Google Pay heads for the desktop... and, we fear, an inevitable flop

Life in plastic, it's fantastic

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Comment Apple enabled payments in macOS Sierra in 2016, and it failed to set the world on fire. Will Google's move to support its own payment system on desktop web browsers fare any better?


On the desktop, Apple only supports Apple Pay via its own Safari browser, while Google promised this week to support Firefox and Safari as well as its own Chrome on whatever desktop operating system you're using. It'll also support iOS. Basically, you give Google your bank card so you can spend money online via Google.

"We’re starting to roll out Google Pay on the web from desktop and iOS — which means you’ll start seeing it when you’re shopping on browsers like Chrome, Safari, and Firefox, no matter your device," Google exec Gerardo Capie said, conveniently forgetting to mention Microsoft's Edge and Internet Explorer desktop browsers.

Chrome and Firefox have far larger user bases on Windows than on Macs, of course, and therefore Google's approach has a greater reach than Apple Pay. However, a large user base is no guarantee of success in mobile payments – just ask, er, Google.

Of Google's dozen, or more, monopolies in online markets and services, Android is one of the most significant. Over 80 per cent of the world's phones run Android, and it is estimated more than two billion Android devices are in active use every month globally. And on Android, 19 of the top 25 apps downloaded more than one billion times are Google's own apps.

But that doesn't seem to have helped Google Pay – as Android Pay is now called – one bit. Mobile payments are not a feature in mature markets in Europe and the Americas, where mobile payments must compete with good old fashioned plastic. Whip out your card, and you know it will probably work. Research by Auriemma in 2017 found that although decent numbers of people have signed up to mobile wallets, far fewer actually used them at the checkout. Just 12 per cent of surveyed UK cardholders, and nine per cent in the US, have used Apple Pay, and just four per cent with Android Pay.

In Asia and emerging markets, where mobile pay isn't competing with plastic, the story is quite different: there is a lot more enthusiasm for mobile payments in China.

Just the ticket

The UK's communications watchdog Ofcom noted a small uptick in the use of phones for ticketing. "Smartphone users are more likely than in 2016 to have ever used their phone as a ticket or boarding pass or as an entry ticket to an event (57 per cent vs. 41 per cent in 2016). They are also twice as likely to have done this in the previous week (11 per cent vs. 5 per cent in 2016)," the regulator's researchers found, but that's tickets largely bought elsewhere and simply displayed on the device at the gate.

Last year's Deloitte study of mobile habits still finds problems. "Smartphone owners – particularly those being handed used, advanced smartphones – may require assistance in making the best use of new functionality. Even experienced users may need guidance on how to use relatively established features, such as fingerprint readers to make an in-store payment," the bean counters concluded.

Perhaps on the desktop the user-interface friction will be low enough to encourage adoption of Google Pay, at least among people willing to give their bank card details and spending habits to the US tech giant. On a PC or Mac, buying stuff via Google Pay in the comfort of your own home should, ideally, be pretty fluid compared to having to fiddle with a smartphone and physically wave it over a payment terminal in a shop or cafe. Google shouldn't take this large potential user base for granted, though.

As for mobile wallets, with the price of SIM-less fragile glass touchscreen phones trending towards £1,000, could any reader hazard a guess why owners are reluctant to smash them against a payment terminal? It completely stumps us here. ®


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