The original Google Wallet launched in 2011 as a Nexus phone exclusive, allowing contactless credit card payments at specific locations. But a lack of NFC-enabled phones, not enough retail partnerships, and little consumer interest ensured the initiative never really took off, despite Google's best efforts.
Android Pay took Wallet's place in 2015 as a payment system with much more business support and infrastructure, while Wallet scaled down into a peer-to-peer payment system. By 2018, both services had consolidated into the Google Pay brand, a single app for both tap-to-pay and sending money to friends, and Google Wallet ceased to be.
Google's love of renaming services for a marketing boost came full circle in July 2022, when it rebranded its payment service to Google Wallet once again. Google Pay technically still exists, but the Google Pay app has vanished in most countries — though not all — in favor of the Wallet app.
Confused? We don't blame you! But we're here to explain how the new Google Wallet system works, how it compares to the old Google Pay, which countries have access, and when new features like driver's licenses will come to it.
Google Wallet, summarized
Before Google Wallet, Google Pay could store more than your credit cards and bank accounts; it could also save boarding passes, event confirmations, transit balances, and other tools that weren't strictly "payments."
By rebranding to Google Wallet, Google is signaling that the app isn't just for buying things. Instead, it's truly meant to be a digital wallet that saves any credit and debit cards, passes, proof of vaccination, gift cards, and coupons you'd typically keep in a physical wallet.
If you have something stored in Google Wallet, other Google apps on Android phones will have access to this information. So, for example, if you receive an email on Gmail with a delayed flight time, it'll notify you and change the stored boarding pass information. Or, Wallet will sync with Google Maps, so if you choose a route that includes public transit and the transit system accepts Google Pay, it will show a banner with your current Wallet balance.
This is where it gets a bit convoluted: Physical store locations still accept "Google Pay," Google's NFC tap-to-pay system, which you'll use via Google Wallet. So if you see that a store accepts Google Pay, that means you'll need the Google Wallet app now, not Pay. We'll explain more about the new Google Pay app below.
What can you store in Google Wallet?
Whatever cards you were able to input in Google Pay in the past, you'll now be able to store in Google Wallet, from credit cards to transit passes. Also, during Google I/O, the company announced new digital ID cards that will eventually work with Google Wallet in the future.
First and foremost, you can deposit credit and debit cards in Google Wallet. Most banks and cards are compatible, but to make sure yours are, Google has a list of supported contactless payments (opens in new tab) sorted by country.
You can add your loyalty cards or membership cards, assuming the program's company has submitted its API to Google Pay. You'll then tap your phone or watch to apply discounts or balances, as well as pay directly for items.
Plus, you can keep your boarding passes and event tickets in Google Wallet, so entering a plane or stadium is as simple as pulling them up and tapping your phone.
Google Wallet also hosts transit cards, assuming you live in an area with public transit. And parking passes also show up here; at Google I/O, they gave the example of a Walt Disney World parking pass.
In terms of new features, you can store COVID-19 vaccine passports by taking a photo of your vaccine card on your Android phone, and it'll transfer information to Wallet.
In the future, Google Wallet will even host hotel room keys, office passes, and digital car keys — though the latter will require your car to work with the feature.
Google's biggest challenge, however, will be to enable digital driver's licenses or college IDs. These will come to Google Wallet starting in 2022, but not necessarily for you depending on where you live.
Can I store my driver's license in Google Wallet?
During Google I/O 2022, VP of Product Management Sameer Samat announced on stage that "we're working with states here in the U.S. and governments around the world to bring digital IDs to wallet later this year, starting with driver's licenses."
You'll be able to tap an NFC reader or share a QR code to convey your license information. We don't know yet what it'll look like, as the I/O visual example they gave had a "for illustrative purposes only" disclaimer.
Google hasn't announced which states or nations will allow legal digital licenses yet, and without state permission or the approval of law enforcement and the TSA, a Google Wallet license would be all but useless, leading to confusion.
Apple has already begun to receive permission for digital licenses in certain U.S. states, so we can expect the following states and territories to accept them on Android phones as well: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Ohio, Puerto Rico, and Utah.
As for other states or nations, we'll all have to stay tuned for more information.
We've also heard rumors that not all Android phones can support licenses. Esper senior technical editor Mishaal Rahman found evidence the feature may require something called Identity Credential Hardware Abstraction Layer, something that phones upgrading to Android 13 may not have. But Google hasn't mentioned any such restrictions as of yet, so don't lose hope.
Which countries support Google Wallet?
Google Wallet launched in 39 countries, then came to six more countries later in 2022. In the countries below, the old Google Pay app converted to Google Wallet automatically:
- Czech Republic
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
- South Africa
- United Arab Emirates
- United Kingdom
In addition, both Singapore and the United States received the Google Wallet app while also retaining access to a separate Google Pay app. And in India, it will continue to use its unique app version of Google Pay and won't transition to Google Wallet.
Google Wallet vs. Google Pay
Comparing Google Wallet vs. Google Pay only matters for users in Singapore and the United States, where GPay remains its own separate app. But in essence, Google Pay became what Wallet used to be: a peer-to-peer payment service.
Google Pay allows you to connect with your contacts, so you can send or receive money (like Venmo). You can pull money directly from your bank account or send your balance back to the bank. It also has special offers from merchants, as well as your searchable Google Pay transaction history in case you need to check old payments.
By contrast, Wallet focuses on tap-to-pay or tap-to-enter services with partnered vendors and organizations. You can use digital cards in your Wallet app to pay at physical Google Pay locations, but it doesn't enable P2P payments.
Google also claims Wallet has better interconnectivity with other Google apps like Gmail, Calendar, and Maps — something the Google Pay app never offered.
Google Wallet vs. Samsung Wallet
Google announced Google Wallet in May, but didn't upload the new app until late July. During that time, Samsung got the jump on Google and announced its own revamped payment app that combined Samsung Pay and Samsung Pass. Sound familiar?
Like Google Wallet, Samsung Wallet collects your digital payment cards, boarding passes, vaccination cards, and digital car keys — and will also add IDs and licenses in 2022, though once again we don't know which will make digital licenses legal.
So how are Google Wallet and Samsung Wallet different? Unlike Google Wallet, Samsung Wallet stores passwords, a remnant of the feature on Samsung Pass. Plus, anyone invested in crypto can "monitor their digital asset portfolio by checking the value of their cryptocurrencies across various exchanges" within Wallet.
Samsung Wallet is available now, but only on Samsung phones via the Galaxy Store — whereas Google Wallet is available on all Android phones via the Play Store — and only in six countries: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S.
Michael spent years freelancing on every tech topic under the sun before settling down on the real exciting stuff: virtual reality, fitness wearables, gaming, and how tech intersects with our world. He's a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves running, D&D, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter at @Michael_L_Hicks.
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