With Wallet update, Google promises continued NFC investment

Barcode scanning for loyalty card points also supported on all Android phones in Wallet update

Google on Tuesday announced a new version of its Google Wallet app for Android phones, version 2.3.3 and later, that lets users send money wirelessly, stores loyalty cards and offers a view of all Google Wallet activity.

The 3.1 version of the Google Wallet app relies on near-field communications (NFC) technology, which is available in 29 different Android smartphones and tablets for tap-and-pay in-store payments. What may be more interesting is that 3.1 also relies on barcode scanning to let all Android users earn points on loyalty cards at checkout.

In a blog, Peter Hazlehurst, director of product management for Google Wallet, assured users that NFC is still an important part of the Google Wallet strategy. In addition to the 29 devices with NFC, "we also have more NFC-enabled devices on the horizon as we continue to invest in NFC with our partners," Hazlehurst said.

The barcode-scanning feature in the new version allows users to leave plastic loyalty cards at home. The information is loaded to the phone by scanning the barcode or typing in the card number. Users can earn points for a loyalty program by "scanning the app at checkout," the blog said. The scanning ability will work with Android 2.3.3 phones or later and not only those with NFC.

In the future, Google said its Google Now service will notify a user when a saved loyalty program at a store is nearby.

Google didn't comment on its latest Google Wallet strategy for both barcode scanning and NFC support. However, the ability to scan barcodes widely across Android could be a response to continued industry interest in the technology by retailers, such as Starbucks. It also could be a response to Apple's reluctance to install NFC, even in its latest iPhones, the 5c and the 5s. Apple's Passbook app relies on scanning tickets and loyalty cards.

Last week, some analysts said Apple's decision to leave NFC out of the latest iPhones is another indication that NFC is a dead technology in the U.S. Apple, instead, has incorporated a Bluetooth-based iBeacons technology in iOS 7 that could be useful in enabling purchasing, but the details are unclear on how it would work for purchases.

The Google Wallet app version 3.1, available in the Google Play store, continues to allow use of Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover to pay in-store via near field communication (NFC). A list of Android phones and tablets that can use the technology is available on the Google Wallet site.

The new version also incorporates the ability to send money in Gmail via Google Wallet, which was first announced in May. It's free to send money directly to any friend in the U.S. with an email address from your bank account or the balance in Google Wallet. A 2.9% transaction fee applies to send from a linked credit or debit card.

With the new version, users also can see all their purchase activity made with Google Wallet in one place.

This article, With Wallet update, Google promises continued NFC investment, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

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 mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Read more about mobile payments in Computerworld's Mobile Payments Topic Center.

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