Jamie Gaskins

Ruby/Rails developer, coffee addict

Apple Pay Is a Big Deal

Published Sep 11, 2014

I've seen an image in various places around the internet (Twitter, Reddit, even in my Facebook comments) where some guy smugly points out that everything new in the iPhone 6 has been in Samsung phones for almost two years.

iPhone 6 vs Samsung Note 4

I'm not going to try to counter everything he points out there (as much as I'd like to), but instead I'm going to focus on the NFC payments part because that's one of the announcements I liked the most.

Basically, my objection boils down to 3 things:

  • Are NFC payments as easy to use on the Samsung as on the iPhone 6?
  • Are they as secure?
  • How many Android users have actually used that feature?

These are actual questions. I don't have the answers because my only experience with Android phones has been troubleshooting ones that my family and friends have. I'm not saying that to talk shit about them; that's actually the only experience I have with them.

Ease of use

The major selling point in the keynote for Apple Pay was how quick and easy it is to pay for something. You hold your phone up to the sensor and put your finger on the Touch ID panel. Done.

If you have to unlock your phone and/or open an app, it's not as easy to use. I'm just saying that Apple Pay is about as easy to use as it gets until you can just walk out the door of the shop without going near a checkout, the shoplifting detectors scanning all the items and charging you all via NFC.


Two major security benefits of Apple Pay are Touch ID and abstraction of credit cards.

Touch ID means that nobody whose fingerprints aren't registered on that specific device can make a payment with Apple Pay. If your phone is stolen, the thief can't buy things with it as they could with a stolen credit card.

Abstracting the card from the payment is another huge deal. If you lose your credit or debit card, you have to cancel the card, which means that everything that gets paid automatically or that stores your card number for convenience will need to be notified of new card details. With Apple Pay, the card details are never transmitted. It generates a single-use payment token and sends that to the merchant, which then talks to Apple (instead of your bank) to get the EFT going.

This way, if the card is stolen, you can just add the new card to Apple Pay and keep paying for things like before. If the phone is stolen, the thief doesn't have access to your payment details.

Now, it's not impossible for someone to get into your phone if they've stolen it. A 4-digit passcode only has 10,000 possible permutations. Assuming 2 seconds per attempt, a thief could try all possible passcodes in an afternoon, but that would require ruthless dedication. It's likely that they wouldn't have to try all of them, though, since they'd stop once they reached yours, but it's also likely they wouldn't be averaging 2 seconds per attempt over a matter of hours.

Once they find your passcode, they can add their fingerprint to Touch ID, which would allow them access to your payments. But you can also quickly and easily disable Apple Pay on a device with the Find My iPhone feature. As long as you do this before they're able to get in — pretty frickin' likely unless you ignore your phone a lot — you're safe.

Actual usage numbers

Even though over half of my friends and family are using Android on Samsung phones, the image at the top of this post is the first time in the nearly two years since Samsung has had NFC payments that I've heard about it. None of them have ever mentioned it. This makes me wonder, have any of them ever used it?

How many Android users in general are using this feature?

When I lived in Australia, NFC payments were pretty common. My debit card was NFC-enabled for payments under $100. I just had to wave it over the payment terminal, collect my receipt and head out. No pin, no signature.

But considering that I've seen very few payment terminals in the US with NFC capability, I doubt a significant percentage of people with this capability on their phones have ever used it or even know it's there. My debit and credit cards are both swipe 'n' scribble — partying like it's 1989.

The reason Apple Pay is such a big deal isn't because the technology is finally being included in Apple phones; it's because Apple has finally convinced major retailers and fast-food restaurants to support it, as well. That's the kicker. The technology alone isn't enough. If Apple merely went the route that Samsung/Google went with their NFC-payments support and let the merchants adopt it at their own pace, it would probably be as useless for the next two years as it has for the previous two.

This has huge implications for Samsung/Google (whoever is responsible for the actual payment support in those phones), as well. In the same way that companies develop mobile apps for both Android and iOS, if they support Apple Pay, they'll likely add support for Android payments, too.