This week, Google Wallet was officially rolled out to Android users just a few months after it was announced at I/O 2022. It represents a new direction for mobile payments on Android, and it’s awesome, if only because it is the exact opposite of the “GPay” disaster that preceded it.
To say that Google’s mobile payments strategy has been messy is an understatement.
Over the past decade we’ve gone from Google Wallet to Android Pay, then Google Pay in two different apps, to a terrible version of Google Pay in one app and a separate “app” integrated into Google Play Services and now, finally , to Google Wallet. Again. But also always Google Pay too. And that other GPay app still exists.
Ok so it’s still a little confusing, but it’s better now I promise!
Google Wallet is not the culmination of this roller coaster of indecision, but of the obvious failure that brought “GPay” to the global marketplace. This version of Google Pay was designed based on “Tez”, a version of Google Pay that was built in India with huge success (and that’s not changing). But the ambitious ideas that GPay tried to bring to other markets were held back and, in turn, killed off due to delays, extremely confusing app layout, and management reshuffles.
GPay wanted to do it all. Mobile payments. Peer-to-peer payments. Cashback and rewards. Managing your budget. At one point, it was going to be a literal bank account.
There was quite a bit of excitement about GPay before its launch, as the old Google Pay had been neglected for quite some time before. It seemed like Google was doing everything, but it just failed to land. The aforementioned feature delays, the move to a phone number-based account, and other issues really undermined the launch. And really, it just wasn’t what most people actually wanted and, frankly, I’d be shocked if anything beyond its peer-to-peer payment functionality survived beyond the next two years.
Google Wallet, on the other hand, is a much more focused idea.
Wallet wants nothing more than to replace your physical wallet. This means managing your NFC-enabled mobile payments, hosting loyalty cards and tickets, storing transit information and gift cards, and optionally carrying your ID/driver’s license.
Although this is still an ambitious goal, it is quite achievable. Pay introduced support for NFC cards years ago, and loyalty cards/passes have been around for a while as well. With Google Wallet, these features are becoming easier and easier for everyone to access. The app gives users a consistent method of access through a download from the Play Store and an icon on the home screen. Tap, and you have your cards and passes. No stories. That works.
And access is key here too.
All the things Wallet has been relatively easy to access on Pixel phones for a while, and in one place. Press a shortcut on the lock screen or quick settings – or the fleeting power button shortcut, RIP – and all your cards and passes were at your fingertips. But trying to get the same information from a Samsung phone? There was no obvious path. The GPay app was the most direct route, but it wasn’t obvious or emphasized until recently.
The foundation is completely in place for Google Wallet to succeed, and it’s not like Google is trying to innovate. Apple has established the Wallet model well with its app of the same name.
Really, it’s hard not to say that’s exactly what Google should have been doing all along.
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