Android Smartphones without the latest KitKat 4.4 Cannot Make NFC Payments via Google Wallet

Google is in a hurry with Host Card Emulation. It has connected the dots and found the keys to the kingdom with HCE. They recently announced that beginning 14th April 2014, it will be possible to use Google Wallet to make an NFC payment via Smartphone - only if that device supports HCE. 'Devices with Android versions older than Android 4.4 (Kitkat) will no longer be supported for tap and pay,' they stated.

Google listed off a few devices on their support page that will no longer have tap-to-pay functionality, regardless of the firmware they’re running. Those devices include the HTC EVO 4G LTE, Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and the Nexus 7. Tap and pay 'is available in the US, and requires an NFC-enabled Android device running 4.4 (Kitkat) or higher on any carrier network,' says Google Wallet support.

'We wanted to let you know about an update to Google Wallet that might change the way you use the app. Right now it looks like you're using tap and pay with a device running an Android version older than 4.4 Kitkat. On the newest version of Android, tap and pay works with different technology for an improved experience. As a result, starting on A​p​r​i​l 1​4, 2​0​1​4, tap and pay will no longer work for devices with older Android versions,' explains Google's email.

Lets go back to 2013…NFC was facing adoption issues at the terminals, at merchants and in devices for years. It was really a matter of time before the Secure Element would be bypassed. The Cellular companies as a payments gatekeeper (and barrier) does not encourage innovation. Google wallet had faced a lot of issue with non-compatibility thanks to ISIS and carriers backing it. Although EMV and Wireless EMV (NFC) is mandated by Visa and MasterCard by the end of 2014 for all US merchants to receive the most favorable terms, there has been slow adoption on wireless devices. Of course there is ISIS and this method, but Google has started the de-emphasis of NFC from the last year.

Around November last year, with the release of Android 4.4, Google introduced a new platform support for secure NFC-based transactions through Host Card Emulation (HCE), for payments, loyalty programs, card access, transit passes, and other custom services.

With HCE, any app on an Android 4.4 device can emulate an NFC smart card, letting users tap to initiate transactions with an app of their choice. Apps can also use a new Reader Mode so as to act as readers for HCE cards and other NFC-based transactions. Android HCE emulates ISO/IEC 7816 based smart cards that use the contactless ISO/IEC 14443-4 (ISO-DEP) protocol for transmission at the existing EMVCO Wireless NFC payment infrastructure.

This changed the game forever. Good for Google and tons of technology companies, banks and payment companies. Not so good for the carriers, telcos and Gemalto’s of the world. Now with Visa and Mastercard announcing great support for HCE, the NFC equation is shifting towards HCE side.