What The Hell Happened To Google Wallet's Cash-Free Future?

Almost a year ago, Google held a press conference to announce Google Wallet, an ambitious, multi-faceted plan for a cash-free future in which mobile phones would replace hard currency.

A few months later, it arrived, but only on a single US-only phone. Since then, we haven't heard much about Google Wallet. And it isn't like a total takeover was expected, not after today's prediction that it will take eight years for smartphone wallets to replace cash and credit carts. But still, what the hell happened?

The Vision

There are two main aspects to Google Wallet: payments and deals. Utilising a near field communication (NFC) chip, Google Wallet promises to let you press your phone up against any compatible terminal to make a purchase. You'd upload your bank info to a Google Wallet app, or transfer funds from a designated Google account. No cards, no cash. Simply gadgetry.

For transactions eligible for a coupon or discount, Google Wallet would apply the promotion at the point of sale and adjust the final tally. Even if you were in the vicinity of a nearby discount, say, at a favourite establishment, Google would alert you to let you know. It would be a shameless, automated deal broker.

The Reality

When Google announced the Wallet last May, Mastercard was the only card company on board. With all the fanfare surrounding the announcement, it seemed like the product would launch with the major credit cards' support -- Visa, American Express, and maybe even PayPal. As of now, Google has established partnerships with Visa and American Express, but those companies do not yet exist on the actual product.

On the hardware side, the product launched in September 2011 with the Samsung Nexus S as the only device equipped with the Secure Element NFC chip required to operate Google Wallet's mobile payments. The Galaxy Nexus has since come aboard. Ten more compatible phones are promised this year, but they have not yet appeared. So, for several months, Google Wallet has only been an option for a few lucky American Android owners on Sprint, and only very recently, AT&T.

It also seemed safe to assume Google had ironed out the Wallet system with the wireless carriers who sell the devices. But that was not the case. Verizon put up a quiet, but effective resistance to having Google Wallet on its NFC-enabled phones, citing security concerns. (Does Verizon, maybe, have another mobile payment technology in development?) As of now, no Verizon user -- even one with a Galaxy Nexus -- can take advantage of Google Wallet without resorting to backwater hacks.

That said, it's not all Google's fault. Here are a few other complications:

• PayPal introduced a Square-like card reader with the ability to scan cheques and exchange money from phone to phone. A step in the right direction, but hardly as convenient as it could be.

• Speaking of Square, the company has dismissed NFC-based mobile payments on more than one occasion, claiming that most people don't even know what NFC is, let alone use it. While that may be true, it's sad that one of the companies with enough name recognition to push the industry along is unwilling to take a risk on NFC.

• Of course, there's Apple, a company that could probably turn NFC wallets into an overnight success. But Apple seems content to sit back and let everyone else bumble before making its own move.

• Google Wallet's security was cracked on rooted Android phones (and non-rooted phones). Google says the security holes have been fixed. But there's a question of trust.

The Future

What does Google do next to make Wallet a success? Bringing in new people to lead the project is a start.

Ideally, Google would get the Wallet up and running on other platforms. Realistically, it's doubtful that the likes of Apple and Microsoft would integrate a compatible NFC chip into devices for the sake of Google. But if either Apple or Microsoft does decide to add a Secure Element NFC chip, Google must find a way to make an app work on those platforms.

Google also needs to build out a hardware ecosystem. The contact-free payment terminals are slowly spreading through retail outlets, so Google's major need is to offer up handsets loaded with Google Wallet. Android is an open platform, and manufacturers can do whatever they want with it. Google needs to make them want the Secure Element chip, and in the process, find a way to stop letting Verizon dictate what does (or doesn't) go into its Android handsets.

Maybe then, we can really start thinking of a phone as a new type of wallet.



    I would love to have my mastercard encoded into my phone.

    But sucks to another third party inbetween.

    I've successfully used Google Wallet to make a payment at a local convenience store, north of Brisbane. It's really quite cool. The challenge now, is adding funds to my Google Wallet account. I used up the $10 of "welcome credit", but I can't top it up because of fuddy duddy geographic blocking on Google's part.

    I love using my phone as this. I have a friend in the states that i send cash to to top my google card up with....Nothing like freaking out 7/11 store clerks by paying with my phone...I've had more then a few accuse me of "hacking" there paypass terminal haha.

      That's the part I don't get. How do the store clerks know that you're NOT hacking? Sure in reality it's not likely to happen, given all the processes in place, but how do merchants know?

        Maybe you just have your card between the phone and the case. I guess that is the lowtech way.


    Maybe... And I'm just throwing this out there... But maybe it takes a bit more time to roll this kind of thing out... People aren't used to it, the nexus is for testing... They wouldn't want to roll this out to everyone only to find that there's a huge security flaw in it later on... It's hard to spot a nexus in the crowd.

    Simple. bring Google Wallet to Australia. The only thing that stopped me from getting a Samsung nexus was the fact NFC could not be used in Australia. Plus google need to partner this with a Hardware company such as Samsung to create phones using this techology. It's sad to see great ideas which are not used. A friend and I were talking at work the other day why inducttion charging is not used in smartphones or Tablets, but also NFC with induction charging for wireless mouse and keyborads. Never have to pair a mouse or keyboard again, your desk can become a charging station for phones, tabs, mouses, keyboards. Also with NFC USB thumb drives can be read by jusy placing them on your desk. I know a number of people i work with who will just jump at the first Phone/Tab which will offer both NFC and Induction Charging. Once this ideas are more mainstream then Google Wallet will have a future

    only way to make it popular is adding this feature to iphone....then see the change....

    Going by how unsecured phones are especially android I dont really want all my bank details in my phone.

      There will be less lost phones.

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

    New financial payment systems take time to fully evolve and saturate the market to a full extent, greatest example of this is Paypass/Paywave, although originally developed 6-10 years ago it has only really become commonplace in the past 2 years.

    The back end development required in order to support products like this is mind boggling and once again requires months if not years of testing before being released into the general public.

    My sister has an iPhone cover that's basically a purse. You flip it open and it's got slots for credit cards, ID, etc on one side, the iPhone on the back, and a little zip up area for coins. Seems like it's doing the same thing the Google Wallet proposed, only it swaps the ability to be used as a swipe card for the ability to hold actual cash and her house key.
    Google Wallets a cool idea but if I still have to carry my actual wallet around it seems a bit pointless. It's not like a MP3 playing phone where it removes clutter from my pocket and no matter what great financial functions it has if it still requires a charged battery to operate I wouldn't want to risk using it as my primary means of payment.

    What killed the cashless future? Governments. Governments print cash. If they were to stop printing cash we would be up the creek.

    Its a form of power that the government has over us. Does it make them evil? Not necesarily. But they are still the government and as we know governments dont like to give up powers.

      "To print money" means to introduce new money into the economy, whether by printed note or by means such as issuing new debt.

      In the US, where all the action is, the Federal Reserve (a private institution) is the sole issuer of new money, in the form of new debt. It is a) not government and b) not printed cash.

      Government in fact has a very strong incentive to *abolish* the printed note altogether -- to prevent loads of money slipping through the cracks beyond the reach of government oversight, e.g. organised crime, tax evasion or even just by those who don't want Big Brother watching their every move (too late for that, by the way).

      I think the only reason there's any printed money left is because keeping the economy stable while all the money becomes "virtualised" is the sort of process you need to carry out slowly to avoid panic ... like boiling a frog.

      One of the most ignorant thing I've ever read on Gizmodo, and that's saying something. Money is not the material it's stamped or printed on, which is completely meaningless. It represents a potential good or service produced by said country.

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