Mobile payments reach a wider audience with Google Wallet for iOSYour smartphone wants to become your wallet, or at least Google wants it to be. Today, for the first time on iOS, Google released its Google Wallet app, a solution for payments both on and off the web. Google Wallet was originally released on the Nexus S in 2011 as a way to take advantage of the NFC chip built into the new phone. NFC, or Near Field Communication, uses a low-powered signal that allows you to tap the equipped device on an NFC reader to make transfers such as payments or access rewards cards. Since then, several major Android phones have had NFC chips, and businesses like Starbucks have supported the system.
However, for the iOS release, Google has dropped the NFC requirement. Apple never added NFC to the iPhone, opting instead for a simpler solution with its own Passbook app, which uses your location to determine when and where you can use the app.
What it does
Because of the absence of NFC on iPhones, Google Wallet lacks of one of the main reasons to use the app -- tap-to-pay. Instead, its focus shifts toward person-to-person transfers. With the Wallet app, you can send money to anybody with a Gmail account. Whether taken directly from your debit or credit cards, or from money added to your Wallet account, you can use the app to send money to whoever you want.
This could be useful for paying friends in situations where you don't have cash or would rather not use it, like splitting the bill at dinner or finally paying someone back that $5 you owe them. The app also integrates Google Offers, giving you a place to store loyalty cards -- much like Apple's Passbook. It includes a search function to see which nearby businesses are offering discounts.
Also, certain online retailers will give you the option to log in to your Wallet account to pay, in an attempt to compete with PayPal.
Of course, any app that contains sensitive information should take security very seriously, and Google Wallet has measures in place to protect you in the event your phone is compromised. Google claims that Wallet has 24/7 fraud protection and monitoring, and you are guaranteed protection against fraudulent transactions for up to 180 days as long as you report them. Also, if your phone is stolen you can disable your Wallet account from the web.
This isn't quite new
Even though Google Wallet has been around for two years, it joins an iOS ecosystem that already has options for those who desire payment functions. In particular, the recently updated PayPal app has pretty much all of these same functions, and has a more established reputation with online retailers. It also makes innovative use of geolocation for remote payment at certain stores and restaurants that support it, something Google Wallet loses without its NFC capabilities.
The Google Offers feature is also nothing new. Apple's Passbook gives iPhones a built-in loyalty card app, as well as functionality for boarding passes, though mostly it serves as a reminder that moving loyalty cards to an app makes them no less spammy for all but the most deal-loving among us.
Ultimately, Google Wallet gives iOS users another option in the still-developing field of mobile payment. Google may have an edge in that they've put a lot of time and investment into Wallet to create a network of businesses who accept it, but without NFC or any way to use it for making payments at the point of sale, it struggles to overcome the "why" question of using Wallet over your actual wallet.
The best use for Google Wallet might be the person-to-person transfers, allowing us to send money to anybody who has a Gmail address. The mobile payment sector is heating up and with large companies like Google expanding to all mobile platforms, a future where our smartphones replace our wallets is fast approaching. For now though, Google Wallet and its contemporaries are mostly for only the most technologically minded among us.