For iPhone users, leveraging their Apple Wallet to store their boarding pass is old hat. Buy a plane ticket, click the button in the confirmation link in the email — and the boarding pass appears, ready to use on almost any airline.
For Android users, the situation has heretofore not quite been as seamless. Until two years ago, Google didn’t support ticketing at all — though in April 2018, the feature turned on suddenly with an announcement that going forward Google Pay would be compatible with tickets of all kinds. Airline tickets, concert tickets, movie tickets, event tickets — for a weekend, Google opened its mobile wallet up for all of them. As of early 2020, however, Google Pay is only officially integrated with a handful of airlines for ticketing, as opposed to Apple, which is integrated with nearly all of them.
As it turns out, a nearly 10-year head start in this arena is a pretty important advantage when it comes to building a ubiquitous capacity to directly load a boarding pass into a mobile wallet.
But Google is not going down without a fight, and over the last year increasingly indicated that if the airlines aren’t coming to it - then Google is going to the airlines instead. Last April, reports began to circulate that Google had been testing and rolling out a new feature that would allow Android users to connect their Google Pay accounts directly to their Gmail accounts and now it could automatically pull in things such as loyalty cards and boarding passes directly from emails into the mobile wallet.
The feature was popular in testing but has seen limited use because enabling it requires a multistep setting changing process within Gmail. It is not a hard or overly complicated process, but as is often the case in payments and commerce, a little bit of tedious friction can go a long way when it comes to dissuading consumers from doing something new.
But it seems that Google is now aiming to up the level of its boarding pass game in Google Pay. Because as a wash of new updates, upgrades and ideas hit the wires via the firm’s latest “Pixel Drop” event this week, another great leap forward in their quests to add boarding passes to their mobile wallet slipped out nearly unnoticed. Instead of having to remember to toggle a switch in Gmail, Android users will soon be able to send their boarding pass to Google Pay by snapping a simple screenshot.
The new feature will work by allowing consumers to take a screenshot of their barcode boarding pass, from which it will be sent to their mobile wallet. Once stored, Google will send the consumer real-time flight updates on the day of the flight.
The feature combines with the just-added Cards & Passes power menu option — a new Google Pay feature designed to make it easier to navigate the mobile wallet. That feature lets customers press down on their mobile devices’ power buttons to pull up a carousel of payment methods, tickets, passes and, in some cases, emergency contacts and medical information.
There are, of course, a few catches.
The first and biggest one is that this is not an Android feature for general release. For now, this seems to be a Pixel-only feature —and, in fact, only for Pixel Model 3 phones and later. When and if this feature is destined to appear on other Android phones remains a mystery as Google has been silent on the subject.
It is not quite yet known when this new feature will be fully available on compatible phones. Google thus far has only said it would be rolling the service out “gradually” which doesn’t give the impression that this will necessarily be fully online for a little while.
But travel has been an issue as a vertical for the Android platform in general for some time, largely issuing from the massive gap in direct airline partnerships. As Google has become increasingly serious about building its connected ecosystem over the last 24 months, it has been re-evaluating Google Pay and considering how it can start to close those gaps.
Finding a way to mirror the seamless movement and storage of boarding passes and other tickets that come baked in with Apple seems like a wise starting point, though not one without difficulties. It remains to be seen if consumers will find the extra step of snapping a screenshot to save a boarding pass represents a significant way to streamline the process. It seems intuitive from the outside, but many intuitive seeming things have failed the customer taste test in the past.
It also remains to be seen when this opens up to Android in general, as most Android users aren’t also Pixel owners. Google could stimulate more Pixel purchases by starting with its branded smartphone, but given the current regulatory landscape, we somehow suspect it is more likely to expand the new feature than try to keep it to itself for too long.
And of course, it remains to be seen if it helps the Google ecosystem as a whole to gain ground — simply by giving consumers another reason to get more familiar with the payments side of its ecosystem.