Google Wallet is coming to US-based Android phones this week, but it's hardly the same app that Google first launched two years ago. It's still not available in the UK, but – being Digital Arts – the evolution of its design is more interesting to us than being able to use it
The new Google Wallet app is more like Apple's Passbook, containing loyalty cards (below) for real-world shops. With supporting merchants such as Office Depot and Foot Locker, Americans can check their rewards balance and get Google Now notifications when they8're near a store.
A few retailers, including Belly and Red Mango, allow buyers to sign up for rewards directly through the Wallet app.
Unlike Passbook, Google Wallet lets you scan in barcodes from physical loyalty cards.
Other apps such as Key Ring offer this functionality already, but having loyalty cards integrated with the Android OS could be helpful if more retailers add Google Wallet support over time.
The Wallet app also acts a central location for Groupon-like special offers from stores and restaurants (above). Americans can purchase these offers through Google+, Google Search, Google Maps, or Google Offers, and they'll all show up in the Wallet app.
They can browse for nearby offers directly through the app as well. Google says it will support coupon sites such as Valpak starting later this week.
Fund transfers now available in Wallet
The other major change is the ability to send money (below). Users can transfer funds to anyone in the United States with an email address, but the recipient will have to sign up for Google Wallet to receive the funds.
Transfers from bank accounts and from a Google Wallet balance are free, but there's a 2.9 percent transaction fee to send money from a credit or debit card. Google had already been testing money transfers through Gmail, and users who send money through the Wallet app will get early access to Gmail transfers as well.
The NFC-based payment features of Google Wallet aren't going away, but there aren't many phones that support it to begin with. For years, US-based wireless carriers have banished Google Wallet as they build their own competing service, called Isis. That's not going to change, even though Isis is still in limited trials with a nationwide launch coming later this year.
Like it or not, Google needs to take a different approach if it wants to be hooked into what people buy in the real world.