Is Google Interested In PayPal?

September 15, 2014 - Written By David Steele

The beauty of rumours is that, credible or otherwise, it doesn’t matter. And some rumours remain rumours until they happen to fall into reality (here’s looking at you, Apple iWatch, I mean, Watch). One such rumour on Friday was that Google are considering taking a stake in eBay, which has been dismissed by Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster. The rumour is considered unsubstantiated and given how Google have not tended to buy public companies, Gene does not consider this likely. And the reason for the rumour? It’s because of Apple Pay and how the fear is that it will become a dominant wearable or smartphone NFC-enabled wireless payment option and eBay owns PayPal. Gene’s comments are that Google wouldn’t need to own eBay or even Paypal in order to work closely with the business, but in my experience it’s much easier to influence a business if you have a sizeable amount of money invested within! Another observation is that any interest in eBay’s business could create a conflict of interest with other advertisers that use Google’s search service, but this argument can be applied across almost all of Google’s businesses.

But here’s the thing: it’s hard to quantify the value or threat of Apple’s involvement in the mobile payment market. Sure; Apple are a significant player in most markets because of a blend of a “pretty good” product with better marketing, high but affordable prices to give people something to aspire to. Not all of their products are great, from people holding the iPhone 4 wrong and causing it to lose signal, to Apple Maps, to the early generation Macbook Air models. Will the trend of putting your ‘phone up to a till point to pay for something take off? Science fiction writers like to think so and it’s a more elegant solution to scanning a barcode. And we already know that Google’s founders are aiming for the Star Trek computer experience. I don’t think it unrealistic for Android to be in a position whereby you’ll be able to say, “okay Google, pay for my coffee” and your Android Wear smartwatch puts itself into wallet mode.

The mobile payment marketplace is one where there have been many entrants over the years: the banks have been trying to get in on the act for a long time and I worked for a UK mobile operator when they were trying to persuade people to pay for things on their ‘phone without the link to the ‘phone bill (can you cough “disaster?”). Some products fizzled out, some were dumped by their owners. PayPal is the best known Western electronic money transfer process, largely buoyed by being associated and promoted by eBay. I’m sure PayPal would do at least as well if it were owned by Google. I also don’t buy into the argument that Google owning PayPal would discourage providers from joining the platform and let us not forget that Google are not an Android-only house. The iOS Google applications are beautiful. PayPal works great on either platform. That wouldn’t change; there wouldn’t be a “them” and “us” between Apple and Google here in the same sense. One of the reasons why Google Wallet has struggled is because the carriers were able to block Google’s service. That’s partially because many customers had never heard of it. PayPal is a little different as it’s had massive exposure over the years. Google PayPal could be included in Android devices just as HP printing is.

And did you see how easily Google PayPal dropped off the page..? It’s almost as though it’s meant to be. But over to our readers: what do you think? Would you like to see Google investing or even buying PayPal? Would this look like an attempt to derail the Apple Pay disease that we know is coming? Or a way to take advantage of a big increase in awareness of the technology?