Google Wallet is a nifty idea (buy things in stores using your phone) that hasn't really taken off yet, but that's only because the company's giant tentacles haven't fully unfurled yet. Among the many adventures that Google announced during its annual developer conference Wednesday afternoon was a multi-pronged plan to integrate Google Wallet into every aspect of your shopping life.
The most intriguing new feature is Google's plan to add dollar "attachments" to your Gmail messages. Need to pay a buddy for those concert tickets? You simply attach a payment to your email, just like you would attach a photo or a document, and send it off. The money comes out of your Google Wallet account, and you didn't even have to leave your computer or talk to your friend again.
The person receiving the money has to have Google Wallet, too, of course, but that was the same hurdle PayPal had to overcome at the turn of the century. And with so many people already having Gmail accounts—about four times more than the number of active PayPal accounts—it shouldn't be too difficult to convert the masses. (Although they don't have to use their Gmail address to use Wallet.)
Speaking of PayPal, this is a direct shot across their bow. For more than a decade, the e-commerce transaction giant has pretty much dominated the very idea of paying people online, making their PayPal donation and checkout buttons almost as universal as Visa and Mastercard when shopping on the Internet. Google is way behind, but they have other ways of catching up. Tons of people used their Gmail account to set up a PayPal account, so why not just cut out the middle man? Google has also built a new checkout system that they'll share with developers, so e-commerce websites can put a "Pay with Google Wallet" button right next to the PayPal one, and they're integrating Wallet more deeply into the Chrome browser. Soon enough you'll have checkout profiles that save all your information, and sync seamlessly between all your devices, so you never have to type your billing and shipping address again. Instant buying will truly become instant.
But the final piece of the puzzle is Android and NFC, the technology that allows you to make point-of-sale purchases by simply tapping your phone against a cash register. If you've ever done that, it makes you feel remarkably futuristic, but you probably haven't yet, because only a handful of phones have the technology built into them right now and even fewer stores are set up to accept NFC transactions. Making Google Wallet more popular online will only make NFC more popular in the real world, increasing interest in Google Wallet, and so on.
If Google's plan works, the day may soon come when every purchase you make—on or offline—can be routed through Google's massive pipeline, completely eliminating the need to carry an actual wallet. And all you receipts will be in your Gmail, making you an even easier target for advertisers—and more reliant on Google than you ever thought possible.
Photo: Sean Narvasa via Flickr
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.