A long time ago, Google introduced Wallet—a powerful payment system that allows users to not only set up a bank account, but also loyalty cards and more. Sadly, Google Wallet never really gained much traction. It's still around (I use it at every supporting location in my area), struggling to reach any semblance of usage. Thankfully, Google understands this and is about to do something about.
At the latest Google I/O, they unveiled plans for a brand new payment system...Android Pay. This new system will roll out with Android M and may or may not completely do away with Google Wallet (that has yet to be determined or announced). What's the difference between Pay and Wallet? Is this just going to be a new name for the same system with face lift?
Sort of. But in this case, the facelift doesn't just bring to life a prettier payment system, it brings a simplicity to mobile payment that Android has needed. The simplicity comes in the form of not having to open the Google Wallet app (or enter a PIN) to make a payment. The transaction will be handled via NFC and uses a token system (in partnership with banks) to process the payment.
The next improvement comes in the form of Android Pay being rolled into services like Lyft, Grubhub, and Wish as well as used for in-app purchases.
This all sounds very familiar—like Google Wallet...only without password protection.
Wait, does that sound a bit...I don't know, insecure?
Yes, Google plans on integrating your device's fingerprint scanner for security when Android Pay comes out to play. But what happens when your device doesn't have a fingerprint scanner? What then? We don't know. Devices like the Samsung Galaxy S6 have a fingerprint reader—so they are good to go. The Nexus 6? Not so much. Android devices with fingerprint scanners are in the minority, so this would mean anyone who wants to take advantage of Android Pay would have to purchase a new device or use Android Pay sans security.
Not cool, Google. Not even remotely cool.
If Android Pay has any hope of wide-spread adoption, Google better make plans on keeping financial data secure...even on devices that do not incorporate a fingerprint scanner...otherwise Pay will fail worse than Wallet. My guess is this—Google will go a long way to ensure Android Pay is secure. Even without a fingerprint scanner or the use of a PIN, your financial information will be encrypted and, so long as you keep your device nice and secure (which should not be optional at this point) or you don't lose your device...you'll be good to go.
There are a lot of what ifs here, though. The biggest of those ifs—\What if your Android device isn't secured with a lock screen password/PIN/pattern and someone steals your Android Pay enabled phone? In that case, you could very quickly see your bank account drained. In that scenario, the user would simply log onto their Google account and track suspicious activity. Depending upon the speed of transactions, you could quickly discover where the phone is and take steps to retrieve it.
The truth of the matter is this: Google Wallet came about too early. Technology and users simply weren't ready for mobile payment systems. By the time Apple Pay rolled out, people's minds had been opened to the idea and technology had adapted to the point where the systems were in place. Adoption could happen. Now, Android Pay should arrive to a more willing and ready audience. Even though it seems like Google is going to roll out an insecure system—I think we all know better than to believe the juggernaut would be so foolish. Android Pay will arrive and, fingerprint scanner or not, it will be secure.
However (there is always an however), the relative security of Android Pay will still fall partially in the hands of the user. I say this often and it always stands to bear repeating—secure your device. Use a strong password, a PIN, or pattern to keep prying eyes out of your data. This cannot be stressed enough. And when Android Pay finally arrives, aa secure lock screen could stand between theft and your money.
Simple. As. That.
I believe what Google is doing with Android Pay is dead on. They need to not only make it easy for end users, they need to make it robust, secure, and widespread. Google Wallet couldn't pull it off. Android Pay, on the other hand, might well stand a chance to finally get mobile payment on the Google platform off the ground.
What do you think? Can Android Pay pave a better path for mobile payments? Or is mobile payment still a long way from acceptance?
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.