The new Google Pay app came out of beta this week and marks the first step in a major upheaval in the Google Pay service. Existing Google Pay users are about to make a transition reminiscent of the recent move from Google Music to YouTube Music: Google is terminating a flawless service and replacing it with a worse, less functional service. The funny, confusing fold here is that the new and old services are both referred to as "Google Pay".
The old Google Pay service that has been around for years is dying. The app will shut down on April 5th in the US. If you want to keep using New Google Pay, you'll need to find and download a completely new app. The NFC tap and pay feature doesn't really change after setting up the new app, but the new Google Pay app no longer uses 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 created a new account. In addition, on April 5th in the US, the Google Pay website will be stripped of all payment functionality and New Google Pay will not support any activity on the internet. You can't transfer funds, view payment activity, or view your balance through a browser.
In addition to making access less convenient and requiring users to recreate their accounts, New Google Pay is also tempting users to switch to debit cards with new fees for transferring funds. Old Google Pay did this for free, but new Google Pay now has "a 1.5% or $ 0.31 fee (whichever is greater) 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 the support page and a notice at the top of pay.google.com. In the Play Store, Google has already started to hide the old Google Pay app in the search results, rename it "Google Pay (old app)" and update the app's home screen with a message to sign up for the new app.
New anti-internet design from Google Pay
Oh no, not again. With Google Pay, you need to sign in with your mobile operator's SMS number.
The website dies because websites don't have SIM cards.
This is what the actual app looks like if you wonder.
We've spent some time with the new Google Pay app as it's no longer in beta, and Google seems to be repeating the same mistakes it made with Google Allo, one of Google's biggest messaging app flops Has. 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 bidding war with Facebook two years earlier. Like New Google Pay, Allo debuted in India and aimed at the country before for some reason it was imposed on the rest of us. Allo was thoroughly rejected by consumers and was dead in the water after four months of availability. It was closed after about two years.
In Google Land, targeting an app to India means creating an internet hostile design that ignores existing Google infrastructure, data and contacts, and creates something entirely powered by the carriers' SMS system. Like Allo, New Google Pay 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 mobile operator's phone number. None of your existing Google Pay contacts will be transferred, and all of them will also need to sign up for new accounts with their carrier phone numbers. If you only make payments by SMS, signing up for the service in India is theoretically easier. In the rest of the world, where people interested in a Google service generally have a Google Account and multiple devices, this is less practical when compared to competing services.
Just like with Google Allo, SMS-based authentication means there is no desktop support at all. The Google Pay website is deprived of all useful functions because a browser does not have a carrier SIM card and therefore cannot be authenticated by the SMS-dependent system. Google Allo eventually copied WhatsApp and developed a clunky, QR code-driven browser login process that redirected your phone's access to the browser (and didn't work if your phone was turned off / dead / missing). Google Pay might invent something like this at some point, but that seems like a bunch of work for a quick (and earlier) quick money transaction.
Enlarge /. SMS-based apps like Google Pay only support one device at a time.
The other SMS-based limitation of Google Pay is that just like Allo, you can only be signed in on one device at a time. This is less of a problem for a payment app, but the old version of Google Pay worked for smartwatches too. If Google is ever looking to revive its wearables segment, that seems like a bad caveat.
Basically everyone will be banned from the old Google Pay service and you will all have to join this new thing and reconnect them. As with YouTube Music, this is a great opportunity for Google to lose users as they are forced to reevaluate their app choices and set something new up. There is a chance that users will switch to a different, more stable, and more respectful platform. This step also destroys the synergy between NFC-Google Pay and Tap-to-Money-to-People-Google Pay. The two services, both in a single app, now use completely different sign-in methods: Google Pay NFC for the new app continues to use your Google account and transfer your credit cards.
SMS identity isn't a totally useless solution, but it's definitely not the future we should be pushing for when regular account systems are free, more accessible, and much more stable. I know you technically don't own a corporate cloud service, but a phone number tied to a bill and your ability to pay feels a lot more temporary than an email address. I'm sure there are people out there who have had the same phone number for many years, but that only happens if you keep paying the bill every month for years. They also trust that the notoriously poor billing and customer service departments of your local cellular operator are doing the right thing and screwing you out of your phone number for some stupid reason, which has definitely happened before. You might even make 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 far easier to get internet service than it is to get cellular service. In a Venn diagram of Internet access, cellular service is a smaller circle within a larger "Internet" circle that also offers 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 was never a big deal thanks to wired services. But they'd have to leave the house to set up Google Pay. We'll probably switch to something else.