I don't know about you, but I really like mobile wallets. Being able to store all of my credit cards, loyalty programs, event tickets, and more in one single place on my phone is a huge convenience, especially as our world becomes less and less reliant on cash.
Unfortunately for Android users, Google has been trailing behind in these regards for some time. Using Google Pay for NFC payments works perfectly fine, but lacking support for digital passes and not having an easy way to access the service outside of opening the Google Pay app has put it in a noticeably lower tier compared to Apple Pay and even Samsung Pay. I roasted Google pretty hard about this last July, which is why I got so excited when my Pixel 4 received the March 2020 "feature drop."
Thanks to this update, Google Pay is just a button-press away.
Google's been using these feature drops for the last couple of months to bring new software features to its Pixel phones, and this most recent one added something I've been waiting for for a long time — an easy way to access Google Pay from anywhere on your phone.
No matter what you're doing on your device, even if the screen is locked, a long press-press of the power button now brings up a list of your credit/debit cards that are linked to Google Pay. Just hold the button, select the card you want, and you're ready to pay just like that. It's essentially what Apple's offered for Apple Pay since the iPhone X, and it works just as good.
In addition to having quick access to your payment cards, the feature also reveals an emergency information card, as well as a shortcut to view any passes you have stored in Google Pay. Some people might overlook this feature and not think much of it, but as far as I'm concerned, it's a big accessibility factor Google Pay's been missing ever since it launched.
Google Pay works the same, but now it feels like a core part of the Pixel experience.
You can still just hold your phone near an NFC terminal for Google Pay to open up automatically and make a payment with your default card, but if you want to change your payment method or access a digital pass, you no longer have to search for the Google Pay app. From a user standpoint, it's worlds more convenient. Plus, if you want to look a bit deeper, it's a sign that Google legitimately cares about the service if it's willing to tie it to a hardware shortcut. Google Pay is now front and center on all Pixel phones, rather than feeling like a side project the company forgot about.
Does this update also solve the issue of lackluster passes I previously complained about? Sadly, no. That's something that isn't going to be resolved overnight, and it falls more on the shoulders of app developers rather than Google being 100% to blame. However, given the lack of interest Google's shown towards Google Pay since its big revamp in 2018, you can't fully blame these developers, either. Similar to what we've seen with Stadia and developers being hesitant to create games for the service out of fear that Google will shut it down in a couple of years, perhaps app developers have had a similar feeling with Google Pay.
This shortcut, hopefully, is a sign that Google does still care about Google Pay and wants to shine a larger spotlight on the service.
The biggest downside to this is that the shortcut is only offered on Pixel phones, and while I don't envision it showing up on a Samsung device anytime soon, I wouldn't be surprised if it lands on other Android phones with Pixel-like interfaces — such as phones from Motorola, Nokia, etc.
I could be making too big of a deal out of a small feature, but even if this isn't a spark of revival for app developers to expand their Google Pay support, I'm still thrilled that we have the shortcut in the first place. Now, it feels like Google Pay is a core function of my phone that I won't soon forget. Assuming other Pixel owners feel the same way and start using Google Pay more than they were previously, who knows what'll happen next.
So much more than Google Pay
The Pixel 4 XL is the best phone Google has to offer right now, and it sure is something. The matte glass design looks and feels outstanding, the 90Hz AMOLED display is a joy, and camera performance is out of this world. Thanks to the March 2020 feature drop, it now also offers an easy shortcut to Google Pay.
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