Mobile Payments Shootout: Apple Pay vs Samsung Pay vs Google Pay

Apple Pay vs Samsung Pay vs Google Pay
Written by Izak Van Heerden

When futurists envisioned a cashless society, they thought of credit and debit cards. Still, these are redundant pieces of plastic that need to be lugged around wherever you go. What if transactions could originate from something you already carry around with you – like your cell phone or a wrist watch?

[Read: 10 Technologies That Will Change Your Life in 10 Years Time]

Apple Pay vs Samsung Pay vs Google PayAdoption of “digital wallets” has been slow despite the hype and interest.  It’s tough to roll out new technology when it takes millions of merchants to adopt it. A recent Forrester study shows that roughly a third (36%) of U.S. merchants have rolled out the technology for multiple vendors.  Only 18% of consumers have used digital wallets to pay for transactions.  Adoption rates for retailers is growing, though, as new chip-enabled POS systems are being installed with NFC technology.  In addition, companies like Square and Pay Anywhere are providing adapters that can retrofit some POS (point-of-sale) systems.

Millennials are adopting mobile payments at a more rapid pace.  Not having to carry a purse, wallet, or physical cards and storing everything in your phone makes it an attractive option.  Adding in loyalty cards and rewards for use helps for a seamless transaction and savings.  A Gallup poll shows Millennials use digital wallets for transactions 10% of the time already and the number is growing.

The three companies taking the lead in digital payments are Samsung (Samsung Pay), Google (Android Pay), and Apple (Apple Pay).  Each of them use NFC (Near Field Communication) readers at merchants to handle transactions, although Samsung Pay also works with the more traditional card readers.  Each of the digital payments systems encrypts credit or debit cards.  For each use, a unique digital token is generated – unrelated to the actual card number for security purposes – which is then validated by either a PIN or fingerprint reader.  By doing so, no card numbers are retained by the merchant.

In addition, each of the digital payment platforms are being incorporated into other company’s apps, allowing you to use them without exiting, for example, the Starbucks app.


Mobile Payments Shootout

Apple Pay

Apple Pay vs Samsung Pay vs Google Pay

Tim Cook, Apple CEO, recently proclaimed Apple Pay as the industry leader.  He said 75% of all digital payments were done with Apple Pay last year and the number of users increased by 500% from the previous year.

Apple Pay is limited to iPhone 6 or later with Touch ID, Apple Watch, Macbook Pro (with touch bar), and some iPads.  To use with your phone, just hold the device near the NFC reader and your finger on the fingerprint reader.  With the Apple Watch, double-click the side button and put your watch face near the sensor.

Apple Pay is accepted at more than 4 million retailers.  Whole Foods, Winn Dixie, Ulta, Trader Joe’s, Toys R Us, Subway, Texaco, Staples, Starbucks, Sephora, Raley’s, McDonalds, Nike, Macy’s, Meijer, McDonalds, Kohl’s, KFC, Foot Locker, Duane Reade, Chick-fil-A, Chevron, Ace, and – of course – Apple – are some of the big-name retailers that accept Apple Pay.

Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank and Chase support Apple Pay, as do hundreds of smaller financial institutions.  Some ATM’s are beginning to have the tech to use Apple Pay.

One helpful feature with Apple Pay is the ability to wipe your credit data from your phone if you lost it using Apple’s Find My Phone app.

PROS:  Accepted at more retail business than Android Pay

CONS:  Limited to most current Apple devices

Samsung Pay

Apple Pay vs Samsung Pay vs Google Pay Smart Watch

Despite the adoption rates of Apple Pay, Samsung Pay currently has an advantage over its two competitors.  It works with nearly all Point-of-Sale systems.  It will work with NFC readers as Apple Pay and Android Pay will, but it also works with POS systems that have MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission) readers.  That means just about any merchant that accepts traditional credit cards, or chip-based cards, can accept Samsung Pay.

Samsung Pay can be used currently with Samsung devices, including Galaxy phones and Samsung Gear watches.  It lets you store card information, loyalty cards, gift cards, and membership information.  Samsung also has its own rewards program for using Samsung Pay.

Using Samsung Pay is easy.  When you’re ready to pay, open the App on your device, swipe to the card you want to use, and then enter your PIN or use the fingerprint sensor.  Hold your device next to the NFC reader and that’s it.  When the payment goes through, you’ll be notified.  Payments are detailed in the app.

PROS:  NFC and MST allows for the broadest acceptance at merchants
CONS:  Only works with Samsung devices

The retailers that accept Samsung Pay are too many to list, because it works with nearly all POS machines that accept credit cards.  Samsung Pay works with Bank of America, Citibank, Chase, and Wells Fargo as well as other banks.

Android Pay

Apple Pay vs Samsung Pay vs Google Pay

Android Pay works with any Android-enabled device that supports NFC that runs the company’s 4.4 mobile operating system or higher.  It works with phones, tablets, and smartwatches running the Android OS.

Android also uses tokens for payment, but the token itself is generated in the cloud rather in the mobile device.

Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank, and Chase support Android Pay, as do other major financial institutions.  Banks are rolling out ATM machines that will accept Android Pay as well.  Most banks that accept Apple Pay will also likely accept Android Pay.  Through a partnership with Visa Checkout and MasterCard’s Masterpass, customers will be able to link their accounts.  In addition, you can use Android Pay for in-app purchases for apps like Lyft and Hotels Tonight.  Google is building in support for Android Pay into its Chrome browser.

To use Android, Pay, you do not need to launch the app as long as you have NFC enabled.  Make sure your phone is unlocked and place the back against the reader.  You’ll see a green check mark when the payment goes through.

PROS:  Largest base of supported devices
CONS:  Lower support from banks and retail businesses

A short-list of the major retailers that accept Android Pay include Walgreens, Ulta, ToysRUs, Trader Joe’s, Raley’s, Texaco, Panera, Macy’s, McDonalds, Duane Reade, Chick-fil-A, Bloomingdales, Chevron, Best Buy, Arco.  More than a million other establishments accept it as well.


Apple Pay vs Samsung Pay vs Google Pay 5

Right now, the digital wallet “movement” is not being led by Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Google Pay.  Credit-card branded e-payment apps are more popular.  Visa Checkout, MasterPass, and Amex Express Checkout are the most used, although Visa, MasterCard, and American Express all work with Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Google Pay.

PayPal has been popular for online purchasing for years now, but is now accepted at millions of merchants through NFC readers.  Currently, it’s the digital payment of choice for Baby Boomers.

Store-branded mobile payments apps, such as those offered by Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Walmart Pay are also more popular than Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Google Pay.

With customers wanting an easy, seamless experience, credit card, banks, PayPal, and store-branded apps have created, or are in discussions about, partnerships with the Apple, Android, and Google Pay programs.

It’s not an easy task to get consumer adoption on new technology.  The world’s largest retailer, WalMart, struggled after it got together a group of major retailers and launched their own smartphone payment network, called CurrentC.  Walmart, with its massive scale, was trying to lower costs for credit card transaction fees, but also grow the digital transactions at its stores while tracking additional customer data.  It didn’t work.  Walmart was forced to retool its Walmart Pay product and the technology was sold off to Chase, which will fold the tech into its own Chase Pay system.

Fueling Adoption Rates

Apple Pay vs Samsung Pay vs Google Pay

Technology has always made leaps forward when breakthroughs came in ease-of-use.  Apple wasn’t the first-to-market with smartphones, laptops, or tablets, but made tech easy to use for a generation of iPhone and iPad users.  Depending on which of the digital wallets you use, you might have to unlock your phone, open an app, swipe, and/or enter a pin.  For PayPal, you generate a QR code that the scanner reads.

It’s still easier to pull out a credit card and swipe it, or stick it in the machine.  A consumer survey by PYMENTS, which tracks online purchase trends, shows the number one reason consumers aren’t adopting digital wallets at a faster pace is that they are satisfied with the current way they pay.  That is a significantly greater obstacle for consumers than concerns about security or technology.

The next generation of digital wallets will aim to increase speed of transactions and make it even easier to use.  As more retailers adopt the technology and change out old hardware, the list of businesses that accept digital wallets will only grow.

Right now, consumers are also confused about which businesses accept which payment systems.  When credit cards first came on the scene, customers had to determine if the store they were at would accept cards.  It’s no different for consumers with digital wallets now.  There’s nothing more frustrating than getting to the check-out counter, with lots of people behind you, and finding out they can’t take your payment of choice.

Retailers See Tangible Benefits

Apple Pay vs Samsung Pay vs Google Pay

Cash sales represent one of the biggest areas of risk for businesses.  Cash can be lost, miscounted, or stolen.  Getting rid of cash sales helps mitigate that risk and removes any temptation from employees to pocket some change as well.

Credit card companies charge fees.  The more transactions that use mobile wallets, linked to cards, the more retailers pay in fees, but speedy transactions and less cash-handling may be worth the tradeoff.

By tying in loyalty programs, regular customers are likely to consider mobile payments.  It’s easier to pull out one device than two cards.  Starbucks has had success in this area and can point to increased store traffic to their store-branded app.  The reason, Starbucks cites, is that customers can order ahead of time and use the app to pay, making for a seamless – and easy – transaction.  Order ahead, pay yourself, and skip the lines.

In addition, banks and merchants can tap into new streams of customer data.


Apple Pay vs Samsung Pay vs Google Pay 8

All the digital wallets use encrypted one-time-only tokens, which means they are likely more secure than the cards you would otherwise carry.  User need either a PIN or fingerprint identification, rather than just handing a clerk a card or swiping it.  Even a lost or stolen phone can’t be used for payments without knowing the PIN.

Using your smartphone for payments also adds another obstacle for potential hackers or thieves.  They must physically have the phone in-hand, have possession of the PIN (and for some applications the unlock code for the phone itself), and/or use biometric authentication like fingerprints.  Consumers who lose their phones can likely shut down the payment apps before a thief could make use of the digital wallet.  Lost cards can be turned off, or deleted from the app, and prevent fraud.

Location data, past practices, and authentication procedures may be able to help analyze patterns and help tell the difference between legitimate users and fraud, just as credit card companies can often pick up uncharacteristic behavior or out-of-area transactions and flag them for potential fraud.

Still, you will want to take precautions.  If a thief gets their hands on your credit card number, they can enter it into their own digital wallet app and use it to pay, just as they would with a physical card.

You’ll also want to be sure to check with your bank or credit card companies.  Most have limits on personal liability if someone steals a card and uses it fraudulently.  Some financial institutions and credit card companies will not honor these limits if you use a digital wallet and neither will Apple Pay, Google Pay, or Samsung Pay.

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Izak Van Heerden
Izak has witnessed a couple of decades worth of changing tech. He hopes to make it a couple more until his conscience can be copied to a cyborg body.

About the author

Izak Van Heerden

Izak has witnessed a couple of decades worth of changing tech. He hopes to make it a couple more until his conscience can be copied to a cyborg body.

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