Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Wallet has finally made it onto the iPhone, along with dozens of other mobile phone models from most major vendors and carriers. And all it had to do was give up on its original purpose: in-store mobile payments.
On Thursday (Sept. 19) Google announced an iOS version of Wallet that allows users to transfer money to anyone with an e-mail address, store loyalty cards and offers, and make mobile-commerce purchases. The features largely match those of the new Android version of Google Wallet rolled out last week that, for the first time, can be downloaded by users on Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.
But those users won't be able to use Google Wallet on their phones to make in-store payments. That was originally the central feature of Google Wallet, and it depended on a near-field communications (NFC) chip inside the phone. However, initially there were a limited number of phones with an NFC chip (more phones have them now, but iPhones still don't). Then the three largest U.S. mobile carriers formed Google Wallet's biggest NFC-payments rival, Isis, and refused to let their customers use Google Wallet.
They probably shouldn't have worried—neither Google Wallet not Isis has overcome the real barrier to NFC-based mobile payments, which is getting retail chains to encourage store associates to encourage in-store mobile payments. As a result, actual use of all the systems has been minimal.
Google is making the optimistic noises we'd expect about the non-NFC future of Google Wallet, and it's the only future it can realistically expect to work. But in practice, this probably marks the end of Google's efforts to use NFC-enabled smartphones to mimic contactless payment cards.
Google says its Wallet users whose phones have NFC and are signed up to make in-store payments can still do that, although Google actually loses money on every transaction done that way. And any NFC Google Wallet users who try downloading the new version of the Android app will discover that instead, they'll get a message from the Google Play store that the app won't run on their device.
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