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Google Wallet dumps NFC requirement, expands to all Android phones

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Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is extending its Wallet mobile commerce platform to all smartphones running Android 2.3 and higher, eliminating a requirement that compatible devices must contain a Near Field Communications chip with a secure element.

google wallet nfc

Google Wallet no longer requires NFC technology.

The revamped Google Wallet app enables users to send money to any U.S.-based contact with an email address. Google does not charge a fee on transactions sent directly from the user's bank account or Google Wallet Balance, and charges 2.9 percent per transaction on linked credit and debit cards. The app supports all major cards from Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover.

Google Wallet also doubles as a virtual container for customer loyalty cards, a model popularized by archrival Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Passbook for iOS. Wallet users may view their loyalty status and rewards point balance, and moving forward, the Google Now virtual assistant will alert them when they have a saved loyalty program near their current location.

"To add your cards, simply scan the barcode or input the card number into the app," explains Google Wallet Director of Product Management Peter Hazlehurst. "The next time you're at the store, you can earn points for your loyalty program by scanning the app at checkout. You can also easily join new programs like Alaska Airlines, Belly, and Red Mango within the Google Wallet app." Coming soon: Integration with programs from Avis Car Rental, BJ's Restaurants, Cosi, Hard Rock International, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott International, Raley's and The Body Shop.

"In addition to your loyalty cards, you can easily carry and use your offers with the Google Wallet app," Hazlehurst added. "No matter where you've found your offer--in the Google Maps app, Google Search, Google+ or Google Offers--they're visible and redeemable in your Wallet app at checkout. And later this week, you'll also be able to save offers on select merchant and couponing sites such as Valpak. Just show the offer on your app at checkout to redeem it. We're working with many partners to bring you great offers, and will be adding more soon."

When Google Wallet first launched in May 2011, the app enabled consumers to make purchases by tapping their NFC-enabled Android smartphone at more than 200,000 MasterCard PayPass-enabled merchant terminals across the United States. Its dependence on NFC limited the service to a small number of smartphones, however: While Sprint (NYSE:S) and U.S. Cellular sold Android devices supporting Google Wallet, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) did not, dramatically limiting adoption. The three non-participating carriers are currently rolling out their own rival m-commerce network, Isis, which is slated to launch nationwide later this year following consumer trials in the Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City markets.

Google said Wallet will continue to support NFC payments. "If you have one of 29 different NFC-enabled devices, you can continue to tap and pay at hundreds of thousands of U.S. locations, while also enjoying the new Wallet features," Hazlehurst said. "We also have more NFC-enabled devices on the horizon as we continue to invest in NFC with our partners."

With NFC no longer a requirement, Google could conceivably expand Wallet to other mobile operating systems, including iOS. In October 2012, Google quietly updated its Wallet website, stating "The next version of Google Wallet [is] coming soon," asking users "What kind of mobile device do you use?" and giving them three options: Android, Apple's iOS or "other," the latter represented by an illustration of a BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) smartphone with a physical keypad. Google maintained the page the months before finally taking it down, and has not commented on the status of the project.

For more:
- read this Google Commerce blog post
- read this Ars Technica article

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