Apple Pay vs Google Wallet: Which One Is Better For Mobile Payments?

By | December 17, 2014

More than 3 years after the launch of a mobile digital wallet by Google, its arch-rival, Apple, has come up with a rival feature – Apple Pay. Over here, we have done a brief comparison analysis between the two mobile payment platforms.

Within 72 hours of the launch of Apple Pay (at the much-publicised September 9 event), more than 1 million credit cards had been registered on the platform, for making mobile payments. Retail biggies like McDonald’s and Whole Foods have reported that more than half of their total transactions are currently being conducted via Pay. The scenario is in stark contrast with that of Google Wallet, whose adoption rates have remained lacklustre – even though it had nearly a three-year headstart over Apple Pay. In the following discussion, we will compare the two mobile payment platforms on the basis of a few key factors:


  1. Ease of use – Online transaction analysts and mobile app developers agree that Apple Pay has won out big-time on this count. The platform works with Passbook – and every new iPhone has that application pre-installed. Hence, speed and/or compatibility is never an issue. On the other hand, Google Wallet suffered from unreliable carrier adoption. The fact that the Wallet app had to be separately downloaded and installed did not find find favor among many users. In fact, Wallet faced unexpected competition from Softcard and Isis.
  2. Device compatibility – Google Wallet has an edge in this round. It can be used on any Android (2.3 or higher) device that has the NFC (near field communication) feature. However, Apple Pay can be operated only on the flagship iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and the new iPad Air 2. On older iPhone models, Pay cannot be used – even if those devices have NFC and Passbook. As is the case with most things Android, the potential user-base is higher for Google Wallet.
  3. Speed and complicacy – Hardly anyone is interested to spend hours on end – simply to learn how a new mobile feature works. Sadly, that’s what Google Wallet forces many users to do. General users as well as experts from mobile app companies have agreed that the online Google Wallet page (on Google’s website) does not really explain how the platform works (at least for laymen). Instead, more information is given on stuff like loyalty cards and barcode scanning. Unlike Apple Pay which allows people to make payments simply by holding their devices in front of a contactless terminal (via Touch ID), using Google Wallet requires swiping the device, ‘waking’ up the phone, and inserting the unique Wallet PIN. Understandably, these are viewed as extra, unnecessary hassles.
  4. Data Privacy – Both Apple Pay and Google Wallet ensure that merchants do not have the opportunity to access users’ credit card information. In the former’s setup, all the transaction details are stored within the iDevices themselves. Wallet is slightly more lax in this regard – since the payment data gets stored in the cloud (i.e., on the Google servers). After the much-publicised iCloud hack of celebrity photos, Apple has truly ramped up the security features of all its mobile services.
  5. Setting up the platforms – Not much to choose between the two here. After downloading the Google Wallet application, people have to register a card on it, take images to capture the requisite card information, provide the CVV number, and confirm that they wish to use to use a secure code with that card for making payments. The procedure is roughly the same for Apple Pay too – although many smartphone users and app development professionals feel that the option of opening Passbook and selecting the ‘Set Up Apple Pay’ option to be slightly easier. Cards already existing on files in iTunes accounts can also be registered in Apple Pay. Passbook automatically draws in all the card information.
  6. The fee burden – The mobile payments platforms from Apple and Google are not free services. There are certain charges involved in both – but there is a difference regarding the people who have to bear these expenses. Since Google Wallet puts the charges on the merchants, many companies have stayed away from it – since the fee often comes across as an avoidable expense. Apple has adopted a smarter route, by getting the per-transaction fees of Pay from the corresponding banks. Neither the user nor the merchant feels any extra cost-burden, which helps in boosting adoption figures. The charge per transaction, of course, is the regular processing fee of credit cards.
  7. Need for more details – The greater the number of steps involved in using any mobile feature, the less popular it is likely to become – feels mobile app development analysts worldwide. The Google Wallet vs Apple Pay debate is a classic example of that. While the former requires users to fork out their Wallet PINs for each transaction, Pay, on the other hand, lets people use their credit cards in the regular manner, without having to worry about PIN numbers. And of course, credit cards can be used at places where contactless payments are not (yet) available.
  8. Card and Bank support – Google Wallet is more than three years old, Apple Pay has been in existence for less than a quarter. Rather expectedly, Wallet is supported by the debit/credit cards of more banks – compared to Apple Pay. However, with the Google platform failing to excite potential users, and Pay getting excellent reviews – experts feel that the latter would bring many more banks and cards under its hood over the next couple of quarters. Till now, both Pay and Wallet are available only in the United States. While the former should soon become available to more countries, the chances of Wallet getting such expansion appears bleak.
  9. Handling security breach threats – The developers of Apple and Google have taken every possible precaution to ensure that data thefts and security breaches do not occur on their respective mobile payments platforms. Separate virtual MasterCards (prepaid) are created by Google Wallet, every time a transaction takes place via that medium. Apple Pay, on its part, uses the state-of-the-art Secure Element data encryption method. The chances of unauthorized access of card data on either of the two platforms is minimal.
  10. Loyalty points and gift cards – Finally, a solid ‘Yay’ in favor of Google Wallet. The platform doubles as a debit card, that is being used with the Wallet account. Loyalty points are accumulated and gift cards can be redeemed on it. On Apple Pay, there are no receipts required after the ‘tap and pay’ process is completed. There are no provisions of reward points or gifts/other incentives for users though.
  11. Availability of tap-and-pay – Any retail merchant or mobile app developer would agree that ‘tap-and-pay’ is the most convenient feature of the two payment platforms. Google, however, seems to have shot themselves in the foot by announcing that this feature would be available only on handsets powered by Android Kitkat (and of course, Lollipop). What that means is, phones powered by older versions of the Android platform would get only an incomplete, half-baked form of Google Wallet. Apple Pay at least makes sure that it can be used on all new iPhones and iPads.
  12. Tokenization – This refers to a method of generating unique security codes for each transactions, and it is used by many European credit card companies. Apple Pay and Google Wallet both come with this technology built into their setups. Since the codes are meant for one-time usage, hackers do not have the opportunity use them to actually breach the users’ bank accounts. Most individuals have security-related fears regarding mobile payment channels – and both Google and Apple have done well to dispel such apprehensions.
  13. Confirmation notification – Apple brings an extra element of assurance to users, when it comes to confirming payments. Once a transaction is successfully completed, the device of the user vibrates as well as beeps. Payments done via Google Wallet also cause device beeps and light-flashes, but there have been some reports of delayed confirmations.
  14. Challengers – At the moment, hardly any. Microsoft tried its hand in making a mobile payment platform with ‘Wallet’ in 2012 (meant to be used on Windows Phone 8), which failed miserably. CurrentC, from MCX, is currently in the news – and although it has an outside chance of catching up with Google Wallet, Apple Pay is likely to stay at the top spot rather easily. It remains to be seen whether any other company takes up the challenge of devising another device-based payment platform.

The popularity of Apple Pay would receive further boost with the release of Apple Watch early next year. The second-PIN setup of Google Wallet is also no match for the fingerprint sensor support of Pay. Both the platforms are good, safe, and relatively fast for making mobile payments. It’s just that, all things taken together, Apple has done a better job with Pay than Google has done with Wallet.