Google released a physical Google Wallet debit card on Wednesday, a move that feels more than a bit like revenge.
Users can order the free card from within the Google Wallet app, or else from within the Google Wallet itself. To load it, users can pull funds from a bank account, another debit card or credit card, or from friends who can either email money via Gmail or send it via the Wallet app.
If this sounds familiar, it should. A virtual prepaid Google debit card shipped with the original iteration of Google Wallet, which like the physical card, could be preloaded with funds from another account. And if more carriers had allowed Google Wallet on their phones, Google’s physical debit card might never have seen the light of day.
As it is, however, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless formed the ISIS partnership—a similar, tap-and-pay, electronic wallet effort from the three carriers. Google, for its part, remains frozen out of the tap-and-pay market on the three-carrier networks, which allow smartphone users to tap their phone and transfer funds on hundreds of thousands of NFC-equipped payment terminals.
(Google’s own Nexus phones can be used to tap and pay on the three networks, however, as Google controls that phone's software. Google Wallet tap and pay is more widely available on U.S. Cellular, Sprint, and other rival networks.)
Arrival of the ISIS app
Last week, the carriers launched the ISIS app, which requires users to sign up for their own prepaid debit card, the Serve card from American Express. That apparently was the final straw for Google, which can take a user’s stored payment information and use it to create the physical card.
To help convince users to adopt its payment system (as opposed to just an ordinary debit or credit card) Google announced loyalty programs with Amtrak Guest Rewards, Avis Rental Cars, California Pizza Kitchen, Orbitz, The Body Shop, and Walgreens. Users must use the Wallet app to access the discounts, but can pay the bill with the physical card. Discounts include $15 off from Avis, a free small plate and dessert from California Pizza Kitchen, and $30 “Orbucks” from Orbitz.
So far, the carriers have given no indication that they’ll ever allow Google Wallet back on their phones. And Google gives no sign of backing down, either.