Google Wallet vs. Apple Pay: Which Will Replace Your Wallet?

Google Wallet sign at Peet's checkout station

When Apple announced the release of Apple Pay in October 2014, it was hard not to take notice. Even the most loyal Android users had some kind of reaction, ranging from “Finally” to “This is something I’ve been able to do with Google Wallet for over three years.”

While that last statement is perfectly true, Google was quick to respond with an increased advertising effort. With the growing attention around NFC payments, you may be wondering which digital wallet is right for you. For a lot of consumers that decision might ultimately depend on which one becomes the dominant player in the space. Or can they coexist?

Here’s a look at Google Wallet vs. Apple Pay.

Google Wallet NFC reader

Competing for Visibility

Accessibility has long been a pain point for Google Wallet (Google currently claims it’s accepted by 220,000 merchants). However, it also seems as if this late push to increase advertising around it has also gone largely unnoticed. While Google’s latest YouTube video to promote Google Wallet had logged over 317,000 views five months after its launch, it was still difficult to locate.

It would be unreasonable to assume that any company, even one as large as Google, would be able to crank out a full-scale advertising campaign on such short notice. But it’s also hard to deny these efforts didn’t make much of a dent in the Apple Pay bandwagon.

With that in mind, we can assume the increased advertising for Google Wallet wasn’t quite as big a boost as originally promised. We can also safely assume that this advertising “push” alone won’t be enough to stifle the buzz around Apple Pay, but considering that Google Wallet has existed for three years, what has everyone so excited about Apple Pay?

It should be noted that from a product perspective, it’s not as if Google’s just been sitting on its hands while Apple Pay takes over the world.

Google Wallet payments on Android smartphone screen

Google Wallet’s Latest Additions

Google rolled out some exciting changes to Google Wallet, including seamless integration with gift cards and rewards programs, as well as an overhaul of its aesthetic. On top of that, Disney recently announced it would be accepting Google Wallet.

Considering these developments, our first thought was that perhaps the usability of Apple Pay simply trumped that of Google Wallet. We can’t help but wonder if those loyal iPhone users who have been swimming comfortably in the Apple ecosystem for years were just making so much noise about Apple Pay that it was impossible for anyone else to compete.

While usability is often paramount to everyday users, there are also a number of other factors at play. Soon after Apple’s announcement of Apple Pay, PC Magazine posited that while Google Wallet has existed for a considerable amount of time, it should be considered a failure. This position was based almost entirely on Google Wallet’s business model. Much like many products within Google’s suite, Google Wallet collects data about its users to serve them with targeted advertisements and offers down the road.

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Google Wallet Add Card screen on smartphone

Security Concerns: Google Wallet vs. Apple Pay

With more and more mobile users doing everything they can to avoid products that are too intrusive, it’s common for many considering Google Wallet to stop in the middle of the signup process, not wanting to disclose so much personal information.

While clearly many other users have not had those concerns, it’s worth considering the differences between Google Wallet and Apple Pay.

According to the PC Magazine article, “for Google to follow Apple’s payment model would go against its business model and take away any real profit it could get from providing a Google Wallet transaction. Without the customer purchase data, there is no after-market link to enable targeted ads.”

Apple Pay, on the other hand, presents a huge challenge to Google in that it simply provides a secure link to your credit or debit card and is not interested in collecting data about your shopping habits.

With the spate of large security breaches over the past couple of years, it wouldn’t be surprising if what’s really holding Google Wallet back is its business model. It would make complete sense if mobile users, especially with the apparently less intrusive option of Apple Pay, opted not to risk being part of a potential security failure at Google. (It might sound absurd, but as the biggest pessimists always say, you never know.)

However, even that risk hasn’t completely deterred Google Wallet users. Square has even announced that it will be launching support for Google Wallet in 2015, another sign that while the buzz around Apple Pay (not to mention its simplicity) might be here to stay, Google Wallet isn’t going anywhere, either.

Google Wallet email service on smartphone screen

Fighting the Google Fight

On top of that, Google used last holiday season to give its users $5 gift cards to select retailers. Not an astronomical amount – not much more than a coupon, really – but it’s still an indicator that Google won’t simply lie down and let Apple control the NFC payments market.

It’s clear that while Google’s intentions to increase advertising around Google Wallet at the end of 2014 were a logical reaction to the Apple Pay announcement, there are much higher mountains to climb before any buzz around Apple Pay is quelled by the potential of Google Wallet.

Still, because of the advancements we’ve seen in NFC payments, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that this competition will only produce even more robust NFC payment options to mobile users sooner rather than later – and for that we should all be very, very excited.

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