Google’s wallet app for Android now supports state IDs and scans barcodes

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Smartphones are slowly getting better and better at replacing the stuff you’ve stuffed in your wallet. But they haven’t finished the job yet.

That’s partly because not everything in your wallet is in a single place on your phone. For example, consider my example: my San Francisco library card is in one app, while my health insurance card and credit cards are in others. And then there’s my driver’s license, which – because I live in California – hasn’t had a nationwide digital replacement for some time.

With a couple of new updates announced this week, Google is trying to give these cards, passports and IDs a central home in its wallet app for Android devices. And with that, the company is trying to “completely replace everything you would normally have in your physical wallet,” said Jenny Cheng, Google’s vice president in charge of wallet.

There will always be those who would never dream of leaving their wallets at home – there is a sense of security knowing that some of your most important cards are safely tucked away in your pocket or purse. But if you’re contemplating a life where leaving your wallet behind doesn’t mean you rush home, here’s a quick guide to making the changes.

Digital versions of driver’s licenses and state ID cards have become more common in recent years, but they’re far from ubiquitous. Where they exist, they are often built into separate apps being developed by individual states and technology partners like IDEMIA. But that hasn’t stopped some of the biggest names in tech from building these IDs directly into their own apps.

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

Over time, this feature will expand to people living in Arizona, Colorado, and Georgia, although the precise timing of when digital licenses become usable is largely left up to each state.

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

If your library’s or favorite grocery store’s loyalty program doesn’t offer digital cards — or you’d rather keep them in one place on your phone — you can photograph their barcodes and QR codes and store them in the Google Wallet app. When this feature rolls out later this summer, Cheng says it will work for just about anything that has a barcode. (Though we’ll have to try it for ourselves before we praise it.)

What about iPhone users? While Apple is expected to announce some changes to its wallet app at the upcoming developer conference, it is currently not possible to scan these types of cards and passes to import them. Instead, consider popular apps like Stocard (for loyalty cards) and Barcodes (for anything you know has a barcode) as handy substitutes.

Think about things like your health insurance—things you don’t want to be too casual about, like your Safeway rewards card. Vendors working with Google can offer digital insurance cards that have an extra layer of protection. You will need to enter your PIN or use your fingerprint to verify your identity again before you can show it.

According to Cheng, Humana and Britain’s Tax, Payments and Customs Board are currently working to offer such “private passports,” Cheng says. However, unless your provider accesses Google’s developer tools, you won’t be able to import your existing physical insurance card directly into Google Wallet unless it has a barcode – and even then it wouldn’t offer the same additional level of security protection that you would expect from a private pass.

What about iPhone users? There is no way to directly import these types of cards using Apple’s Wallet app, but certain insurance providers allow you to migrate digital versions of these cards to Apple Wallet – you just have to start the process in their own app first.

If your provider doesn’t offer digital proof of insurance, we recommend that you take a clear photo of the front and back of the card and save it as a locked note in the Notes app.

First, 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 – then tap the menu button in the top-right corner and click the “lock” icon that appears to secure it.

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