Digital Payment Services: Apple vs. Android vs. Samsung

by Sandra Henshaw - , Last Updated on December 15, 2016, Buying Guides

Your digital payment service options are about to grow, which means you might be about to make a decision on which service is right for you. And that’s why we’re here. Digital payment services offer a lot of convenience, but they’re not all created equal. If you’re excited about being able to pay for services with your phone, then we’re here to tell you all you need to know!

What Are Digital Payment Services?

The concept behind a digital payment service is very simple. You put money into your phone (not literally), maybe by adding a credit card to your digital payment service account, or a PayPal account, or theoretically debts can even be added to your mobile bill, though this isn’t happening yet. When you go shopping you then pay by simply waving your phone over a reader at the checkout, no cash involved and no fiddling around for your credit cards. Very simple. You can also use digital payment services to pay in certain apps (such as shopping apps or games as well). We’ll get into more detail about how these work in a moment…

What Are My Options, and How Are They Limited?

There are three options that are currently available or about to be available, though there are, of course, some limitations. Apple Pay is the oldest service, and is available to be used in the UK right now. The limitation here is that you can only use Apple Pay on an iOS device, so if you’re using Android or Windows you’re out of luck.

The next option is just about to be released in the UK (by the time you read this it probably already has been), and that’s Samsung Pay. Samsung Pay is made rather obviously by Samsung, and the limitation here is that currently it only works on Samsung Galaxy devices. This looks likely to change, but for the moment you’re going to need that Galaxy.

Finally, there’s Android Pay. Android Pay has been up and running in the US for a while now, and whilst we don’t have a firm release date for the UK yet, Google have said that it will certainly be in 2016 and probably within the next few months. The upside of Android Pay is that it’s got by far the widest reach, with around 70% of Android devices able to support it.

How Does Digital Payment Work?

Whilst there are some differences between the three soon to be available services, all three do work in more or less the same fashion. The three services work by utilising the NFC chip that’s inside most newer mobile models. NFC, or Near Field Communication, is basically just a way for two devices to communicate with each other (in this case that’s your phone and the payment terminal at the cash desk of your chosen store). Wave your phone close to the payment terminal, the two devices will talk to each other, and bingo, your bill has been paid. If your phone has a fingerprint sensor, this will be used to authenticate your purchase, if not you will have to enter a password or code on your phone. In the case of Apple Pay only phones with fingerprint sensors can be used. Payment inside apps is as simple as scanning your fingerprint or entering your code.

There is one important difference though, and this pertains to Samsung Pay. Samsung Pay is the only system that also uses MST, or Magnetic Secure Transmission. This means that should your local shop not have a payment terminal with NFC (and some don’t), technically your Samsung Pay account will work with a traditional debit or credit card. This sounds awesome, but don’t get too excited. In order for this to work credit card companies and banks must agree to support Samsung Pay, and not all have. Whether or not you can use Samsung Pay with a credit or debit card machine is going to depend on your bank…

Are There Other Limitations?

Yes, there are other limitations, and this mostly has to do with compatibility. Firstly, shops must have an NFC payment terminal, and as we mentioned above, not all do. Secondly, shops (particularly large chains like supermarkets) must agree to support each digital payment system. And thirdly, banks and credit card companies must also agree to support such systems. And here is where the three systems probably differ the most.

Apple Pay is currently supported by all major UK banks, all major credit card companies (Visa, Mastercard, AmEx), and by hundreds of thousands of shops across the UK. This is hardly surprising since it was the first digital payment system released in the UK. There are about 40 apps that also support Apple Pay.

Android Pay, though not yet released, does already have agreements with Lloyd’s, HSBC, and Nationwide, and is likely to get other banks on board once launched. Note that in the US though, Android Pay has less bank support than Apple Pay. Credit cards are still open to debate (though in the US all major companies support Android Pay), and which shops will support it is anyone’s guess. However, since shops that support Apple Pay won’t need to buy new equipment for Android support, it’s likely that most stores will agree to use Android too. In the US there are currently around 25 apps that support Android Pay.

Samsung Pay isn’t supported by any apps. However, in the US and South Korea (where it’s already launched) it is supported by all major banks and credit card companies, and due to the MST on board which allows the use of Samsung Pay with a traditional credit card machine, it’s supported in vast numbers of shops, far more than Apple or Android Pay.

Bottom Line Time

In basic terms there aren’t really that many differences between the three major digital payment systems, though that Samsung Pay MST option does make it a little more useful. Security wise they’re all very similar, and now that Apple have tested the waters in the UK it’s probable that Samsung and Android will receive similar support from UK banks, shops and credit card companies. The real limitation here is going to be the kind of device that you have. However, once these systems are tested in the real world it is likely that cross-platform apps will emerge, allowing you to use Samsung Pay on a Windows phone, for example. For now though, you’re going to be choosing a digital payment service based on your mobile…