PayPal unveils NFC Android-to-Android payments

PayPal (s ebay) today unveiled a new peer-to-peer payment functionality that allows Android users to pay each other by tapping two near field communication (NFC)-enabled devices together. The feature, which follows an earlier contactless PayPal payment tool using Bump Technologies, shows how PayPal is gearing up for NFC as part of its larger push on mobile payments.

The payments work through a PayPal widget that allows a user to request or send money. A user enters the transaction information and then taps their phone up against another phone also equipped with the same app. After the phones buzz together, the recipient can decide to send or receive money by entering a PIN number.

PayPal’s new mobile payment service will only work currently in the U.S. with the Samsung Nexus S from Sprint and T-Mobile but will expand to other Android phones that include NFC functionality in the future. The transactions utilize an encrypted token and don’t access the secure element inside the NFC chip, where payment credentials reside. It appears this is set up for just peer-t0-peer transfers, which is still a big part of PayPal’s mobile payments business.

The company said it is now on pace to do $3 billion in mobile payments this year though much of that is person-to-person transfers using the PayPal app, which don’t yield much revenue for PayPal. Users do not have to pay a transaction fee when payments pull from bank accounts or an existing PayPal balance.

In many ways, this is similar to personal transfers PayPal has previously enabled through its mobile app using Bump Technologies. Users are able to send money back and forth by bumping their phones together, a solution that doesn’t rely on NFC. It’s unclear how much of that may have happened through bump payments, so I don’t know how significant person-to-person NFC payments will be. It’s nice to be able to make a payment to someone by just touching phones but, again, it’s not like many PayPal users don’t have that ability now.

Shimone Samuel, Product Experience Manager for PayPal Mobile, however, said the NFC solution has fewer steps than bump payments and can be activated even when only one person has launched their widget. Bump payments require both people to have their PayPal mobile app open. He said PayPal turned to NFC because it simplifies P2P payments.

“What I’m looking for is what is simplest and easiest for customers and NFC is the simplest way to request money,” he said.

The bigger opportunity is in enabling real-world payments as retail and local merchants, something PayPal is still set to unveil later this year. That will be a much bigger deal because it will signal how PayPal will counter moves by Google (s goog) and its NFC payments initiative, as well as other challengers like Square and the carrier consortium, Isis project. Samuel declined to comment on how PayPal will use NFC specifically at point of sale but he said the company takes every opportunity to learn from its products.

PayPal needs to figure out how to tap that market for offline purchases, which is much bigger than than pure online transactions where it’s excelled. So it’s nice that PayPal has enabled some P2P NFC payments, and it’s showing that it’s getting up to speed on NFC. But we’re still waiting to see the real fireworks.