Now that Apple has entered the mobile payment sweepstakes with the introduction of Apple Pay, where does this leave the Google Wallet app? Is Google’s now two-year-old attempt to change the point of sale landscape set to enter a competition similar to the iOS vs. Android battle still making news in the world of mobile devices? Additionally, don’t forget CurrentC, yet another mobile payment system created by a consortium of retailers including market heavies like Walmart, Target, and CVS; the latter of whom recently blocked Apple Pay from working at their stores.
It’s enough to make the heads of any shopper go into “Linda Blair Exorcist Mode,” especially with Black Friday and the Holiday shopping season right around the corner. Let’s take a closer look at Google Wallet; how it works, and whether the mobile payment system still is viable in a market with Apple Pay and CurrentC.
A Mobile Payment System is All About the Near Field Communication
Both Apple Pay and Google Wallet rely on a technology called Near Field Communications (NFC) to work their retail magic. NFC operates like a version of Bluetooth that relies on close proximity. When making a purchase in a retail establishment, a Google Wallet user — or one using Apple Pay for that matter — simply holds their smartphone close to the mobile payment terminal which then performs a quick, secure data transmission between the two devices completing the sale.
CVS was able to block both Google Wallet and Apple Pay customers from using either services in their stores by simply turning off the Near Field Communications functionality on their payment terminal. With mobile payment systems still in their nascent stage, the CurrentC companies apparently feel they can take the risk of upsetting the few customers trying to pay in this manner. Even with this recent hiccup, there is no doubt that NFC technology is here to stay, despite CurrentC’s clunkier solution using QR codes instead of the wireless communication provided by both Apple Pay and Google Wallet.
A Closer Look at Google Wallet’s Functionality and Features
Google Wallet’s leveraging of NFC technology is called “Tap and Pay,” describing the practice a shopper goes through when paying when using the Wallet to pay at a retail store. Google Wallet works at a growing number of stores; most of these same retailers also support Apple Pay from the same mobile payment terminal. Google even teamed up with MasterCard to offer something called the Google Wallet Card, essentially serving as a debit card powered by the Google Wallet service; rest assured that Wallet also supports nearly debit and credit card available in the U.S.
The list of smartphones supporting Google Wallet includes most of the recent iterations of models by Samsung, LG, Motorola, and HTC, provided the device was purchased in the United States. Quite interestingly, Wallet also supports the iPhone, and there is a Google Wallet app available for iOS — if only Apple was that friendly with their competitors.
Wallet works with all major credit card companies and supports all major carriers in the United States. Where Apple Pay integrates with the iOS Passbook to manage your credit and debit cards, Google Wallet leverages that separate Android app for this functionality. Both systems allow you to enter a credit or debit card by simply “scanning” it with your smartphone’s camera.
The shopping experience using both Google Wallet and Apple Pay is essentially similar. The two systems, and how they are managed on your device, also work the same way, with the minor exception of Google Wallet being a separate app compared to Apple adding mobile payment functionality to Passbook. The main issue with either system is finding brick and mortar retailers that support mobile payments using NFC; both systems also support online retailers.
Ultimately, any competition between Apple Pay and Google Wallet is minimal. Arguably, the bigger battle is both mobile payment systems together competing with the CurrentC consortium. How this ultimately plays out is still a year or two away, with CurrentC not expected to see wide use until sometime in 2015. It will be an interesting competition to watch, especially with CVS already upsetting both Apple Pay and Google Wallet users with their blocking of both payment systems.
Photo Credit: Kennejima