Of all the limitations that Google’s NFC-based Wallet payment system had, perhaps the biggest was that of card compatibility — once you blew through that free $10 credit, it only ever worked well if you owned a CitiBank MasterCard.
Note the use of the past tense in that sentence. Google recently revealed a substantial update to the Wallet service that allows it to (finally) play nice with Visa, Discover, and American Express credit or debit cards.
It’s all thanks to a dramatic change in how Google Wallet handles users’ credit and debit card information — Google Wallet product manager Robin Dua explains it like so:
To support all credit and debit cards, we changed our technical approach to storing payment cards. The Google Wallet app now stores your payment cards on highly secure Google servers, instead of in the secure storage area on your phone. A wallet ID (virtual card number) is stored in the secure storage area of the phone, and this is used to facilitate transactions at the point of sale. Google instantly charges your selected credit or debit card.
That’s not all Google has been working on — also on deck is a new remote wipe feature that allows users to reset the Wallet app and purge all related financial data from the service’s online management site.
While the update has effectively opened up the service to scores of new users, Google Wallet still has a ways to go before it becomes as ubiquitous as Google likely wants it to be. A quick look at the list of supported devices highlights nicely how much headway Google has to make — there are only eight devices listed, and all but two of them (the unlocked Galaxy Nexus and the Nexus 7, naturally) are tied up with Sprint.
Now that the secure element issue isn’t really an issue any more, one has to wonder if Verizon customers will finally be able to get in on the NFC payment action (officially, anyway). The carrier took issue with the app’s use of that secure hardware element, and cited it as a reason why the service wasn’t available for the LTE Galaxy Nexus late last year. Alas, that hurdle doesn’t seem to have been cleared yet — it doesn’t appear in the Play Store while searching on my VZW Galaxy Nexus, and the app (which I installed way back when) itself still refers to the device as “unsupported.”