Google’s Wallet app for Android now support state IDs, scans barcodes

Slowly, surely, smartphones are getting better at replacing the things you’ve crammed in your wallet. But they haven’t finished the job yet.

That’s partly because not all of the things in your wallet live in a single place on your phone. Consider mine, for example: My San Francisco library card lives in one app, while my health insurance card and credit cards live in others. And then there’s my driver’s license, which — because I live in California — isn’t getting a widespread digital replacement for a while yet.

With some new updates announced this week, Google is trying to give these cards, passes and IDs a centralized home in its Wallet app for Android devices. And in doing so, said Jenny Cheng, Google’s vice president in charge of Wallet, the company is trying to fully “replace all the things you would normally have in your physical wallet.”

There will always be people who wouldn’t dream of leaving their wallets at home — there’s a certain feeling of security knowing that some of your most important cards are safely stowed in your pocket or purse. But if you’re considering a life where leaving your wallet behind doesn’t prompt a quick U-turn home, here’s a quick guide to what’s changing.

Digital versions of driver’s licenses and state IDs have grown more common over the last few years, but they’re still far from ubiquitous. Where they do exist, they’re often built into separate apps developed by individual states and tech partners like IDEMIA. But that hasn’t stopped some of the biggest names in tech from trying to fold those IDs directly into their own apps.

For Google, that starts in Maryland, where all residents will be able store a digital driver’s license in Google Wallet starting June 1st. There are only two requirements, she says: The feature only works on devices running Android 8.0 or newer, and those devices require a screen lock, like a PIN or fingerprint.

In time, that feature will expand to people who live in Arizona, Colorado and Georgia, though exactly when digital licenses become usable is largely up to each state.

What about iPhone users? Apple announced support for digital driver’s licenses in its Wallet app at the end of 2021, with a slew of states — including Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma and Utah — embracing the company’s approach. More states signaled their support for digital licenses for Apple Wallet in the months that followed, but to date, only a handful (including Maryland) have launched them.

If your library or favorite grocery store’s loyalty program doesn’t offer digital cards — or if you’d prefer to keep them in one place on your phone — you’ll be able to take pictures of their bar codes and QR codes and store them in the Google Wallet app. When this feature launches later this summer, Cheng says, it will work for just about anything that has a bar code. (though we’ll have to try it for ourselves before singing its praises.)

What about iPhone users? While Apple is expected to announce some changes to its Wallet app at its upcoming developer conference, it doesn’t currently let you scan these kinds of cards and passes to import them. Instead, you may want to consider popular apps like Stocard (for loyalty cards) and Barcodes (for anything with, you know, a bar code) as a handy stand-in.

Think things like your proof of health insurance — stuff you wouldn’t want to treat as cavalierly as, say, your Safeway rewards card. Providers that partner with Google will be able to offer digital insurance cards that live behind an extra layer of protection; you’ll have to punch in your PIN or use your fingerprint to prove your identity one more time before you can show it off.

Right now, Cheng says, Humana and the United Kingdom’s tax, payments and customs authority are working on offering these kinds of “private passes.” If your provider doesn’t tap into Google’s developer tools, though, you can’t directly import your existing, physical insurance card into Google Wallet unless it has a bar code — and even then, it wouldn’t offer the same extra level of protection you would from a private pass.

What about iPhone users? There’s no way to use Apple’s Wallet app to directly import these kinds of cards, but certain insurance providers will let you migrate digital versions of those cards into Apple Wallet — you just have to start the process from inside their own app first.

If your provider doesn’t offer digital proof of insurance, we’d recommend taking a clear photo of the front and back of the card and saving it in locked note in the Notes app.

To start, open the Notes app, create a new note and tap the camera icon at the bottom of the screen. From there you can “scan” it — once that’s done, tap the menu button in the top-right corner and hit the “Lock” icon that appears to secure it.

For more on migrating almost anything in your wallet, read my colleague Heather Kelly’s handy guide here.

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