When Google Launched Google Wallet some years ago, it planned on using the service to let users pay for things using their phone. This was done by a technology called Near Field Communication, or NFC for short. The Galaxy Nexus originally used this payment system by utilizing a “secure element” within the phone, which ensures that no one but you is making the payment. This essentially provided as safe of a payment option as swiping a card, however many US carriers didn’t like that the phone had to take advantage of this secure element, and the history of Google Wallet being shunned by said carriers ensued. With the launch of the 2013 Nexus 7, Google shipped the first Nexus device since the Galaxy Nexus without a secure NFC element, leading many to speculate on the future of Google Wallet. In our latest podcast we speculated just how Google was going to move its Wallet service forward, and we essentially agreed that Google would have to come up with another solution moving forward, as the carriers would never agree to using the secure element. Thankfully now with the launch of the Nexus 5 and Android 4.4 KitKat we don’t need to speculate any more, because Google Wallet will now emulate that secure element, meaning that the hardware required in the past is no longer a requirement, effectively opening up Google Wallet for all.
Another NFC-related tidbit found on the Android Developers Blog is that this secure element emulation will open up the NFC sensor to all sorts of apps, essentially allowing you to use NFC for just about any transaction you can think of. This doesn’t just mean money, but can also translate into security cards, gift cards, access passes, etc. There’s a ton of usage scenarios that can be inserted here, and it’s all going to be possible with Android 4.4 KitKat as developers build in the functionality. NFC just got a whole lot more useful with a “simple” software fix. If this emulation business confuses you, just think of it like this: while the NFC software required a piece of hardware in the past to secure the transaction, the new NFC software essentially makes the NFC reader think it’s accessing that secure hardware, even though it doesn’t exist. It’s the same way we get retro games ported to new devices by making the game think its playing on the old device, when in actuality it’s running on new hardware.
For those of us who love Google Wallet but haven’t been able to get it on their newest smartphone might be pretty excited here, but remember that this is something new in Android 4.4 KitKat, so until your phone of choice receives this update you won’t be sitting pretty using Wallet any time soon. Also don’t think that the carriers will be giving up their precious ISIS payment solution anytime soon, and may still find ways to block Google Wallet for no good reason. With that being said it’s rather exciting to have new possibilities opened up to Android users when it comes to using NFC for things.