Apple Pay vs. Google Wallet: Which Does What Best?

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A weird thing has happened in the two plus weeks since Apple Pay debuted: weekly transactions using Google Wallet have increased by 50%, according to Arstechnica. That logic may seem counterintuitive, but it makes sense if you think about all the attention Apple Pay has drawn to not just itself, but mobile payments as a whole. 

Matter of fact, Apple Pay’s biggest competitor, Google Wallet, has probably been mentioned more time in the last few weeks than in all of the preceding time since its launch in 2011. But now that mobile payments are finally set to explode how do the two compare and which should you use? 

Set-up and Apps

Apple Pay set-up is as straightforward as can be expected from a mobile wallet experience. To use it you need to register a card with Apple Pay. You have two options of doing this: using your existing card on file with your iTunes account or entering a new card. 

We explored both Apple Pay setup options in detail here, but for a brief overview all you need to know is you open the Passbook app and then tap “Set Up Apple Pay”. Choose to use your card on file with iTunes and then enter its 3-digit CVV security code or choose to set up a new card by taking a picture of it. This latter way allows Passbook to pull all the details from your card–all that’s left for you to do is enter the 3-digit security code. Once you’ve entered your card either way your bank will process the information and then give you options of verifying that you want to add the card. These options all involve entering a code sent via text, email, or phone. Once verified your card is ready to use.

Setting up Google Wallet is very similar. The steps are almost identical, matter of fact: choose to add a card, take a photo of it to grab its information, enter the CVV code, then confirm you want to use your card via a secure code from your bank. Where Google Wallet differs from Apple Pay is it requires you to download the Google Wallet app first before you can use it. Apple Pay’s app–Passbook–comes preinstalled on every iPhone 6. The fact that Google Wallet doesn’t come preinstalled on most Androids adds another step to the process and could be why some people don’t ever give it a chance–they simply don’t know about it.

Supported Devices and Supported Cards

Speaking of the iPhone 6, that is one major drawback Apple Pay has: you must own an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus to use it (or a new iPad). Apple Pay will not work with older iPhones even if those iPhones have Passbook and Touch ID. Google Wallet, on the other hand, works on almost any Android device as long as it has NFC (it also works on iPhones and non-NFC Android phones, but you can’t tap to pay with these devices).

Another drawback to Apple Pay is that its support for cards and banks are relatively limited for now. Sure, Apple Pay is only a few weeks old–and this will change quickly. But with Google Wallet you can use virtually any credit or debit card from almost any bank in the world. With Apple Pay you are restricted to credit and debit cards from only a handful of US banks. Again, this will change as time goes on, but that’s how things stand now. 

Paying

But when we get to actually paying with Apple Pay and Google Wallet, Apple Pay blows Wallet out of the water. To pay with Apple Pay all you need to do is raise your iPhone 6 to an NFC terminal while having your thumb placed on its Touch ID. You’ll feel a slight vibration and hear a beep, which tells you your transaction has gone through. The whole process takes mere seconds. You’ll also notice that there is no need to unlock your phone or even wake its screen from sleep. In this way Apple Pay works exactly as a contactless debit card does now: tap and pay.

Google Wallet on the other hand requires you to wake up your device before you can use it. Then, as with Apple Pay, you need to raise the phone to the NFC reader and wait for a beep. This beep doesn’t mean you’re done–only that Google Wallet is active. Most NFC terminals will then require you to punch in your PIN on the terminal itself if you are using a debit card in Google Wallet or press the Enter key on the terminal if you are using a credit card, as noted by Google below. Only then is the transaction complete.

  • Wake up your device. No need to open the app.
  • Hold the back of your device against the contactless payment terminal.
  • If you’re asked for a PIN on the terminal or your device, use your Wallet PIN.
  • The terminal might flash or beep to show your payment was made.

As you can see, Google Wallet takes longer to use and isn’t as seamless because of these extra steps–and the lack of the Touch ID fingerprint reader, which adds an extra level of security to Apple Pay and explains why you don’t need to enter any PIN on the NFC terminal when making a purchase. 

Verdict

As usual, Apple wasn’t first to this space, but Apple has done mobile payments the best. It’s simply too fast and convenient to use Apple Pay. The entire experience is seamless and as easy–or easier–than reaching into my wallet and using a traditional contactless card. Apple Pay is also greatly helped by the added security in Touch ID and also the fact that the Passbook app is already installed on every iPhone that supports Apple Pay. 

That’s not to say Google Wallet isn’t a decent option. It’s just that Google got lazy being first with a mobile wallet solution back in 2011 and didn’t really innovate. Still, Google Wallet does have some clear advantages: it supports more cards and phones than Apple Pay does. But Google Wallet is hindered by a slower, clunkier user experience and the fact that you need to download the app first which is definitely a barrier to adoption.

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