Is Google Wallet doomed?

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I’ve been an advocate of using Google Wallet since I’ve been able to run the app on my smartphone. Walking into the local convenience store, phone in hand, and paying for my Monster Energy Drink by tapping my phone to their reader was, for lack of another phrase, science-fiction realized! The cashier smiled and chuckled a little — a guy trying to use his phone to make a purchase! Shenanigans! Then the receipt printed out. The look on that cashier’s face was epic: disbelief and jaw-dropping amazement.

After that I started looking for places I could pay with my phone, just so I could see the same expression time and time again. I know, I’m wacky that way. Take this exchange that I had just a month ago at the local food court:

Cashier: “Sir, you can’t pay with your phone!”

Me: “Oh, okay. Would you please hand me my receipt.”

Cashier: “Holy ****! You just paid with your ******-******* phone! How the **** did you just ******* pay with your ******* phone?!”

Despite the fun that I’ve had with Google Wallet, the app has been on the market for two years, and it has failed to make serious inroads. There are many reasons why Google Wallet hasn’t taken off.

NFC

Google Wallet requires an NFC-enabled smartphone, which were fairly few and far between until just recently. Google introduced NFC into its Nexus lineup with the Nexus S, but Google Wallet was essentially a Sprint feature. Although other NFC-enabled Android-powered phones started to be released, the Google Wallet app itself has been blocked by many carriers.

Carrier Restrictions

Even on NFC-capable phones, the app sometimes isn’t “allowed” by the carrier (as if it’s the carrier’s phone!).

The reasons behind these delays and prohibitions can be argued, but to the casual observer it’s been because those carriers want “a piece of the pie”, a percentage of every purchase made with “their” phones. Most of those carriers have all backed a competing system called Isis.

Ironically, Google Wallet is compatible with Isis terminals, so anywhere you can use Isis, you can use Google Wallet.

Limited Points of Purchase

Even today I’m very limited on where I can use my phone to make purchases. McDonalds, 7-Eleven, Home Depot, one of the merchants at the food court, and the local farm supply are all the places that I can use my phone instead of greenbacks. Not even the fancy, NFC-enabled parking meters in the City support NFC payments — not yet anyway.

Where Does That Leave Us?

Google Wallet isn’t just an app, it’s an ecosystem — a very expensive ecosystem. After an estimated US$300 million having been thrown at the project, there have been less than 10 million downloads of the app from the Play Store. Even people like me, who go out of our way to use technology, are tiring of using the app due to its limited reach.

Bloomberg reports that “more than half a dozen people close to the company” have said various projects to get Google Wallet into the hands of more users have been reconsidered or abandoned. Even the Vice President over Google Wallet was recently laid off.

Remember, however, that Google Wallet is an ecosystem, not just an app. You don’t have to have an NFC-enabled device on a non-blocking carrier to use the service. Many websites offer payments via Google Wallet, including the Play Store itself. Recently Google added the ability to send money via Gmail, though it’s not available to everyone just yet, and it’s still very “geographically challenged”.

The ecosystem that is Google Wallet seems to be gaining ground, but the online part of that environment may be the only surviving component before too long. So if your phone lets you run Google Wallet, go out and blow the socks off some cashiers today, while you still can.

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy".By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video.Read more about Joe Levi here.