Although in most respects Google Wallet is still waiting for consumer liftoff, that company is taking it into the cloud. Today Google announced that it was adding a number of new features, including the ability to pair the service with any credit or debit card.
Having launched in September 2011 with Citi MasterCard exclusively, Google Wallet will now be compatible with any Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover. Credit card numbers can now be entered by consumers online, in Google Wallet (formerly Google Checkout), or the Google Play store.
Additional benefits of operating in the cloud include the ability to remotely disable Google Wallet if the phone is lost or stolen.
The “cloudification” of Google Wallet means that users now can have a single credit card on file for online and local purchases through Google. While that was technically possible before, it was challenging to accomplish in practice. In addition, if you’ve already got a stored card from Google Wallet (Checkout) that card is now accessible for offline transactions through the Google Wallet app.
Google has also simplified the process on the back end for banks and credit card issuers.
What has not changed is the fact that users must have an NFC-enabled handset (Android Gingerbread or higher) to use Google Wallet. It’s also the case that, in the US, right now only Sprint and Sprint subsidiary VirginMobile USA support Google wallet. Across both carriers there are six handsets that are Google-Wallet compatible.
When I asked Google about Verizon I was told that discussions are ongoing. Verizon is part of a carrier consortium that is trying to develop a rival payments system: ISIS. Last year Verizon blocked Google Wallet access on its Android handsets, which seemed at the time to be a nakedly anti-competitive move.
Verizon said that it had “security” and “user experience” questions about Google Wallet and was studying it. Roughly seven months later it’s challenging to believe that those remain issues or that it needs more time to “study” Google Wallet.
Google told me that there are 25 national retailers offering the “fully integrated” Wallet experience, meaning Offers or loyalty rewards can automatically be redeemed at the point of sale in a single tap as part of the Wallet transaction. Beyond this there are 200,000 additional merchant locations that offer the PayPass contactless terminal at which Google Wallet can be used.
Despite the fact that the “mobile payments” world grows more crowded and noisy by the week there really isn’t yet a breakout success on the consumer side. After some initial miscues Google still has an opportunity to gain adoption (Google didn’t share any usage figures with me). But to succeed as competition intensifies it must get more NFC-enabled phones into the hands of consumers.
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