Google thinks the time is right to bring back Wallet

Google has announced that it’s bringing back the Wallet app as a place to manage payment cards, gift cards, rewards cards, passes, and more. Wallet used to be a standalone app before it was folded into Google Pay. Now, the company is making it a separate app again, saying that consumers and companies alike are pushing for digital cards.

Wallet will be the app you use to store and manage your debit and credit cards on Android. (You’ll be able to use it across Google’s ecosystem in apps like Google Pay and on the web via Chrome Autocomplete). But Google wants it to be much more than just a way to store credit and rewards cards. The company is also pitching Wallet as the place to keep your transit cards, proof of vaccinationtickets to events, and even your government-issued ID and car keys.

Older versions of Google Wallet had similar (if more limited) aspirations, but Google says other companies are now more ready to provide people with digital cards and identification to fill the app up. For example, some hotels have shown that they’re willing to provide digital room keysand some state governments in the US are working on issuing digital driver’s licenses. Apple has also been working on adding these kinds of use cases to its own Wallet app, which Google’s offering seems very similar to. That’s not to say that Google’s copying Apple here, but it could have some catching up to do since Apple’s been pushing this kind of experience for years.

“Timing and context matter,” said Bill Ready, Google’s president of commerce and payments, in an interview with The Verge. He said that companies and other institutions want to provide users with a way to store their info digitally, and Google Wallet will be one of the places they can do that. Ready said that the company’s trying to build Wallet on a bed of open ecosystems, which he thinks will “open up a plethora of new use cases.”

As an example of what that could look like, Ready talked about Google Wallet’s integration with Google Maps. If you have your transit pass stored in Google Wallet, you’ll be able to see how much money’s left on it when you’re viewing possible routes in Maps, which can also tell you how much a certain ride will cost. If you don’t have enough on your pass to cover fares, Maps could even let you top it up from within the app using the payment card stored in Wallet.

Of course, all of this has to be supported by the specific transit system you’re trying to use, but Ready said that transit providers were some of the most enthusiastic organizations when it came to digital identity. Google’s going to be connecting on third parties for many of the features it’s trying to add to Wallet, but Ready thinks its open-ecosystem approach will help and that companies generally won’t have to pay to integrate into Wallet.

The Google Wallet rollout is a little confusing.
Picture: Google

How this rollout will go also depends on where in the world you are: in a lot of countries, the Google Pay app is becoming Google Wallet. That’s not the case in the US and Singapore, though — in those countries, Wallet will be a separate app, while Pay will stay around as “a payments-centered app that helps people pay friends and save and manage money.” In India, Google Pay is staying the same.

The move toward Wallet as a standalone app that integrates into other apps makes a lot of sense to me. While many of the features Google’s promising for Wallet are currently available in Google Pay or Android itself, they don’t necessarily fit in there — I’m not really paying for anything when I’m using my boarding pass to get on a plane, but it’d totally make sense to keep something like that in my wallet.

It’s also nice to be able to manage all your cards in one place (like you can with, say, a physical wallet), and Google Pay just has too much other stuff going on to be great at that. Unlike Pay, Wallet is just going to be on Android to start, but you’ll be able to access some of the information you put in it on other platforms. Some things, like digital IDs, will likely be locked to a single device.

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