As soon as Tim Cook unveiled Apple Pay back in September, two things were instantly clear: 1) Contactless payments had arrived; and 2) Samsung was going to copy it. So when Samsung unveiled its next flagship phones, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, on Sunday in Barcelona, I followed along with great interest, ready to snicker at its iPhone-like curved edges, fingerprint sensor, and perfectly circular speaker grilles.
Samsung’s gotten so good at this game, it’s not even fair. About halfway through the presentation, it was announced the new phones would have a mobile payments system called … wait for it … Samsung Pay. And suddenly, I couldn’t point and laugh. Besides the Single White Female-level name copying, this service, which launches in the U.S. and South Korea this summer, sounds like it might actually one-up Apple Pay. Here’s what you need to know so far, and why this could still be good news for Apple Pay users.
Really, they called it Samsung Pay?
Yeah, they did. They went there. But Samsung didn’t bite Apple’s naming style just to troll us. Earlier this year, Samsung bought LoopPay, the company that invented Magnetic Secure Transmission technology to conduct wireless payments without NFC. So the pay part might actually be more apt of a name–Samsung Loop just sounds silly.
So how does it work? How do people store cards?
The main benefit of Apple Pay is its end-to-end ease of use, and Samsung has gone to some considerable length to mimic it. Adding a card to be used is nearly identical to Apple’s—either type in the numbers and expiration date manually or scan it with the camera—and it’ll be ready to access the next time you need to pay for something.
Is accessing those cards as easy as Apple Pay?
With Apple Pay, your stored cards magically appear on the lock screen when your iPhone phone comes in contact with a compatable payment reader, but Samsung’s method isn’t quite as automatic; cards are accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the screen.
Will it work in the same places?
As you might have guessed, Samsung Pay will be able to be used at the same stores that accept Apple Pay, but Galaxy users have a serious advantage. Since Samsung acquired LoopPay, the phones also sport MST technology, which allows it to be recognized by stores with magnetic credit card readers (you know, like almost all of them) giving Samsung Pay a far wider reach than Apple.
How do I use it?
If you’ve ever used Apple Pay, you’ll already have a pretty good idea of how to use Samsung Pay. Like Apple Pay, the key is your fingerprint; when you’re ready to pay, swipe to select the card you want and authenticate with your fingerprint. However, there’s an extra step: Samsung Pay users also need to tap their phones to the card reader or register’s magnetic strip.
Is it secure? Is it private?
Samsung Pay is as secure as Apple Pay. Cards are locked until your fingerprint opens them up, and credit card information is stored and transmitted as encrypted tokens that ensure your card data can’t be hacked or breached. Samsung is also taking Apple’s approach to privacy—the comapny won’t collect data on where users shop or what they spend.
Does it actually work?
We won’t fully be able to answer that question until the phones go on sale April 10, but based on early hands-on experiences, the fingerprint reader and software is as slick as Apple’s. Our sister site Greenbot recently compared the experience of using LoopPay versus Google Wallet for wireless payments on an Android phone, and LoopPay—the technology Samsung bought—won by a landslide.
Can I use it with older Galaxy phones?
Just like Apple Pay only works with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus (and coming soon, the Apple Watch), Samsung Pay is a feature tied to the Galaxy 6 and Galaxy 6 Edge.
Really, it’s called Samsung Pay?
Yes, it is. Let’s move on.
Does Samsung Pay work within apps?
Apple Pay’s most underrated features it its ability to work for online purchases on our iPhone 6, iPad Air 2, and iPad mini 3, but Samsung hasn’t said whether its system will be able to work with its own apps or those purchased through the Google Play store.
Who’s on board?
Apple Pay already works with nearly 100 financial institutions, and it remains to be seen how fast Samsung can convince them to sign on to support Samsung Pay. The company announced partnerships with JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citi, and US Bank, as well as MasterCard and Visa, but it has a long way to go to catch up with Apple Pay.
Will it work with the Galaxy Gear?
Presumable Samsung Pay will work with the next version of the Galaxy Gear, but Samsung didn’t have anything to announce about its watches at MWC. In the meantime, if you’re keen on buying stuff using your wrist, Apple Watch is your only option.
How will Apple respond?
Short answer, it might not even have to. LoopPay’s MST technology might be yesterday’s news before Samsung Pay even gets off the ground. The federal government is requiring retail outlets to adopt fancy new NFC-equipped Europay, MasterCard and Visa terminals by October, which would all but neutralize Samsung’s advantage.
What does this mean for Apple Pay?
That’s the billion-dollar question. Apple Pay is off to a rolling start, thanks in large part to Apple’s marketing efforts and brisk sales of the iPhone 6, and it seems as though digital, contact less payments are on the verge of becoming somewhat mainstream. Even if Samsung sells as many phones as Apple did (which, let’s face it, is unlikely), it certainly won’t hurt Apple Pay’s expansion. If anything, it’ll help—the more people use phones to pay for things, no matter if it’s through Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or Google Wallet, it puts more pressure on stores and banks to support the concept. And that’s good for everyone.
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Michael Simon has been covering Apple since the iPod was the iWalk. His obsession with technology goes back to his first PC—the IBM Thinkpad with the lift-up keyboard for swapping out the drive. He's still waiting for that to come back in style tbh.