NEW YORK — You just finished lobster and mesclun at that natty new joint down the street. You pull out two George's but all your buddy has is a 100 spot and he doesn't want to break it.
"Don't worry," he says. "I'll wire the money to you this afternoon. Check your Palm Pilot." Wiring money by Palm Pilot? Yep. Thanks to Confinity Inc., you will soon be able to wire and receive money while eating your bagels or while reeling in bass at the lake.
With a new technology called PayPal, Confinity has developed a way to transfer money through hand-held gadgets such as cell phones, pagers, or the Internet.
"All these devices will become one day just like your wallet," says Confinity chief Peter Thiel. "Everyone of your friends will become like a virtual, mini-ATM."
The new technology differs from European smart-card technology. It lets buyers pay one another, not just to a store or service.
PayPal will be available on the Windows CE platform later this fall; the technology for cell phones and two-way pagers will debut early next year.
Here's how it works:
PayPal users register their checking or credit-card accounts through a Web site. Lunch buddies who split the tab simply type in the amount they want to pay the other party into their Palm organizer. They then point it across the room and "beam" money to them. Palm Pilots have a range of only a few inches to a room length. The money is drawn from a designated account and put in his partner's PayPal account. If one person doesn't have PayPal on his Palm Pilot, the software can be beamed to him by the other party.
Since the technology will be free to download, Confinity will make money by collecting the "float cash." This will come from the interest accrued on the PayPal accounts where money is held before it is beamed away.
Luke Nosek, vice president of marketing at Confinity, says the new technology has the potential to overtake the Web. "This is something bigger than the Internet," he says. "It combines the best of cash and credit cards."
According to Mr. Nosek, the market is ripe for this technology, with Palm Pilots becoming the newest craze along with a burgeoning market of cell-phone users. By 2003, he says, there will be 1 billion cell phones in use - 800 million with Internet capabilities.
And when Nokia, the Finnish cell-phone company, anted up $3 million to help fund the technology, Confinity had one of the heavy hitters in the industry backing it.
Nosek says several thousand consumers have already registered to download the PayPal software.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society