supported by venture capital firms including Andreessen Horowitz and Benchmark Capital, debuted a new service on Thursday that allows consumers to pay with any mobile phone anywhere credit cards are accepted.
Boku already provides carrier billing through about 230 wireless carriers, including AT&T Inc, Vodafone Group Plc and Verizon Communications Inc in more than 60 countries. This service lets people pay with their mobile number and get the transactions charged to their monthly phone bill.
Carrier billing is typically limited to smaller online purchases, either through personal computers or within mobile phone apps.
Boku’s new platform, called Boku Accounts, allows purchases in physical stores, a much bigger market. The service will be branded and offered by wireless carriers to customers, with Boku running the system in the background.
The move puts Boku in closer competition with PayPal, which is pushing its popular online payments service into physical stores. Google Inc is also trying to get its Google Wallet service into stores through a partnership with giants such as MasterCard Inc and Citigroup Inc.
PayPal’s in-store offering works with merchants’ existing point-of-sale terminals, but usually requires a software upgrade. Google Wallet works with phones that have Near-Field Communication, or NFC, chips in them and merchants need a terminal that supports this technology.
Boku’s service comes with a sticker that users can slap on the back of their mobile phones, turning any handset into an NFC-enabled device. It also comes with a payment card that can be swiped using existing retailer terminals, without a software upgrade, according to the company.
“We wanted this to be available in any store,” Ron Hirson, co-founder of Boku, said. “You don’t need a new phone or a new terminal.”
Apparently, Facebook is feeling pressure from a little social networking upstart—probably because the upstart in question, Google+, is of course run by Google.
Though Facebook is the much bigger, far more popular, and far more firmly planted social network at the moment, it seems to be playing catchup with a few innovations from the barely-a-month-old Google+ network.
Facebook’s just-released Messenger app seems to compete squarely with Google+’s Huddle functionality. Huddle — available only in Google+’s mobile apps, not on the main website — behaves a bit like group MMS.
You can create as many Huddles as you’d like, and you can choose who gets to join that Huddle. Other Huddle members can add further correspondents, too. Then all the Huddle participants can exchange messages in your pro tem chatroom.
Facebook’s new app—only its second foray into the App Store—hews quite closely to Google+’s Huddle. Messenger allows for group correspondence between friends you specify, and can optionally include location data for chat participants, too.
Participants in your conversation who lack smartphones can still send and receive Messenger messages through traditional SMS instead, if they first confirm their mobile numbers with Facebook.
Facebook Messenger is free; it requires iOS 4.0 or later and runs on the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad (though it hasn’t been optimized for Apple’s tablet).