Google Pay gets 3 handy new features that could save you time and money

Google Pay is receiving three new features that collectively aim to make online shopping easier and more transparent. At first, it may seem strange how the tech giant is updating Google Pay when the app is scheduled to go offline on June 4 in the United States. 

However, it turns out the patch is rolling out to the Google Pay payment system rather than to the app itself. The Google Pay app is still set to be discontinued in about two weeks from the time of this writing. You’ll see the following changes appear on desktop and mobile.

According to their announcement post, the company states “American Express and Capital One cardholders” will now see the benefits they can receive when checking out on Chrome desktop in the “autofill drop-down” menu. Google gives the example of someone buying a round-trip flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Your American Express Gold Card may offer three times the travel points, while a Capital One Quicksilver Card will give you “1.5 percent cash back on [your] purchase.” There are plans to add “more cards in the future” as well.

Google Pay Card Benefits in Autofill

(Image credit: Google)

Next, the buy now, pay later (BNPL) payment option is expanding to more “merchant sites and Android apps across the US.” Google appears to be working with two BNPL services, Affirm and Zip, to make the expansion possible. Exactly which websites and apps are unknown, and Google didn't provide any additional details in the post, although we did ask.

Autofill update

The first two features are exclusive to people in the United States; however, the Autofill update is seeing an international release. Moving forward, shoppers on either Chrome or Android can use biometrics or their screen lock PIN to verify card details. With this, you'll no longer have to enter your security code manually.

Google Pay - Autofill update

(Image credit: Google)

Autofill will normally work without a hitch, but Google states if it detects suspicious transactions, it’ll prevent payments from going through. Also, users can “set up device unlock” to have Google Pay ask you to unlock your smartphone to reveal “full card details.” It ensures your card isn’t used by other people who might have access to your device.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the patch when it arrives. The Google Pay update is currently rolling out. While we have you, be sure to check out TechRadar's list of the best Android phones for 2024.

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You can save big on an Oculus Quest 2 and kick-start 2024 with a VR adventure

Didn't get the VR headset you were hoping to get this Christmas? Or decided you want to start 2024 off right by going on some VR adventures? Well, you're in luck as the Oculus Quest 2 – Meta’s excellent standalone VR device – is $ 50/£50-off right now as part of this year's after-Christmas sales.

This means that you can get the 128GB model for $ 249.99 at Target – instead of $ 299.99 – or, for those of you in the UK, you can get the same Quest 2 version from Currys for £249.99. The same deal is also live at other retailers like Amazon and Walmart.

Unfortunately, these savings aren’t quite as good as the best deals from Black Friday – which also net you cash back or a gift card worth $ 50/£50 – but it’s nevertheless a great saving.

Today's best Oculus Quest 2 deals

Oculus Quest 2 (128GB): was $ 299 now $ 249 at Target
Meta’s Oculus Quest 2 was, until recently, our favorite VR headset and right now it’s down to just $ 249.99. That’s a whole $ 50-off. We’ve seen better deals during Black Friday, but this is still a great price. With this gadget, you’ll be able to jump into an incredible selection of VR games and apps available on the Quest platform and finally see how much fun VR can be without breaking the bank.View Deal

Oculus Quest 2 (128GB): was £299.99 now £249.99 at Currys
Meta’s Oculus Quest 2 is currently £50 off at Currys making this an excellent time to buy the VR headset for an even more budget-friendly price. We have seen better deals on this VR gadget before (Very’s best Black Friday deal gave you this saving plus £50 cash back) but this is still a big saving that you might not want to miss out on.View Deal

The Oculus Quest 2 is a solid VR gadget but honestly, I think you should get a Meta Quest 3 instead. Even if it isn't discounted right now. 

There are reasons to still go for the Oculus Quest 2. It's a lot cheaper which is excellent for people on a tight budget, for those who aren't sure they'll use VR all that much, or if you're getting the headset for someone who's rough with their toys. But in general the Quest 3 is just better. A lot better.

The graphics are a massive leap forward, the Quest 3's mixed reality is great, and the gadget feels comfier to wear too. You'll even get a free copy of one of the best VR games ever: Asgard's Wrath 2. If you can afford it get the Quest 3 (and use our Quest 3 guide for newbies to get off to a great start).

Meta Quest 3: $ 499 & get a free game at Amazon
The Meta Quest 3 isn’t currently discounted, but you can get a free digital copy of Asgard’s Wrath 2 when you buy the headset before January 27, 2024.
If you’d rather not shop at Amazon the same offer is available from Walmart, Best Buy, and Target as well as others. View Deal

Meta Quest 3: £479.99 & get a free game at Amazon
The Meta Quest 3 only just launched so discounts are practically non-existent. There is still a deal on though; if you order the headset before January 27, 2024, and activate it before February 9, 2024, you’ll get Asgard’s Wrath 2 for free.
If you’d rather shop elsewhere the same deal is available at Very, Currys, and Game among others. View Deal

More after-Christmas deals (US)

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I’m finally going to use these Chrome extensions to save me money in 2024

Let’s face it, almost everyone could use a bit of help saving money these days, with the cost-of-living crisis and various inflationary pressures still kicking around globally, alongside other factors that can make finances a struggle.

I’ve certainly been counting the pennies here and there, but one area where I’ve slacked off is with web browsing. I have, of course, been aware that there are ways to save money using extensions for my chosen web browser – Chrome – but I just haven't got round to doing anything about it, or installing any of those helpful add-ons.

That’s all about to change. Read on to see the extensions that I’m going to enlist in an effort to save me a bit of cash over the course of 2024, in case you might want to follow in my footsteps.

Honey, I shrunk the price tag

Why haven’t I used Chrome extensions to help with online shopping before? It’s a good question, and one that I don’t have a good answer for. ‘Procrastination’ about sums it up, though.

Anyway, for money-saving, the recommendation from my fellow colleagues (TechRadarians, if you will) is that one of the most important extensions that I should make a beeline for is Honey (pun fully intended, in all its awfulness).

A laptop screen showing the Honey Chrome extension

(Image credit: Honey)

What’s Honey? It’s an extension from PayPal that’s essentially an online shopping assistant, so when buying a product in Chrome, Honey will also scour the web for coupons for the best discount. These can then be applied and one way or another, I’m hoping I’ll save a bit of cash. Plus it’s possible to get cashback reward points on top, as a bonus, for those who have a PayPal account in ‘good standing’ (but only with participating retailers).

There will likely only be small savings here and there, but as they say, it all adds up, and over the course of next year I’m hoping to be a noticeably better off by the time the online shopping dust settles.

Camel companion

3 tips for saving money with your Windows PC

1. Power settings
Type ‘power’ in the search box on the taskbar and click on the option for ‘Power and sleep settings.’ In here, you can set your monitor and PC to go to sleep after a short while of not being used, making some power savings on your energy bill.
2. Power settings part deux
While in the ‘Power and sleep’ panel, check out the ‘Additional power settings’ link which allows you to specify more frugal power plans if you really want to cut the running cost of your PC (but remember, doing so will impact performance).
3. Tab taming
One of TechRadar’s best Chrome extensions, Tab Wrangler is great if you’re a tab addict like me. It automatically closes tabs that aren’t being used (but you can easily fire them up again), helping to save a tiny bit of power usage.

The Camelizer is another extension I intend to bag in the new year as a partner to Honey for saving money on my online shopping. It's widely used by the TechRadar team all year round, but particularly during shopping events like Prime Day and Black Friday.

The Chrome add-on is particularly handy for anyone like myself who’s a Prime member and orders regularly from Amazon – because it tracks historical Amazon pricing.

For most Amazon products, the extension serves up a graph of how its pricing has dropped, and risen, over time. That way, I can be sure of whether any item really is at a good price, or if it might be likely to drop a good chunk again (perhaps at the next big sale), so I can wait and save more if that’s a likely prospect. This extension also gives me the ability to have an alert piped through if a product drops to a certain price level – pretty nifty.

A laptop screen on a green background showing The Camelizer Chrome extension

(Image credit: Future)

If you're in the US, the aforementioned Honey does also have a price tracking feature for Amazon. I live in the UK, though, and Honey won’t track anything but Amazon.com (US) pricing – so myself, and everyone else across the globe, needs an alternative. 

The Camelizer extension (and another alternative, Keepa) are built especially for this purpose, and provide more detailed info on price history than Honey (including third-party marketplace listings, and second-hand prices for that matter).

Cashing in with cashback

Lastly, another recommendation given to me by TechRadar's online shopping whizzes has been TopCashback. The savings made with this service – in the form of cashback returns, as you might guess, on purchases – can really add up. I’ve seen the evidence of this, and don’t need any more convincing – moreover, the Chrome extension is a great way to access these benefits.

The idea is simple: a load of companies sign up with TopCashback and when anyone makes purchases from those retailers, TopCashback gives the buyer a certain percentage of cashback on the outlay.

With the normal service, the user needs to go to the TopCashback website and search for the retailer to see if they’ve signed up to the scheme, and what items might apply. It’s all a bit clunky, but the beauty of the Chrome extension is that it automatically checks any site visited and flags available cashback offers on products, which is much more convenient.

A laptop screen on a green background showing the TopCashback Chrome extensions

(Image credit: Future)

To get cashback, all you need to do is click the ‘activate’ prompt that pops up when buying something. This Chrome add-on also flags up some voucher codes as a bonus.

The slight catch with the extension is that not every retailer is supported. But most are, and the convenience aspect is what swings it for me. I don’t really fancy having to constantly navigate to the website to perform pre-purchase searches (and realistically, I’ll probably forget to do so half the time anyway).

I'm also going to risk the temptation of filling up my Chrome toolbar with more extensions than the three that I've mentioned (Honey, The Camelizer and TopCashback). While I'm aware that there are countless others (including Rakuten, Fakespot and more), I'll be starting the year with that golden trio – and if you fancy saving some money in 2024, you should too.

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New Windows 11 energy-saving option could save money and extend your laptop’s battery life

Windows 11 laptops could soon benefit from improved battery life thanks to a change in the works currently in testing.

The new feature called ‘Energy Saver’ is in the freshly released preview build 26002 of Windows 11 in the Canary channel (the earliest testing avenue).

Microsoft describes it as an extension of battery saver, and it reins in system performance to give you more battery life. The blurb for the feature notes it will limit some background activities, so apps and the system may run a bit slower, or be a touch less responsive when you return to them, but your laptop will last longer.

Energy Saver can be set to kick in when your battery percentage drops to a certain level, or you can manually select it. In the latter case, the option is present in the quick settings accessed via the system tray (far right on the taskbar).

Speaking of the quick settings panel, in build 26002 Microsoft has applied some other work here, including experimenting with a tweak that makes it pop up faster and act more responsively, which will be a useful addition to the mix.

Furthermore, dealing with VPNs has been improved in quick settings, with the introduction of the ability to turn your VPN on or off with just a single click.

For all the gory details of the changes made in build 26002, check out Microsoft’s blog post (spoiler alert – they’re not all that gory).


Analysis: Energy Saver – and Money Saver, too

What we don’t know yet is how much effect this new Energy Saver will have in extending battery life, but Microsoft is certainly billing it as a more heavy-duty method of eking out greater longevity than battery saver, so that’s promising.

What’s also interesting with this feature is that while it’s designed for laptops, Microsoft is also allowing it to be used for desktop PCs (or notebooks plugged into the mains and not running on battery, for that matter).

In short, this allows you to save a bit of money when running your desktop PC all day – maybe you work from home and do so, like us – if you’re happy with somewhat constrained performance levels, of course. With power bills being what they are, though, and the cost-of-living crisis still very much around, it’s a useful option to have. Not to mention an environmentally-friendly choice, to boot.

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Google has a plan to save us from AI deepfakes during the US presidential race

Amidst the rise of AI popularity, Google has decided that political ads that make use of artificial intelligence have to clearly disclose when imagery or audio has been manipulated synthetically. 

Campaigns that put out AI-generated ads on YouTube and any other Google platforms will have to show an obvious disclaimer that users are unlikely to miss, as reported by the Associated Press.

Experts have already been sounding off about the need for widespread regulation and the raising of awareness among the wider public ahead of elections, and it seems they're not the only ones with concerns. 

When and where the new policy will kick in

This political policy update was made by Google last week, with the policy officially kicking into effect in mid-November. Google also announced that it will adopt similar policies for campaign ads in time for elections in the European Union, India, South Africa, and other regions for which Google has a verification process in place. 

AI-generated and falsified media clips have become an everyday occurrence in political media, and generative AI tools are a new way to assist with that. Not only do these tools make it easier and faster to produce misinformation, they also enable bad actors to mimic speech or appearance in photos and videos more realistically. 

AI-generated video has already been used by the political campaign of one of the current forerunners for the Republican party in the US, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

DeSantis’ campaign put out an ad that depicted his GOP opponent and Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, positively embracing Dr. Anthony Fauci, who served as one of the chief medical experts who advised Trump during the COVID pandemic. In a similar vein, the Republican National Committee (RNC) released a wholly AI-generated ad depicting what it imagines the future to be under Joe Biden. 

Looking at AI and deepfakes on a federal level

In an effort echoing Google’s new policies, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has begun looking at implementing regulation to moderate AI-generated ads such as ‘deepfakes’ (doctored videos and images of real people). Advocates on the issue say this should help steer voters away from misinformation. It’s easy to see how regulation of this sort could help – deepfakes can come in the form of political figures saying or doing things they never expressed in real life.

Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar is a co-sponsor of legislation that would demand similar requirements to Google’s policy law; potentially deceptive AI-generated political ads will have to include disclaimers disclosing the fact. Sen. Klobuchar commented on Google’s policy in a statement praising the company’s move but also stating that “we can’t solely rely on voluntary commitments.”

Multiple states have already passed or have begun discussing legislation to address deepfake technology. 

This new policy does not mean all use of AI by political campaigns is banned – there are notable exceptions for altering content in ways that don’t change the substance and content of the advert. For instance, this includes using AI tools for media editing and quality improvement purposes. It also will apply largely to YouTube, along with the rest of Google’s platforms, and whatever third-party sites exist within Google’s ad display network.

What are other tech giants' policies?

As of this week, Google is still the only platform to put a policy like this in place in what is probably a proactive effort. I expect other social media platforms will have to follow if their existing policy is insufficient, especially if more widespread legislation comes into place.

Meta, parent company of Instagram and Facebook, doesn’t have an AI-specific prescriptive policy but does have a general blanket policy against “faked, manipulated or transformed” audio and imagery for misinformation purposes. TikTok bans political ads altogether. The Associated Press reached out to X (formerly Twitter) last week for comment on the issue, but it seems the X team is a little busy just keeping the platform from falling apart and didn’t issue a comment. 

This is concerning. Right now, it’s still very much a wild west of sorts when it comes to the use of AI for political gains. I very much appreciate any proactive efforts, even by tech companies, because to me, it shows they’re thinking about the future – and not just capturing audiences in the present. 

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Windows 11 is getting two new features that’ll save you time in spades

The latest preview build for Windows 11 shows off a new Settings homepage, complete with fresh backup capabilities for the OS.

This is build 22631 in the Beta channel, and the Settings homepage is a major move that’s been in the works for a while (it was previously seen in earlier test channels).

The homepage shows some status details along the top – the name of the PC, internet connection status, and when Windows Update last checked for updates – and a bunch of panels with various bits of info underneath.

Those panels (Microsoft calls them ‘cards’) include cloud storage details (OneDrive) – and how full it is – and a personalization panel that offers the ability to quickly change the Windows theme or color mode.

Another important card offers up recommended settings, providing access to recently used settings, or ones that you use a lot based on your past history of tweaking Windows 11.

Microsoft has also implemented panels for Xbox (with details like your Game Pass subscription, if you have one), and a card for Bluetooth devices to give you quick access to all the peripherals you might hook up wirelessly with.

Windows 11 Settings Homepage

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The other big introduction here is a revamped backup system for restoring your Windows 11 environment to a new PC (or your existing one, should the OS somehow crash and burn irrevocably).

The Windows Backup app is on hand for beta testers to back up their PC. When restoring Windows 11, the app will pull in all your settings and customization, as well as your pins on the taskbar and Start menu, and Microsoft Store apps. (Third-party apps from elsewhere will still get their pins kept on, but you’ll be directed to download the relevant installer from the web when you first fire them up).

Elsewhere in build 22631, there’s been a change to Dynamic Lighting whereby the Windows 11 accent color can be synced with your RGB peripherals, a neat little touch.

As expected, there are a bunch of bug fixes and other minor features, all of which are summarized in Microsoft’s blog post about the preview build.

Windows 11 Backup App

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Analysis: Time is of the essence

The theme here is timesaving. The new Settings homepage lets you easily adjust customization elements, and change commonly used settings in a single click, all in one place (rather than having to hunt in different Settings submenus, and let’s face it, these can be a bit of a maze to navigate at times, perhaps requiring Googling to find things).

Another major timesaver is the ability to have all your bits and pieces where you left them when restoring your PC from the Backup app. Having to redo all your customization and pinned elements is a real drag – a potentially lengthy process, and you may even forget stuff – so this is very helpful.

With these features progressing to the Beta channel, they’re coming close to arrival now. The next step is the Release Preview channel, and from there, it’s a short hop to what’ll surely be inclusion in the Windows 11 23H2 update due later this year.

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Threads is dead – can AI chatbots save Meta’s Twitter clone?

Meta is set to launch numerous artificial intelligence chatbots that will host different ‘personalities’ by September this year, in a bid to recoup faltering interest in the social media giant’s other products.

According to the Financial Times, these chatbots have been in the works for some time, with the aim of having more human conversations with users in an attempt to boost social media engagement.

The attempt to give various chatbots different temperaments and personalities seems like a similar attempt at a ‘social’ AI chatbot seen in Snapchat’s ‘My AI’ earlier this year, which created some mild buzz but quickly faded into irrelevance.

According to the report, Meta is even exploring a chatbot that speaks like Abraham Lincoln, as well as one that will dish out travel advice in the verbal style of a surfer. These new tools are poised to provide new search functions and offer recommendations, similar to the ways in which the popular AI chatbot ChatGPT is used.

It’s possible – likely, even – that this new string of AI chatbots is an attempt to remain relevant, as the company may be focused on maintaining attention since Threads lost more than half its user base only a couple of weeks after launching in early July. Meta’s long-running ‘metaverse’ project also appears to have failed to garner enough interest, with the company switching focus to AI as its primary area of investment back in March.

Regardless, we’ll soon be treated to even more AI-boosted chatbots. Oh, joy. 

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Windows 11 could get a smart feature to help you save money on energy bills

Windows 11 could be getting a new change to give you an idea of how much power your desktop PC chugs through on a daily basis – and per app power usage data, too.

Or at least this is a new feature spotted in the latest preview build of Windows 11 (from the Dev channel), albeit the functionality is hidden away.

The ever-present Windows testing detective on Twitter, PhantomOfEarth, uncovered the feature using ViVeTool. (That’s a Windows configuration utility that can be used to poke around under the hood and enable features lurking in the background, still yet to be enabled by Microsoft).

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As you might imagine, these features are hidden for good reason – they are still wonky and incomplete, and that’s very much the case with what we see here.

But the broad gist of it is that in build 23506, Microsoft is turning the Battery Usage panel into Energy (& Battery) Usage, meaning that it’ll be relevant not just for the best laptops out there and battery levels, but to show power usage for desktop PCs.

As PhantomOfEarth explains, the panel will show energy usage data for the Windows 11 PC, and break that down to individual apps, too – so if there’s an energy hog piece of software on your system, it’ll be clearly visible.

People running desktop computers will be able to see energy usage, but those with laptops can choose to switch between energy usage and battery level (so don’t worry, the latter isn’t being ditched).

Microsoft will also provide overall energy use and emissions data, but as the leaker observes, this is not yet finished and appears to display placeholder readings for now.


Analysis: Inbound for the 23H2 update? Perhaps…

It’s no surprise to see the feature isn’t fully working, because as we noted above, this is why the Energy (& Battery) Usage panel hasn’t yet been sent live in Windows 11 – it isn’t ready.

However, it’s something we expect will be added in time, given that it’ll be pretty useful to see a full breakdown of your PC’s power usage and environmental footprint, as it were. (At a time when those concerns are becoming increasingly sensitive, of course).

Being able to view your energy footprint and adjust your PC’s settings to see how you can do better – and save money on energy bills, hopefully, even if only a little – will be a welcome ability. Indeed, we can see this feature being tied into Microsoft’s AI project eventually, so you’ll be able to request: “Copilot, help me save energy on this PC.” Followed by a useful set of changes based on the relevant data collected here (well, hopefully).

At any rate, we wouldn’t be surprised to see this functionality arrive in the Windows 11 23H2 update (when Copilot will theoretically also pitch up, but we remain unconvinced about that rumor).

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Spotify is finally ready to save you when you forget to download a playlist

Spotify is currently working on a new playlist that will automatically download recently played songs to your device for when the internet connection is spotty.

This information comes from the platform’s own CEO, Daniel Ek, who posted a screenshot of the upcoming feature called Offline Mix to his Twitter account. Details are slim as Ek doesn’t mention any other specifics about the playlist, but there are a couple of clues. First, one of the intended use cases of Offline Mix seems to be on flights where phone signals are basically nonexistent. Secondly, you'll be able to download hours of music onto smartphones. The image Ek provided shows the service can store up to three and a half hours of offline content.

It is already possible to download songs from Spotify for offline listening. The main difference between the two is the current method requires you to manually get tracks one by one whereas this new method removes all the busy work. Basically, Offline Mix is Spotify’s version of smart downloads on YouTube Music. That tool allows the YouTube Music app to “automatically download up to 500 songs” that can then be listened to anywhere with or without a connection.  

Speculation

Much of Offline Mix’s capabilities remain a mystery. We don’t know how many songs people will be able to download and whether or not a Spotify Premium subscription is required. It is worth noting that a couple of Twitter users claim to have received the feature. One person even complains Spotify failed to download most of the songs on their playlist. Although it’s possible the platform is rolling out Offline Mix to a select few as part of its tests, we urge you to take these claims with several grains of salt. There hasn't been any official confirmation of any public tests.

We reached out to Spotify to see if the company was willing to make a statement or perhaps share some details about the feature like its launch date. Hopefully, it's soon as the playlist has been in the works for some time now. Notable industry insider Jane Manchun Wong on Twitter was among the first to mention Offline Mix to the public in 2020, back when it was called Offline User Mix. This story will be updated if we hear back from Spotify.

In the meantime, be sure to check out TechRadar’s list of the best music streaming services for 2023.  

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Google Wallet’s latest update lets you save more than just your money

Google Wallet just got a lot more useful thanks to a sizable update that focuses on meeting users’ everyday needs.

The update comes alongside Google's big June feature drop and adds three new features to the ID, credit card, and ticket-management app. Chief among them is the official launch of state ID and driver’s license support for people living in Maryland. We first saw the ID support late last year when the beta rolled out. From the looks of it, the requirements are still the same: you need to have a “phone running Android 8.0 or later,” plus the device lock must be enabled. 

Those digital ID cards can also be used at TSA PreCheck lines at certain airports to speed up the screening process. The full list can be found on the official TSA website.  In the coming months, digital ID support should be rolling out to residents of Arizona, Colorado, and Georgia.

Moving down the list, users will be able to digitize passes that contain either “a barcode or QR code” simply by taking a photo of it. You’ll be able to upload things like gym membership cards, transit tickets sporting a QR code, and parking passes. Additionally, Google Messages will now be able to directly upload a received boarding pass or train ticket to Wallet. However, RCS (Rich Communication Services) must be enabled first. The newfound Messages support is seeing a limited rollout as it’ll only work with “Vietnam Airlines and Renfe, Spain’s leading train operator.” No word on whether or not the feature will expand to work with other travel businesses. 

Future plans

The work isn’t over yet as Google plans on growing the Wallet app even further. The company states it’s currently working with American health insurance company Humana on “developing a digital version of [the latter’s] insurance card”. Because it would contain sensitive information, this type of pass will require card owners to verify themselves before adding or using the data. People can use either biometrics, a PIN, “or other methods.” For UK users, there are plans to allow residents a way to “save their National Insurance Number” onto Wallet via the HMRC app.

Later this year, the tech giant states it’ll introduce support for “corporate badges… giving employees convenient and secure access to buildings” at their workplace. Speaking of access, Google Wallet is slated to release to more countries “in the next few weeks” although it’s unknown where exactly. We reached out to Google for clarification on launch windows for other regions and future updates. This story will be updated if we hear back.

With all this talk about traveling, you may be thinking about planning your next vacation. Be sure to check out TechRadar’s guide on the best travel and weather apps for Android if you need some help.

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