Google Wallet now works with iOS devices

Google relaxed the requirement for NFC chips, iPhones and iPads don't have

Google Wallet is now available as an app for the first time on iOS 6 and iOS 7 devices.

The iOS app is a clear move by Google to grow its mobile wallet ecosystem beyond Android smartphones and tablets.

The latest iPhones, which go on sale tomorrow, and other Apple devices don't include NFC technology, which was originally critical to Google Wallet for in-store purchases at an NFC-ready payment terminal.

But Google on Tuesday relaxed the requirement for an NFC chip, now on 29 different Android smartphones and tablets, and made it possible to use Google Wallet with all Android phones, versions 2.3 and later. Google also said it will continue to invest in NFC technology.

With Tuesday's Android update and the iOS-related announced today, Google has created a new version of Google Wallet to work with barcode scanners in stores to add points to loyalty cards already stored in the app. Optical scanning of barcodes on a smartphone is the same approach retailers such as Starbucks already use, and is behind what Apple does with its Passbook app for loyalty cards and ticket validations at airline boarding gates and elsewhere.

Based on the official description for Google Wallet on iOS and a Google blog, the new iOS app has the same features as its updated Android counterpart, minus the in-store payment with NFC. That means an iPhone or iPad user with the Google Wallet app can also send money to any friend in the U.S. with an email address (based on a Gmail service announced in May), and can add loyalty cards and redeem loyalty points in stores using barcode scanning.

Google Wallet also shows offers in nearby stores based on proximity, a feature than can be turned off in the iPhone's privacy settings under location services.

The app can be disabled if the iPhone is lost or stolen, and Google Wallet comes with a PIN for added security. Google already makes several mobile apps for the iPhone, including Google Drive, Google Search, Google Earth and Google Voice.

In a blog, Google Wallet Product Manager Brian Kravitz said that opening up Google Wallet to all Android phones generated a "great" user response. "We want iOS users to enjoy all the benefits, too," he said.

The move could indicate Google wants to secure a place on the iOS platform as a mobile wallet should Apple offer future payment options that could include the use of NFC chip.

Some analysts believe Apple won't ever go the NFC direction, however. Apple also has a Bluetooth-based iBeacons technology as part of iOS 7 that could enable purchasing in some fashion.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said that Google Wallet's arrival on iOS is partly about Google "poking Apple in the eye and saying Google has an open platform that works on all devices and that Apple does not." Also, Google hopes to make Wallet more appealing than rival payment systems, he said.

"Google has to be cross-platform," Gold said.

Jordan McKee, an analyst at Yankee Group, noted Google Wallet can now be downloaded on smartphones working on all of the major wireless carriers; until this week, it only worked with Sprint's network. That's because AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile US had formed the Isis network for NFC smartphones.

According to McKee, the updated Google Wallet does not need to access the secure element inside phones on the Isis network that allows loyalty card scanning to work. (Physical mobile payments with Google Wallet still need to be done via NFC over Sprint's network, however.)

Adding peer-to-peer functions for sending money to friends "sweetens the deal for users who download the app," McKee said. "By emphasizing P2P, loyalty and coupling, Google is attempting to scale while NFC adoption and penetration remains low. Google's strategy here is to bolster its user base and remain relevant while it waits for NFC to come to fruition in payments."

McKee believes that NFC payments will grow as new payment terminals are more widely deployed by U.S. retailers over the next two years.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at  @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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