Alternatives to Apple Pay on the horizon

By Michael Lloyd

If you're not an iOS fan, you may have felt a little left out when Apple Pay launched in the UK. However, you won't have to switch mobile platforms to be part of the newest payments technology.  Apple may have been first to the party with a comprehensive contactless payment platform, but upcoming offerings from rival tech firms such as Samsung and Google promise to capitalise on the British public's growing appetite for this type of technology.

"In recent months, we've seen the emergence of so many new ways to pay," Paula Felstead, ‎chief officer of business strategy and innovation at Visa Europe, said in an emailed response to questions. "We know the appetite is there for contactless, as we recently passed the 1 billionth transaction in Europe inside a year for the first time. It's there for mobile payment, too -- 60% of UK consumers told us recently that they expect to make payments on a mobile phone by 2020."

Here are a few Apple Pay alternatives making their way to the UK, and one that's already

1. Samsung Pay.
Samsung's answer to Apple Pay launched in the firm's home country of South Korea in August 2015, and is due in the US in September. There's no official UK roll-out date yet, but Samsung has said Britain will be the first country to get the service in Europe.

Samsung Pay works in much the same way as Apple Pay, says Mike Cowen, head of emerging payments products at MasterCard.

Apple Pay and Samsung Pay "both use a process called 'tokenisation' to process payments, which swaps out the real card number with one that's specific to the device," Cowen says. "It also generates one-time payment credentials, in a similar fashion to EMV chips, which means these services work in much the same way as chip-and-PIN cards."

This means retailers will never see your card details, and your account information is not stored on your device. 

Unlike Apple Pay, Samsung's payment platform will leverage the Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) technology the company acquired with its purchase of LoopPay, as well as the Near Field Communication (NFC) standard employed by most contactless payment systems. This could offer Samsung a big advantage in the US, where mag-stripe readers are the norm, but will likely have little impact here, where almost all payment terminals are NFC-enabled. 

At launch, Samsung Pay will work with the Galaxy S6 and Note 5, but will likely be compatible with most of its future high-end devices.

2. Android Pay.
Google's upcoming Android Pay will also work in a similar fashion to Apple's service. In fact, its technology is nearly identical to Apple's -- Android users will tap their devices on NFC-enabled contactless terminals to make payments. The service should roll out in the US by the end of the year, but there is no official date on UK availability yet.

But when it does make an appearance here, Android Pay will have two big advantages over Apple's platform. Firstly, it will work on a broader range of devices, given that Google's mobile OS has a higher share of the mobile market than iOS in the UK.

Additionally, Android Pay users will have more options when it comes to authenticating payments, potentially making the purchasing process a bit quicker. Apple Pay authenticates payments via fingerprint scanner. Google's alternative lets users OK purchases via their screen unlock method, be it fingerprint scan, a PIN, a password, a pattern or facial recognition.

Android Pay will work on any device equipped with any devices equipped with it's KitKat 4.4 operating system or higher.

3. bPay by Barclaycard.
If you're not ready to make the leap to paying via mobile, there's still a gadget available that allows you to make contactless payments without having to trouble your purse or wallet.

Barclays initially decided against offering its support to Apple Pay -- though it eventually decided to support it -- and instead broke out its own contactless payment service, bPay.

bPay allows you to link an NFC-enabled fob, sticker or wristband to any bank account. You can then wave your chosen gadget in front of any contactless payment terminal to pay for low-value purchases.

You'll need to pay up the £24.99 for one of these devices, and will only be able to use them to make payments up to the value of £20 (rising to £30 in September).

Which will reign?
Cowan expects other platform providers will look to follow Google as part of an effort to offer the most seamless service possible. However, he says, all the payment services are competing with each other, each trying to best the others.

"They'll all be looking to achieve the most streamlined, the most frictionless experience," he says. "Because these are software-enabled, connected devices, those experiences can evolve over time. But until all of these different options have made it to market, we're not going to know what people are going to prefer."

See related: Preparing for Apple Pay, Could Apple Pay help mobile wallets take off in the UK?, Could mobile payments replace your plastic?

Published: 20 August 2015