Oft-delayed Isis mobile wallet service launches nationwide

Two years after wireless carriers began thwarting Google's NFC payment efforts, they've finally launched their own mobile wallet service, called Isis.

Isis is a joint effort by Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile. If you have a supported Android phone on any of these carriers, you can now download the Isis app and use your phone in place of a credit card at a smattering of retailers nationwide.

The app stores credit and debit card information which is then protected with a secure element on the phone and a PIN. Instead of taking out your actual card, Isis lets you tap your phone against payment terminals at locations such as CVS, BP and Office Depot. If you lose your phone, you can lock the wallet remotely through the Isis Website.

In practice, it's similar to the original version of Google Wallet, which launched in the fall of 2011. At the time, Sprint was the only carrier to support the service. The other three carriers working on Isis did not allow Google's competing service to operate on their Android phones, and Google Wallet languished as a result.

Although Google still offers NFC-based payments on its own carrier-unlocked Nexus phones, the search giant recently redesigned its Google Wallet app to focus on coupons, loyalty cards and money transfers.

Isis, meanwhile, faced numerous delays getting off the ground. Trials were originally set for the first half of 2012, but pushed back to October of last year. The carriers wouldn't commit to a nationwide launch time frame until July, when they said Isis would launch by year-end.

Even with broad support on Android phones, Isis may struggle to take off. The benefits of tapping a phone instead of swiping a credit card may not be big enough to overcome user inertia, especially because most retailers aren't supporting the service.

For now, Isis is trying to buy customers' interest. CNET reports that select vending machines will offer three free drinks using MyCoke Rewards, and American Express Serve customers can get a 20 percent discount on purchases. Earlier this month, Jamba Juice announced that it will give away 1 million free smoothies to Isis users. Hopefully they have more plans in mind after the sugar rush subsides.

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