Your mobile payment options compared
The act of giving physical money in exchange for goods goes back thousands of years. Now, various new technologies are revolutionising the way we pay for things. It started with the advent of credit and debit cards, but as we move into the age of the constantly connected consumer, things are changing once again.
The world's biggest tech names are competing to help today's shoppers get through the transaction process as quickly and smoothly as possible, harnessing the power of their mobile devices the whole time. The results of their work are pretty impressive too; let's take a look at what some of the biggest players have to offer.
PayPal has long been dedicated to making consumers' buying lives easier, but the lion's share of its work has been dedicated to e-retail. Now, the company is working on a range of mobile payment technologies.
The firm's already popular smartphone app can be used to pay for things in bricks-and-mortar stores, for example. The user checks in while they're on the premises, before showing their device to the cashier or placing the order themselves. The staff member approves the transaction, and the shopper's balance is adjusted accordingly.
PayPal has one particularly big advantage over its competitors: its roots are planted firmly in retail. This means users are familiar with its interfaces, many will have accounts ready and most will trust the brand. This is pretty important when there's personal finance at stake.
Android Pay (formerly Google Wallet)
Google Wallet was introduced back in 2011 but failed to take off. With its replacement, Android Pay, the Californian tech giant has signed deals with a number of big banks and retailers to help ensure the same thing doesn't happen again.
Android Pay works using NFC (near-field communication) technology. To pay for things, the user must tap their device on a contactless terminal. The transaction is then registered and balances are adjusted accordingly.
The upside of this method is undoubtedly speed, but in order for it to work, both the consumer and retailer must have the appropriate technology. At present, compatible touchpoints are pretty rare but Google is promising to expand the service substantially.
Apple is undoubtedly Android's biggest competitor, so it's no surprise that it too is investing in mobile payment technologies. Apple Pay, available to iPhone and Apple Watch users, also relies on NFC signals. In this instance, however, the shopper is required to approve the transaction with their fingerprint.
One of the benefits here is that Apple Pay works with most banks and credit card providers, even in the UK. It's important to note that it relies on a tokenisation method that replaces the user's bank details with encrypted codes - for obvious security reasons.
Once more, this one relies on NFC technology being present in store. To this end, Apple claims that its service can already be used in one million locations (although many are chain stores and most are in the US). Time will tell if it can fulfil its obvious potential here in the UK.
Samsung launched its own mobile payment technology, Samsung Pay, at MWC 2015 along with its Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge smartphones. While it does harness the power of NFC, it also works with conventional magnetic strip readers - an old technology available in the majority of card-accepting stores. This is thanks to Samsung's proprietary Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) platform.
Once the user has added their own bank cards, they're able to swipe up and down to find the one they want to use for payment. Once the device has been placed on the contact point, the transaction is authorised through the fingerprint scanner.
The system sounds great at first, but it's worth noting that it's only available to owners of Samsung's Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge devices. While similar restrictions are in place with Apple Pay, the American firm's much bigger market share makes it less of a problem.
It's fair to say that PayPal is in the strongest position at present, perhaps because of its strong retail background, but it'll be interesting to see how the other firms' services fare in the coming months and years. The success and failure of each will depend on a number of factors, namely security, standardisation and accessibility. Who knows what the future of mobile payment holds?
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