Google announced on Monday that it is currently working with Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile USA and AT&T Mobility to bring tap-and-pay functionality back to Google Wallet. This feature will be offered on Android-based phones running Android 4.4 "KitKat" and later.
Google Wallet previously wasn't offered on many pre-KitKat Android devices due to the three carriers' joint payment system called ISIS Wallet. To use this service, customers with Android phones were required to install a special SIM card offered by the carriers. Even with that installed, Google Wallet wasn't listed on Google Play, and customers were forced to use ISIS Wallet if they wanted tap-and-pay functionality.
Back in July 2014, ISIS Wallet CEO Michael Abbott announced that the company was changing its name to Softcard so it wouldn't be associated with the Islamic militant group located in the Middle East. "We have no desire to share a name with this group and our hearts go out to those affected by this violence," Abbott said.
Meanwhile, the three carriers finally allowed Google to re-open downloads for Google Wallet for all Android tablets and smartphones. Although only a handful of devices were allowed to use the tap-and-pay function, presumably the rest of the Android crowd could only send and request money by using a stored credit card.
That brings us to the present, as Google's Ariel Bardin, Vice President of Payments, reported that Google has worked out a deal with the three carriers and Softcard to enable NFC payments within Google Wallet, which will be pre-installed on upcoming Android 4.4 devices slated to be released later this year.
"We're also acquiring some exciting technology and intellectual property from Softcard to make Google Wallet better," Bardin added.
These devices will undoubtedly have the special SIM card already installed, while owners of current Android 4.4 devices will need to contact their wireless carrier to receive the heavily-secured card. These cards should be free for subscribers.
The move to beef up Google Wallet is surprising given that Softcard was the reason why Google couldn't enable Wallet-based tap-to-pay in the first place. One could speculate that the recent Apple Pay boom has pushed carriers into rethinking their Android-based payment plans. Heck, even Samsung is looking to launch its own tap-to-pay payment system with the purchase of LoopPay.
Tap-to-pay requires that a device have not only the special secured SIM card, but NFC hardware, as well. With Google Wallet's tap-to-pay capability turned on, users can simply make a payment by tapping their phone on a register sporting the oval Wi-Fi-like logo. Customers can also add multiple credit cards and set one as the default before making a tap-to-pay purchase.
KitKat-based devices not compatible with Google Wallet's tap-and-pay include the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, the Samsung Galaxy S3 and several others.
UPDATE, 2:43 PM EST, 2/24/15: Fixed an error regarding compatible tap-and-pay phones. Also note as reader "juanricos" points out, tap-and-pay has been available in Google Wallet with the release of KitKat. The need for special SIM card and the useof ISIS/Software instead of Google Wallet was an issue germane to Android Jellybean devices, not KitKat