If you use Google (GOOG) Wallet, you'll soon be able to send people money using Gmail, attaching a dollar amount to a message just as you might a photograph or a PDF.
The company announced the new feature on Wednesday at its Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco. The plan is to integrate Google Wallet -- which allows users to store credit and debit card information on their smartphones, and make payments using near field communication (NFC) -- with the world's most popular web-based email service.
Peter Hazlehurst, director of product management for Google Wallet, told CNET the company wasn't abandoning its pay-by-tapping-on-checkout-terminal mobile technology:
We are not pulling away from NFC. We are simply making a much richer Wallet experience. There are still places where NFC can't be used. And not every device has it yet.
Google Wallet's new functionality is intended to help fill the gaps until PayPass is more widely adopted. The convenience of emailing money might also help make Google Wallet users out of Gmail account holders, who number in the hundreds of millions.
The service is free for users whose bank accounts are linked to their Google Wallets, as well as those who use a Google Wallet prepaid account; but there's a charge for taking the money from a credit or debit card. W3Reports observes that PayPal, which years ago "pioneered the concept of sending money to an email address," offers a "slight advantage" by allowing its users to choose which party pays the 2.9 percent fee for credit card transactions: the sender or the receiver.
To start transferring money with Gmail now, you have to get someone who already has access to send you $1. Once they do, you'll see a dollar sign icon when hovering over the attachment paperclip; click on it and you'll be able to enter the sum you want to transfer. If you can't find any early adopter to initiate you, this newfangled money-wiring will be gradually rolled out to U.S. Gmail users age 18 and over in the coming months.
While sender and receiver both need a Google Wallet account, you can send money to someone who doesn't have a Gmail address. Quartz cites the Bank Secrecy Act as placing an upper limit of $10,000 on money attachments.
As for security, Google offered broad assurances on the feature's rollout page, calling it "A safer way to send money":
When you use Google Wallet, your financial information is safely encrypted and stored on secure servers, and all transactions are monitored 24/7 to prevent fraudulent activity. In addition, Google Wallet Purchase Protection covers 100% of eligible unauthorized transactions
Of course, this isn't the first such technological offering: Two years ago, Bank of America (BAC), JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Wells Fargo (WFC) launched a similar pay-by-computer-or-smartphone feature, which Chris Velazco of TechCrunch says "could be more than a little tedious" to set up "if the recipient wasn't a member of the same bank." Google, on the other hand, "seems intent on making the process much easier on all the parties involved".