Android Pay steals a march on Samsung Pay

Friday 11 September 2015 | 13:32 CET | Background

Google has launched Android Pay on 11 September, (just) beating rival service Samsung Pay, announced for 28 September. Both are ready to go ahead with Apple Pay. From the end of this month, all three mobile payment platforms will be operational in the US. These services use the same NFC-capable payment terminals at point of sale, for cards issued by the same banks. While Apple is the current market leader in mobile payments, Android Pay looks likely to catch up soon. Google may edge out Samsung as well. Android Pay will work on a larger number of devices across mobile carriers.

Google has officially released Android Pay on 11 September, after months of preparations. It can be made to work on any NFC capable Android model running Android 4.4 or higher.

KitKat was announced in the fourth quarter of 2013 and the installed base has been growing ever since. The developer support for Google Android shows that over 60 percent of active Android handsets now run 4.4 or the newer 5.0/5.1 Lollipop.

The Dutch GSM Helpdesk mobile device database shows around 275 different handsets that run Android 4.4 KitKat or newer AND feature Near Field Communications (NFC). This is a global database; each country or market has its own subset of makes and models. However, flagship devices as well as mid-level models have been on sale for the best part of two years now.

Apple Pay is available on the iPhone 6/6 Plus that were launched last year and the 6s/6s Plus that go on sale on 25 September. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have seen record sales since their launch. By comparison, Samsung has a much smaller installed base. Samsung Pay will be available with the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+ and Note 5.


Samsung and Apple use fingerprint authentication. Apple Pay has shown that this can be an important uptake driver at point-of-sale. It’s straightforward to use and biometric authentication is regarded as strong by the card networks.

Apple Pay always uses the Touch ID fingerprint sensor and that enables consumers to pay any amount, and bypass the set limit on contactless card transactions (assuming that merchants have implemented this software feature. MasterCard recently said not all merchants have done so, but expects them to within the next year.) 

A subset of around 50 of those KitKat + NFC handsets in the GSM helpdesk database also features a fingerprint scanner. Without it, larger payments must still be confirmed with a PIN or signature, negating much of the benefits of using a mobile phone over a plastic card.

The card networks and various software providers have begun testing other biometric methods, including the selfie shot, but these will not commercially available for some time. Until then, the fingerprint sensor is more convenient.

Cards and terminals

Android Pay works with all four major card networks from the outset, Google has announced. Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover enable the use of cards issued by banks such as Bank of America, Navy Federal Credit Union, PNC, Regions Bank, USAA and U.S. Bank. Wells Fargo will be available in the next few days, Capital One and Citi are coming soon, and more new banks will be added in future.

Last month, Samsung has announced its own payment platform, Samsung Pay, will go live on 28 September. The company said it “anticipates working with payment networks such as, American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa, major banks including Bank of America, Chase, U.S. Bank and key financial partners including First Data, Synchrony Financial and TSYS to extend Samsung Pay to the U.S.”

The three payment services have in common that they rely on NFC to transmit a signal to regular payment terminals. That means that they will work in the same shops. At launch, Google says about one million payment terminals will accept Android Pay.

Samsung Pay is unique in integrating MST, an electromagnetic circuit that can emulate swiping a traditional mag stripe card in a reader. This offers the added benefit of compatibility with magnetic stripe readers on legacy payment terminals. The retail footprint is therefore larger, by millions of legacy terminals.

Those terminals are however being replaced by EMV terminals, while banks are issuing EMV cards. It is unlikely that banks and merchants will still condone the mag stripe once the more secure EMV chip is also available. This reduces the case for MST.

Android Pay has arrived two weeks before Samsung Pay and that might just allow it to steal a march on Samsung with the early adopters. In the week that Apple Pay was launched, many users activated it. Google has also backing from carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile US and Verizon will pre install the app on all Android phones they ship to customers, including the four models that are compatible with Samsung Pay: Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+ and Note 5. The Verge writes that it’s unconfirmed that Verizon Wireless will support Samsung Pay.

Later this year, Google will extend Android Pay to in-app checkout, providing the lines of code so the payment option can be integrated into any Android app. Apple will do the same, allowing iOS developers to accept payments using Apple Pay. Samsung has yet to announce this expansion of services and in any case it seems likely that developers will prioritize Android Pay over Samsung Pay.

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