With Android 4.4 KitKat, your phone might finally gain access to Google Wallet. Although Google launched the mobile payment service two years ago, carrier and hardware restrictions kept it from truly taking off. Thanks to some clever workarounds on Google's part, Android KitKat might be the kick in the pants Google Wallet needs to go mainstream.
By incorporating a system known as Host Card Emulation (HCE), KitKat lets apps mimic NFC-enabled credit cards, loyalty cards, and even transit passes. With one of these apps installed, you can use your phone with compatible NFC readers just like you would a physical plastic card. Finding a working NFC card reader might prove to be a challenge, but there's just something utterly futuristic about paying with your phone.
If you have an app that supports it, KitKat includes a Tap & Pay option that streamlines the payment process. Without having the app open, you can tap your phone against an NFC reader to initiate a transaction. You can have multiple apps enabled to take advantage of Tap & Pay, but things could get messy if you have 5 different payment apps all attempting to use different cards to pay for your groceries. In theory, KitKat is smart enough to recognize the type of reader you're trying to access and will serve up the appropriate card for the situation.
Google Wallet is one of the first Android apps to use HCE, allowing it to work on pretty much any smartphone or tablet with NFC hardware. By being part of the core Android OS, it'll be much harder for carriers or device manufacturers to block the functionality--although carriers could continue to block access to Wallet as a means to encourage people to use their own mobile payment software.