After being announced back in June at Google I/O, Android Pay is finally rolling out to devices. Yes, Android users can finally pay for things with their phones. Of course, they’ve been able to do that for the last four years with Google Wallet, but Android Pay is a different product that is certainly better in some ways, but also much more restrictive.
When Android Pay reaches your device, it will actually install on top of the old Google Wallet app. This also comes with a new version of Google Play Services, which is installed automatically in the background. Android Pay is designed to handle credit and debit cards, loyalty programs, and gift cards. All the person-to-person money transfers using your Wallet balance are now handled by a separate (new) Google Wallet app.
Just like Google Wallet, Android Pay works via near field communication (NFC). Nearly all Android phones have this feature built in, a notable exception being the OnePlus 2. Any retailer with an NFC-enabled payment kiosk will be able to accept Android Pay. These are the same terminals that work with PayPass and Apple Pay. If you see any of those logos, Android Pay will work.
There is a fundamental difference in the way Google Wallet and Android Pay work. In Wallet, you could add any card and Google would generate a universal virtual MasterCard that was used to process payments at the terminal. Android Pay uses your actual card number, but that means your bank or card issuer needs to support Android Pay specifically. If it doesn’t, you’re pretty much out of luck.
So why make Android Pay harder to use than Wallet? Because transactions in Google Wallet simply showed up as generic Google purchases, meaning card issuers didn’t know how to calculate rewards and cash back. By running transactions through the real card number and sending the metadata along with it, you get your rewards points and can better track purchases. The virtual card trick upset banks, so getting cozy with the card companies was really Google’s only option.
Android Pay is also a more secure payment option than Google Wallet, You will need to have a PIN, pattern, or password lock on your phone to activate Android Pay. Fingerprints will also be supported on Android 6.0 devices when they are available. Additionally, you can’t use a modified or rooted device with Android Pay. There are some workarounds for root, but a modified ROM might never function correctly.
As with many of Google’s products, this is a staged rollout. The app will be showing up in the Play Store for users over the coming days. Because only a few banks have support for Android Pay out of the gate, Google is allowing users to import the existing virtual cards from Wallet into Android Pay for a limited time. It didn’t say how long this offer will last, though, so Wallet users shouldn’t put off updating.