The new Google Pay app came out of beta this week and marks the first step in a major revolution in the Google Pay service. Existing Google Pay users are about to go through a transition reminiscent of the recent move from Google Music to YouTube Music: Google destroys a great service and replaces it with a worse, less functional service. The fun, confusing wrinkle here is that the new and old services are both called “Google Pay.”
Let us explain.
The old Google Pay service that has been around for years is dying out. The app will be discontinued in the US on April 5, and if you want to continue using New Google Pay, you’ll need to find and download a brand new app. NFC tap-and-pay functionality won’t really change once you set up the new app, but the new Google Pay app will no longer use your Google account for P2P payments. You need to create a new account. You will not be able to send money to your new contacts until they have downloaded the new app and also created a new account. In addition, the Google Pay website will be stripped of all payment functionality in the US on April 5, and new Google Pay will not support doing anything from the web. You cannot transfer money, view payment activity or view your balance from a browser.
In addition to less convenient access and forcing users to recreate their accounts, New Google Pay is also enticing users to switch with new rates for debit card transfers. The old Google Pay did this for free, but the new Google Pay now has “a 1.5% or $0.31 fee (whichever is higher), when you transfer money with a debit card.”
Google is currently sending emails to existing users detailing all of this. There is also a link to a support page and a notification at the top of pay.google.com. In the Play Store, Google has already started hiding the old Google Pay app from search results, renamed it to “Google Pay (old app)” and updated the app’s home screen with a message to sign up for the new one. app.
New internet-hostile design of Google Pay
We’ve spent some time with the new Google Pay app now that it’s out of beta, and it looks like Google is repeating the same mistakes it made with Google Allo, one of Google’s biggest messaging app flops. Google Allo was the messaging app released in 2016, a few years after Google Hangouts. The service represented Google’s attempt to clone WhatsApp after losing a takeover war with Facebook two years earlier. Like New Google Pay, Allo debuted in India and was laser-focused on the country before being forced onto the rest of us for some reason. Allo was thoroughly rejected by consumers and lay dead in the water after four months of availability. It was shut down after about two years.
In Google land, targeting an app to India means building an internet-hostile design that ignores existing Google infrastructure, data and contacts, and building something completely powered by the carriers’ SMS system. The new Google Pay, like Allo, doesn’t use your Google account (at least, not for payments). Instead, you’ll need to sign up for the new Google Pay using your carrier’s phone number. None of your existing Google Pay contacts will be transferred, and they will all need to sign up for a new account with their carrier’s phone number as well. Making payments entirely text-driven makes signing up for the service easier in India in theory, but in the rest of the world – where people interested in a Google service generally have a Google account and multiple devices. – it is trickier compared to competing services.
As with Google Allo, SMS-based authentication means there’s no desktop support at all. The Google Pay website is stripped of all useful functionality because a browser does not have a SIM card from a carrier and therefore cannot be verified by the SMS dependent system. Google Allo eventually copied WhatsApp and came up with a clunky, QR code-driven browser login process that forwarded your phone access to the browser (and didn’t work if your phone is off/dead/missing). Google Pay could eventually come up with something like this, but that seems like a lot of work for what should be (and was) a quick money transfer.
The other SMS-based limitation of Google Pay is that you can only sign in on one device at a time, just like Allo. This is less of a problem for a payment app, but the old version of Google Pay also worked on smart watches. If Google ever wants to revive its wearables segment, this seems like a bad constraint.
Basically, everyone is getting kicked out of the old Google Pay service and all of you need to get involved and reconnect to this new thing. As with YouTube Music, this is a great opportunity for Google to lose users as they are forced to re-evaluate their app choices and set up something new. It is possible that users will move to a different, more stable and respectful platform. This move also destroys the synergy between NFC tap-and-pay Google Pay and Send-money-to-people Google Pay. The two services, both in one app, now use completely different login methods: Google Pay NFC in the new app still uses your Google account and transfers your credit cards.
SMS identity isn’t a completely unworkable solution, but it’s certainly not the future we should be aiming for, when mainstream account systems are free, more accessible, and much more stable. I know you don’t technically own a corporate cloud service, but a phone number, associated with an account and your ability to pay, feels much more temporary than something like an email address. I’m sure there are people who have had the same phone number for years, but that only happens if you constantly pay the bill, every month, for years. You also rely on your local cell phone company’s notoriously bad billing and customer service departments to do the right thing and not rip you off your phone number for some stupid reason, which has certainly happened before. You might even have a moral argument that it is wrong to associate identity with your ability to pay a bill.
The other problem with SMS is that it is significantly easier to get internet service than cellular service. In a Venn diagram of Internet access, cell phone service is a smaller circle within a larger “Internet” circle, which also has wired Internet options from your local ISP. For example, my parents live in a cottage in the woods and don’t get cell phone service, which has never been a problem thanks to cable services. But they would have to leave the house to set up Google Pay. We’ll probably switch to something else.