Slideshow In Pictures: The Google/Softcard Saga

  • February 26 2015, 11:01pm EST
16 Images Total

Google and Softcard have been fighting a long turf war to become the dominant mobile wallet for Android users. Softcard has finally conceded defeat, but Google still has much work ahead of it. (Images: Softcard, Bloomberg News)

In the Beginning

The original Google Wallet was strictly for contactless payments from two sources: a linked Citi credit card and a virtual Google-branded prepaid card. It also worked only on Sprint phones. In the years that followed, Google made many changes to make its mobile wallet more accessible. (Image: Bloomberg News)

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Going Online

Six months after its launch, Google Wallet absorbed its predecssor, an online payment system called Google Checkout. This move both eliminated the Checkout brand and brought the Checkout userbase to Google Wallet, simultaneously expanding Wallet's features and audience. (Image: Shutterstock)

Softcard Makes Its Move

In late 2012, Softcard — then called Isis — began longrunning tests in Salt Lake City and Austin, Texas. The Isis wallet, created by AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, had the benefit of being able to use the carriers' stores as enrollment centers.

Wallets at War

Google Wallet and Softcard/Isis quickly became rivals. Well ahead of Isis' formal launch, the carriers behind the venture blocked the NFC version of Google Wallet from functioning on their handsets, citing security concerns related to Google's use of the phone's secure element. (Image: Shutterstock)

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Google Adds More Banks

For the first year, Google Wallet's process for enlisting banks was so onerous that no company other than Citi participated. Then Google changed its process, removing the need to directly connect to a card account by passing most transactions through a virtual MasterCard. (Image: Bloomberg News)

Google Prepaid Goes Away

With the new virtual MasterCard in place, Google was able to remove the virtual Google-branded card from the wallet app. The Google virtual card was once used by a security researcher to demonstrate a weakness in the app, so its removal eliminated a possible path for fraud. (Image: Bloomberg News)

Softcard's Shaky Launch

Softcard/Isis launched nationwide in late 2013, though it was somewhat changed. Earlier partners Barclays and Capital One did not stay on for the formal launch, but soon thereafter Softcard brought in Wells Fargo as a participating issuer. Also, JPMorgan's virtual "Isis Cash card" was dumped in favor of American Express' Serve.

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Google's New Guts

With the 2013 arrival of Android 4.4, also called KitKat, Google enabled Host Card Emulation, a technology that sidestepped the need for access to a phone's secure element. In doing so, Google was finally able to support contactless payments on all Android devices, regardless of which carrier's network was used.

Google Goes Plastic

By the end of 2013, Google had overcome the barriers with issuers and carriers, but it still had to expand its wallet's acceptance at merchants. Many U.S. merchants don't accept contactless payments, so Google began offering a plastic payment card to Google Wallet devotees.

Softcard Stats

In early 2014, Softcard/Isis reported activating 20,000 mobile wallets per day. Amex also reported that the Isis app was a significant enrollment channel for its Serve accounts.

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Identity Crisis

As 2014 progressed, Isis faced a marketing crisis: A violent militant group was using the same name. After surveying its users, the venture chose to change its product's name to Softcard. Though the new name was less toxic, it shed all of the branding the telcos had been building for years. (Image: Bloomberg News)

The Apple Effect

Some retailers committed to the upcoming CurrentC wallet responded to the 2014 launch of Apple Pay by turning off NFC acceptance altogether. Though this was meant as a blow to Apple, the move also blocked acceptance of Google Wallet and Softcard. (Image: Bloomberg News)

Softcard's Hail Mary

After suggesting it could work with Apple — and failing to deliver on this prediction — Softcard began a new branding campaign featuring a puppet designed to look like a point of sale terminal. Unfortunately, "Tappy" wasn't popular enough to win over consumers and issuers.

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Beginning of the End

In February of 2015, Google purchased technology and intellectual property from Softcard. The Softcard carriers also agreed to pre-load Google Wallet on the phones they sell. This followed some hard times at Softcard, including layoffs and the shutdown of some office locations. Days later, Softcard told the world it was shutting down. (Image: Shutterstock)

Google's Next Move

Google will reportedly launch its Android Pay platform in May, enabling Android developers to handle e-commerce and in-app transactions. Though this is independent of Google Wallet, the two systems are expected to interact. Google should also expect fresh competition from Samsung and, separately, the merchants designing the CurrentC wallet. (Image: Bloomberg News)