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Ultrabooks to get tap-and-pay function next year

Customers can soon make payments by tapping special credit cards or smartphones against new laptops. The system will work with Google Wallet.

The ultrabooks of next year will encourage more online transactions with their tap-and-pay function

By next year, you'll be able to place an order for a book on Amazon by tapping your smartphone to your ultrabook.

At least, that's what Intel and MasterCard are envisioning. The companies said today they were working jointly to allow customers to pay for online purchases by tapping special MasterCard-powered PayPass cards or phones by their computer.

The introduction of the tap-and-pay feature on the ultrabook underscores the proliferation of devices capable of making and receiving mobile payments, a burgeoning field that has attracted power players such as Google. A smartphone with Google Wallet, for instance, will be able to work with an ultrabook. The feature also comes as more people take to their computers for online transactions instead of heading out to brick-and-mortar stores.

The benefits are twofold: customers can more easily make a purchase with the wave of their hand, and the transaction is more secure because of the extra security Intel has built into the hardware.

"It simultaneously makes it simpler while it increases the security," said Ed McLaughlin, head of emerging payments for MasterCard.

Both companies are embracing a technology called near-field communication, or NFC, which allows two devices to transfer payment and transaction information through a quick, wireless exchange. MasterCard, among the other credit card companies, have been issuing credit cards with embedded NFC chips. An increasing number of smartphones, including the Samsung Nexus S and new BlackBerrys, come packed with an NFC chip as well.

While much of the attention has been on getting merchants to put NFC into their checkout terminal to enable transactions, the Intel-MasterCard partnership allows the ultrabook to take on that role. Rather than typing in a set of credit card numbers on to the screen, an individual would just have to wave their phone or card in front of their ultrabook to complete a purchase.

"You can use it to streamline the payment and checkout experience," McLaughlin said.

Their efforts constitute a multi-year agreement, and George Thangadurai, general manager of PC client services division at Intel, said the capabilities will move to other Intel-powered computers down the line. But because ultrabooks are a major priority for the company, they will get the feature first.

The payment will be more secure because the ultrabooks will have Intel's Identity Protection Technology, which essentially gives the device its own authentication, providing two layers of protection in software and hardware. Intel has been adding IPT into chips for a select number of PCs this summer.

"The plan is to keep the security tight, but make it seamless and invisible to the customer," Thangadurai said.