Google Wallet may have launched yesterday, but with only one handset, the Nexus S 4G, supported at launch and no mention of the NFC sticker system revealed last May, it’s unclear how fast the payments system will spread. Both Google’s Wallet site and the official announcement are conspicuously vague on the stickers – which were, it was originally suggested, intended as a workaround for those without the WiMAX Android phone – and there’s extra emphasis on the Secure Element system the search giant uses to lock up customers’ credit card details.
The NFC stickers were always going to be at a disadvantage in comparison to the Nexus S 4G implementation. In that handset, the Secure Element is a separate chip that Google says is “isolated from your phone’s main operating system and hardware” and uses “encrypted protocols to enforce access control.” PIN access is required whenever a payment is to be made, temporarily enabling the NFC chip and unlocking your card credentials so that they can be read by the vendor’s device.
With no access to an in-phone Secure Element, and presumably a passive NFC chip – as used in various existing wireless payment cards – Google Wallet stickers would lack those same security policies. Indeed, according to Google’s original outline, the stickers are only intended to be linked with a single credit card, using the cloud to communicate with the Google Wallet app itself. That isn’t the case with the Nexus S 4G system, though: Google makes clear in its FAQ that no network connection is required for the phone to make payments, only that it be powered on.
It’s looking increasingly likely that the Google Wallet stickers don’t entirely fit in with Google’s overall plans for the service. Although Google has licensed Visa payWave – which uses passive NFC rather than a Secure Element system, and is limited to sub-$25 transactions – the payments provider confirmed, it will be offered as another option in the existing Google Wallet experience rather than as a simpler way for non-NFC devices to join the party. “We look forward to bringing Google Wallet to more phones in the future” the company said on launching the service yesterday, but with a variety of different NFC payment systems in operation worldwide, it could be that buying a new Android phone with the requisite Secure Element and NFC hardware is the only way to get onboard.