Google Wallet was seemingly sidelined this year when Android Pay replaced it as Google’s flagship mobile payments app, but a recent update to the Wallet app shows that Google still sees potential in the aging brand.
Google Wallet used to be the company's umbrella brand for mobile, e-commerce and P2P payments, but its current role as a P2P-only app seemed more like an exercise in sunsetting a brand than rebuilding it.
The update allows consumers to send funds via text message instead of just email, bringing Google Wallet similar functionality to other P2P apps like PayPal's Venmo and Square Cash. Users can also choose a recipient from their list of contacts. In short, the new version acts more like a social app than a money app, following one of the few proven formulas for adoption in mobile P2P.
Google Wallet’s update may add some polish, but if this is a first step for the brand's comeback, it is a decidedly small step compared to the strides taken by the app's rivals. Venmo, for example, has fleshed-out social features like a news feed and emoji. Square Cash is more bare-bones, but it is also the foundation for SnapChat's Snapcash feature.
“With messaging apps at the heart of the mobile experience, consumers will expect to be able to do more with these apps, including payments,” said Talie Baker, an analyst with Aite Group. “Facebook and WeChat are two examples of messaging services with huge user bases that offer P2P services,” she noted. Aite’s latest research suggests only 40% of millennials used a mobile P2P app in 2014.
Facebook Messenger added P2P capabilities this year, and even banks are getting in on the game with updates to the clearXchange network, anchored by institutions including Bank of America, Capital One, Chase Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank. Rumors suggest Apple plans to add a P2P feature to Apple Pay, and Microsoft also has made noise about exploring P2P. The Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant earlier this year acquired money-transmitter licenses in all U.S. 48 states that require such licensing and registered with FinCEN as a money services business.
The lure for all players is the projected growth in P2P, particularly among younger consumers. Mobile P2P payment systems will grow to reach about 126 million adult users by 2020, according to a study earlier this year by Javelin Strategy and Research.
“There’s still room for someone to take the lead in P2P, and it’s not too late for Google [to succeed in P2P],” Baker said. “Whoever does the best job educating consumers on mobile P2P and earning consumer trust could win this.”
The Google Wallet also added a few smaller features such as the ability to link a second bank account to the app to more easily manage users’ P2P funds. The upgrade also included a new security shortcut to lock the Google Wallet app with one click.
If Google continues to flesh out Google Wallet's P2P capabilities, it has a chance to reignite the brand as more consumers seek digital options for personal payments.
“I think P2P is still in its infancy, but I also don’t see any of the current solutions as being a killer app,” said Lee Manfred, a partner with First Annapolis Consulting. “It will likely be some time before the market coalesces around a small set of long-term players and a sustainable set of economics emerges."
In Google’s announcement about the upgrade last week on its Commerce Blog, it made no mention of its other longtime P2P service through Gmail, which is now integrated with Google Wallet. Users can still originate a P2P transfer within Gmail the same way they would send an email attachment, but they’re required to set up a Google Wallet account. One difference: Google Wallet is available only in the U.S., but U.K. consumers can send money domestically via Gmail, a Google spokesperson said.
Google Wallet brand once dominated headlines in the payment press with its bold, if premature, launch in 2011 as the first broad-based consumer wallet enabling point of sale payments. Paralyzed by lack of broad support from wireless carriers and banks and the paucity of Near Field Communication terminals on the retail side, Google Wallet’s relevance faded alongside that of the other major Android-based wallet, Softcard, a joint venture of AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile. Softcard eventually sold its assets to Google.
Android Pay may not have to compete with its older sibling at the point of sale, but it faces a new wave of competition from handset makers including Samsung and LG.