By Tracey Dowdy
Despite the fact that virtual wallets have been around for a while, we’ve been slow to jump onboard. In fact, according to a study by the Federal Reserve, only 13 percent of consumers use their mobile devices to pay at restaurants or retailers. Why is that? About half of us trust our phones for mobile banking, so why have we been hesitant to take advantage of a mobile wallet?
On the plus side, it’s a simple process. You download an app, enter your credit card information, and when you’re ready to make a purchase, simply open the app and have the cashier scan your device or tap it on the pad.
Experts say mobile payments are safer than a magnetic strip debit or credit card, which holds your name, card number and expiration date encoded on the stripe without protection. Most apps generate a unique bar code for each transaction instead of transmitting your card information, and going one step further, Apple Pay doesn’t even store credit card data. New, more secure debit and credit cards are set to launch in October, but until then virtual wallets seem to be a safer option.
On the downside, you can’t use mobile payment options everywhere. Despite developers best efforts, not every retailer and restaurant can or will accept mobile payments. Of all the options, Google Wallet and Apple Pay are the most widely accepted, but with retailers like Target and Wal-Mart launching their own versions, it appears no one system will be universal.
Here’s a look at some of the major players so you can decide if mobile payments are right for you.
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus come with an NFC (Near Field Communication) chip embedded in the top of the device as well as an SE (Secure Element) chip that generates a one-use code (a token) for every transaction instead of transmitting your debit or credit card number. The token can’t be used again for subsequent purchases and is only matched to your card by the bank. The iPad Mini and iPad Air 2 also come with Apple Pay but don’t have NFC, so you’ll only be able to use them for in-app purchases.
iPhone 5 and older users will need an Apple Watch to use Apple Pay, since the watch is tethered to the phone and will use your Touch ID to make purchases. The app works in Airplane mode, uses a fingerprint reader for added security and is supported by roughly 300 banks in the U.S. The Apple Pay website reminds us that Apple never sees details of your purchases and provides a complete list of participating banks both in the U.S. and U.K.
The second major player is Google Wallet, which in theory is similar to Apple Pay but in practice quite different. Using NFC technology, Google Wallet creates a MasterCard number unique to your phone. There’s no credit check and you won’t receive a physical card, only a number. When you pay, the retailer gets that number and the debit or credit card you’ve attached to the account is charged. However, unlike Apple Pay, Google Wallet sees every purchase you make. It also works as a peer-to-peer payment system, allowing you to transfer money to another account.
Your favorite one-click, online payment service is also getting into the mobile wallet game. The newest version has customers “check-in” when they enter a store that accepts PayPal payments, which then transmits your account details to the retailer. Cashing out is then as simple as telling the cashier you want to use PayPal. The store simply matches your account to your purchase. As an added plus, the app is available on Android, Apple and Windows Phones.
Google recently announced it will launch Android Pay as a second way to pay with your phone. Instead of opening an app, Android Pay will come with the phone, so payment is as simple as unlocking your phone and holding it near the terminal to complete your purchase; it’s as simple as tap and pay. If the store has a loyalty card, Android Pay will prompt you to use it.
According to Google, Android Pay is more secure as it doesn’t include your actual credit or debit card number with your payment but instead generates a virtual account number, thereby keeping your personal details safe. Android Pay will also make use of the native fingerprint recognition software coming in Android M (the next mobile operating system update), though it should work with NFC-equipped devices with Android 4.3 and above. Once launched, Android Pay will be for tap and pay, and Google Wallet will primarily be for peer-to-peer money transfers.
To paraphrase a quote loosely attributed to Mark Twain: If you don’t like the mobile payment options out there now, just wait six months. Retailers, developers and other major players are constantly working to improve the tools and draw you in. Mobile payment technology is certain to become more user friendly and secure as more consumers get onboard.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.