OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but only slightly. Google previewed the new version of its Android operating system at its Google I/O developers’ conference on Thursday, and although it’s not quite ready to hit the road, “Android M” will boast a whole array of new features, including a new mobile payment system, Android Pay, that makes it a serious rival to Apple Pay.
The new Android Pay is a big step forward from Google Wallet, which has languished, unloved, these last few years. Android Pay allows you to pay with your mobile device by simply tapping it against a NFC reader at the point of sale (and it’s ready to go, so no fiddling to open an app before you can use it).
Android Pay works with a range of NFC readers, and consumers can use it to pay at over 700,000 retail locations nationwide. Google has already struck deals with Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover, plus a number of banks including Chase, Citibank, Capital One, and U.S. Bank. And Android Pay is compatible with other apps for mobile e-commerce purposes.
Android M also includes a new feature for its Google Now personal assistant called On Tap, which basically allows you to call upon Google Now’s wisdom from wherever you happen to be (virtually) on your phone. For example if you’re chatting with a friend to choose a place to eat, you can summon Google Now On Tap from within the chat window to get restaurant reviews and directions. You can also convert text messages directly into calendar appointments.
Android M also revamped browsing functionality with Chrome Custom tabs to share login information across apps and browsers, so users no longer have to choose between an app and a Web browser when clicking on links in apps. Users can now open the browser inside the app, which should make the whole experience a lot less hinky and annoying.