Google was one of the earliest big-name companies to move in the developing mobile payments game, but Wallet—its flagship payments solution—had more or less disappeared from the limelight, until now.
Google has just updated the Wallet app—and has changed it significantly. As of today, Wallet works on all Android devices in the U.S. (at least those running 2.3 and higher), instead of a limited number of handsets, as before. The expansion in compatible devices is because Wallet no longer needs a phone or tablet with NFC circuitry.
The move isn't a winning one, though, because while many more users can now download Wallet, they won't necessarily be able to use it to pay for goods in stores. That facility is still limited to phones sporting NFC. However, Google has expanded what you can do with Wallet. Money transfers to any U.S. adult with a valid email address and linked bank account are now possible. Scans of loyalty cards from any store can now be incorporated into Wallet, rather than the previous NFC-only ones, because they can simply replace traditional bar code-scanned cards that many stores already use. Special loyalty programs with third parties like Belly and Alaska Airlines are also now built into the app, so users can see their balance and so on in one location. Google Offers that a user likes elsewhere in Google's vast ecosystem can also now be aggregated into Wallet.
What Google has done is effectively remind the legions of Android users that Wallet exists and is a functional tool—at least in the U.S. But it hasn't set Wallet up yet to be a rival to mobile payment services like PayPal's. Nor does Wallet seem as promising as Apple's iBeacon system seems to be, since there's not the same in-store security and networking powers in Wallet as Apple offers on the iPhone. But Wallet may be being prepared, slowly, for a much more significant maneuver to own mobile payments. It's notable that Apple, too, appears to have moved beyond NFC as a mobile wallet solution, and instead is choosing Bluetooth Low Energy.
[Image via Flickr user: kennejima]