In 2012, Apple announced something it called “Passbook” — an app for the iPhone that allowed you to store digital copies of coupons, boarding passes, movie tickets, and more. Passbook evolved into Apple Wallet in 2015 following the release of Apple Pay, giving you one central location on your phone for debit/credit cards, rewards programs, tickets, passes, etc.
While Android is our preference around these parts, I’ll be the first to admit that this is one area in which Apple knocked it out of the park with iOS — and continues to put Google’s efforts in the digital wallet space to shame.
It wasn’t until 2015, a year after Apple Pay debuted in 2014, that Google announced its contactless payment solution in the form of Android Pay (following a failed attempt to get it off the ground with Google Wallet a few years prior). Similar to Apple Pay, Android Pay allowed you to use your Android phone to pay for things at stores that accepted NFC. The process of using Android Pay was fast, simple, and Google was able to build up a large base of banks and credit unions that supported it.
Digital passes seemed to be an afterthought of the Android Pay to Google Pay rebrand.
That side of things was great, but something Android Pay never supported was digital passes.
2018 came around, and in February of that year, Android Pay was rebranded as “Google Pay.” The goal here was to merge Android Pay and Google Wallet (Google’s P2P payment service) under one umbrella, and it worked. Then, in May 2018, Google finally upgraded Google Pay with the ability to store digital passes.
Everything was looking up for Google Pay, and at the time, I genuinely believed that Google was on the right track to finally have a fully-fledged competitor to Apple Wallet. A little over a year later, however, Google Pay is still lacking. A lot.
To be clear, the act of paying for things with your debit/credit card works wonderfully. Adding cards to Google Pay is a breeze, just about every major financial institution is supported with new ones being added all the time, and using it at supported stores works without a hitch.
Delta and American, two of the biggest airlines, don’t have Google Pay support of any kind.
My issue with Google Pay has to do with the fact that its digital passes have made very little progress in the 14+ months that they’ve been available. A lot of major brands aren’t supported at all, and for the ones that are, the functionality you get with the passes on Google Pay pales in comparison to their Apple Wallet counterparts.
On the note of missing passes, two big ones I’ve noticed in my usage are Delta Airlines and AMC — one of the world’s largest airlines and the biggest movie theater chain on the planet.
Delta is my airline of choice, and while airplane boarding passes are technically supported in Google Pay, Delta (and American Airlines, for that matter) is nowhere to be found.
If I have an upcoming flight, I can hop on the Delta app on my iPhone, add my boarding pass to Apple Wallet, and then it’ll be there for me at the time of my flight to show me my boarding QR code, which gate I’m flying out of, time of departure, etc.
On Google Pay with the Delta app, there’s no such option.
To Google’s credit, boarding passes that are supported are nearly identical compared to Apple Wallet passes. United and Southwest are the two biggest names that support Google Pay passes, but the fact that both Delta and American are totally MIA is unacceptable over a year since this functionality was added.
Similarly, the AMC app for iOS allows you to add digital copies of your movie tickets to Apple Wallet. Buy the ticket through the AMC app, tap “Add to Apple Wallet,” and you’re good to go. On the AMC Android app, that doesn’t exist. No matter what you do, there’s no way to add your AMC ticket to Google Pay.
A reminder here that we’re talking about the largest theater chain in the world not working with Google Pay. For comparison’s sake, Celebration! Cinema (a local Michigan-only theater I go to) even lets you store movie tickets on Apple Wallet. If that’s not a prime example of how much work Google has to do, I’m not sure what is.
To add insult to injury, passes that are supported on Google Pay don’t always come with the same functionality. In fact, for a lot of the passes I use regularly, there’s a clear difference between them on Google Pay and Apple Wallet.
Take the Starbucks pass, for example. On Apple Wallet, I can see the design of the card I’m using and how much money is left on it in addition to the barcode that needs to be scanned. The integration is perfect, and if I want to add more money, all I need to do is tap the Starbucks logo near the bottom left of the pass to open the full app. On Google Pay, all you get is the barcode.
With AMC’s Stubs rewards pass, it’s the same situation on Google Pay — just a barcode and nothing else. On Apple Wallet, the AMC Stubs pass shows how many points I’ve earned, my next billing date, and is specially-designed based on which tier of Stubs you’re subscribed to.
Finally, there’s Panera Bread. Panera Bread’s pass on Google Pay looks much better than some of the other ones, going as far to show how many visits you have left until your next reward. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to redeem your rewards. Instead, all you see is your membership number. The Apple Wallet pass also shows how many visits you have until your next reward, but here you can use NFC to hold the pass near a terminal at Panera to use your membership.
The reason for this, at least from what I’ve been able to tell, is that passes aren’t integrated as tightly in Google Pay as they are in Apple Wallet.
If I want to add the AMC Stubs pass to Apple Wallet, all I do is open AMC, go to my membership page, and tap the “Add to Apple Wallet” button. It’s integrated right within AMC and works like a charm. On Google Pay, you need to go the Google Pay app, search for the pass you want, and then either manually type in your membership number or scan the barcode of your physical card. In other words, you’re just adding a barcode with no real integration for that membership. Not only do you lose out on features, but the process for adding these passes is a lot clunkier.
Who’s to blame for all of this? While I can’t definitively say one way or the other, this does seem to be an issue of app developers not integrating proper pass support. Google Pay does support passes, and as we’ve seen from companies like Southwest, they can be integrated quite nicely. For whatever reason, however, they’re still mostly being ignored.
As a result of this, Google Pay is still playing catch-up to Apple Wallet. The potential for greatness is there, but if you want your digital wallet to do more than hold debit/credit cards, it’s an overall worse experience.
I’m not entirely sure what Google can do (if anything) to get devs up off their butts and start taking Google Pay seriously, but it’s about time something happens.
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