Google has updated its Google Wallet mobile payment system with new features giving users the ability to use and manage gift cards as well as send and request money.
In addition to support for gift cards and offers, the app now lets users manage gift cards and redeem them in stores. To add cards to Google Wallet, the user snaps a picture of them or types in the card .
Cards can be redeemed by showing the phone to a cashier at checkout. Gift cards received electronically can be saved by tapping a "Save to Google" option.
Like all Google Wallet features, the new updates are available only to U.S. Android or iOS users over 18.
Nick Holland, a senior analyst of the payments practice area of Javelin Strategy & Research, told us the new features will almost certainly make the Google Wallet app a more appealing option for smartphone users.
"It makes Google Wallet more compelling for a lot of people," Holland said. "The new capabilities are pretty cool."
Making Spending Easier
Introduced in 2011, Google Wallet uses near-field communication, also known as NFC. The app makes secure payments in a retail checkout line when the user taps his or her phone at any PayPass-enabled terminal.
In May, Google integrated Google Wallet and Gmail, allowing users to send money through Gmail attachments.
The integration with Gmail will be valuable in building out Google Wallet's network of users, Holland said.
Spanish Language Support
The new updates let users check the balance on certain gift cards in real time, and prompts them to consider using the card when they're near one of those stores. For now, that option is limited to certain retailers including AMC Theatres, Best Buy, Nike, Sephora, Toys"R"Us and Whole Foods.
The app also now offers Spanish language support. If Spanish settings are turned on in a user's Android or iOS device, the app will display in Spanish.
Finally, users can now request money from friends and contacts using Google Wallet app or directly in Gmail.
"They will receive a notification and can instantly pay you back," Google said in announcement about the new updates. "If they need a reminder, you can send them a friendly nudge from within the app. You can also send your friends a message right within Gmail, and request money just like you would attach a picture."
Money can also be sent from a user's debit card via Google Wallet. That service, which previously carried a fee of 2.9 percent per transaction, is now free.
"These aren't radical shifts -- they aren't telegraphing any major moves in the marketplace," Holland said. "I see these updates as the kind of incremental steps you would expect as they expand their services further."
The new Google Wallet app is available for download directly from Google Play and Apple's App Store.