Home Mobile Google Wallet review: A dash of convenience for our digital lives

Google Wallet review: A dash of convenience for our digital lives

Consumer adoption of digital payments and digitization has accelerated since the pandemic. It has transitioned from a nice-to-have experience – or one demanded by tech-savvy users – to being a par for course expectation for most people.

Consumer adoption of digital payments and digitization has accelerated since the pandemic. It has transitioned from a nice-to-have experience – or one demanded by tech-savvy users – to being a par for course expectation for most people.

According to Counterpoint Research, in 2023, out of the 152 million smartphones shipped in the country, 140 million were powered by Android. Considering India is primarily an Android market and the massive success of Google Pay in the country, it is surprising that it took Google nearly two years after the app was relaunched as a digital wallet platform in the US to finally launch Google Wallet in India. But here we are.

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According to Counterpoint Research, in 2023, out of the 152 million smartphones shipped in the country, 140 million were powered by Android. Considering India is primarily an Android market and the massive success of Google Pay in the country, it is surprising that it took Google nearly two years after the app was relaunched as a digital wallet platform in the US to finally launch Google Wallet in India. But here we are.

What is a digital wallet?

A digital wallet service, like Google Wallet on Android, lets users store and access their boarding passes, loyalty and gift cards, event tickets, and similar things you need on your person at most times.

In India, for instance, Google Wallet will work with a host of services.

  • PVR Inox, allowing users to add movie and event tickets seamlessly.
  • Airlines like Air India, Air India Express, and online travel companies like MakeMyTrip, Ixigo, and Easemytrip to help travelers easily save and access their mobile boarding passes.
  • Hyderabad Metro, Kochi Metro, VRL Travels, and Abhibus to help purchase and store public transport tickets.
  • Flipkart, Dominos, Shoppers Stop, and a plethora of brands supported by loyalty program enablers Pinelabs, EasyRewardz, and Twid to store and use digital copies of their loyalty and gift cards.

Of course, more local integrations will come over time. Additionally, for a service or business that isn’t supported, you can always create a pass manually from images containing a barcode or QR code.

Google has also partnered with system integrators Wavelynx and Alert Enterprise to bring your corporate badge to Google Wallet (if your organization implements it, that is) to make accessing the workplace more convenient.

Google’s roller coaster of apps

If you are of a certain internet vintage, you would remember Google’s tryst with messaging apps – too many apps doing the same things and multiple branding shennanigans. From Google Talk to Google Voice to Hangouts to Allo to Duo to now, Google Meet (along with Google Messages on Android, of course).

When it comes to digital wallets, things haven’t been so bad, but they have had a muddled journey.

The original Google Wallet app was launched in 2011 for the company’s Nexus series of smartphones. Then, in 2015, Google launched Android Pay for a broader payment system for the platform.

In what seemed like a good idea, by 2018, Google consolidated both services to introduce the Google Pay brand. It was a digital payments app at first but over time transformed into a complete digital wallet allowing users to store boarding passes, loyalty cards, booking information and tickets, and government IDs.

But far from Mountain View at the same time, Google renamed Tez, a payments app launched in India an year before, to Google Pay. So, we had two different apps – of the same name but for different markets. The Google Pay app in India was built on top of UPI while the original Google Pay app was made for a different peer-to-peer payment system and to enable Tap & Pay payments with stored credit cards.

In a culmination of this roller coaster, in 2022, Google went all in on the Google Wallet brand, and Google Pay is set to shut down next month. Except in India (and Singapore), that is. While the company has launched Google Wallet in India, Google Pay lives on exclusively for digital payments. In India, “Wallet is specifically tailored for thinking about the non-payment use cases,” Ram Papatla, general manager and India engineering lead for Android at Google said at a press conference in New Delhi on 8 May.

Google’s two-prong strategy is akin to carrying both a card case and a money clip in your pocket, and pulling out either according to the need. I wish Google allowed credit cards on Wallet (while keeping UPI on Google Pay) to offer an experience similar to what is available globally.

Unlike Samsung Wallet, Google Wallet isn’t a one-stop ‘wallet’ (in India, that is) since you must rely on another app, like Google Pay, for digital transactions.

Getting started with the app

Once you download the Google Wallet app from the Play Store (Google Wallet is not available for iOS), getting started is quite straightforward.

Tap on ‘Add to Wallet’ to choose ‘Photo’ to create a pass manually, ‘Loyalty’ to earn and use your rewards and points, ‘Gift card’ to shop and pay with a gift card, and ‘Transport pass’ to add transit passes.

Once you add your loyalty card or gift card to Wallet, you’ll see your point balance and loyalty beenfits in other Google services like Maps, and so on, as well.

Google Wallet integrates with other Google products for an even more seamless experience. If you own a Pixel device, for example, take a screenshot of your boarding pass and tap “Add to Google Wallet.” Pro tip: You can add Google Wallet as a lock screen shortcut, allowing for quick and easy access. If you have smart personalization settings in Gmail turned on, tickets and passes recevied from a select set of partners will automatically appear in your Google Wallet. If you receive an email with flight delay information, the app will notify you and change the stored boarding pass information.

Google Wallet stores your information securely with easy-to-use privacy controls to safeguard your personal information. Of course, Android’s built-in security features like 2-step verification, Find My Phone, and remote data erase provide a greater sense of security on top of that.

The app is intuitive, with a straightforward user experience. I quite like how the home screen has a carousel of all passes straight up, so you can swipe through and pull the one you need in a jiffy. It’s akin to opening your physical wallet and picking the card you want to use.

Adding new passes is also a seamless exercise. While Google talked about only a set of marquee partners at launch, if you dig deep, you’d find a long list of Indian businesses listed with supported loyalty and gift cards, which makes it a handy app for a diverse set of users.

The competition

Samsung Wallet, formerly known as Samsung Pay, is a one-stop digital wallet and payments app with comprehensive localization for the Indian market.

It can store credit and debit cards that can be used to make payments via Tap & Pay at PoS machines in India and it supports UPI for mobile payments. Apart from payments, Samsung Wallet can store a user’s Aadhaar, driving license, PAN, Covid-19 vaccination certificate (via CoWIN), and vehicle registration certificates. You can also buy gift cards and coupons from Samsung Wallet. It also allows users to import boarding passes for flights and train tickets by importing the PDF file or scanning the QR code.

Samsung Wallet is a well-rounded app that offers a complete digital wallet experience with an excellent integration with Samsung Galaxy Watches. However, it is exclusive to Samsung smartphones.

There’s also Apple Wallet app for iPhone users, though it doesn’t have many local integrations in India. Neither does it support Apple Pay, the company’s contactless payment service, in India. That said, last year, multiple reports suggested that Apple has engaged with Indian authorities and several banks to pave way for the launch of Apple Pay in India in the future.

A recent update to the Google Wallet app appeared to have added support for .pkpass files, which would allow users to import passes from Apple Wallet. Most popular apps and services globally use this format to deliver digital tickets and passes.

Overall, Google Wallet is a well-designed app that adds a dash of convenience to our digital lives. From my occasional usage of the app in the US, I’ve also observed that Google has continued to add features progressively to support more use cases and businesses, which is a good thing.

However, unlike Samsung Wallet, it isn’t a one-stop “wallet” (in India, that is) since you must rely on another app, like Google Pay, for digital transactions. While Samsung trumps Google on this count, the fact that Google Wallet is available for all Android phones across price segments will ensure the latter finds more takers.

Abhishek Baxi is a technology journalist and digital consultant.

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