Samsung made one of its most clever and strategic acquisitions Wednesday when it bought LoopPay, a mobile payments company developing a rival platform to Apple Pay and lesser-known systems like CurrentC.
LoopPay has one key advantage over Apple Pay: It can work with just about any standard credit card reader. LoopPay’s technology uses a metal coil to emit a magnetic field that can talk to most credit card terminals and securely transfer your card’s information. Apple Pay, on the other hand, requires the merchant to have a special payment pad with near field communication (NFC) technology that’s not available at most retailers.
As Jason Del Rey of Re/code first reported, Samsung is expected to integrate LoopPay in one of its new phones this year, likely the Galaxy S6, which the company will unveil at an event in Barcelona on March 1.
But as the largest Android phone maker in the world, Samsung’s decision to go with LoopPay over Google’s own system, Google Wallet, threatens any hope for Google creating a unified mobile payments system for Android.
Now, Google is losing control of yet another piece of the Android platform by ceding control of mobile payments space to the two biggest companies in mobile: Apple and Samsung. It failed to turn Google Wallet into a viable option, essentially forcing its biggest partner Samsung to take matters into its own hands.
This is going to be a problem for Google and the Android platform in the long run. Other Android phone manufacturers like HTC, Motorola, LG, and Lenovo have yet to come up with a payments system as good as Apple Pay or LoopPay. So far, there’s no indication that those other partners will be able to rely on Google for the answer, meaning they will also have to come up with their own separate solutions if they want to remain competitive, just like Samsung is doing with LoopPay. With Apple Pay taking off and Samsung about to implement a system that it claims will work at 90% of retailers that accept credit cards, Google’s chances of owning mobile payments seem slim.
Android is already fragmented enough as it is. And when it comes to a mobile wallet, the next must-have feature in phones, most Android users will have to choose from a hodgepodge systems, whereas Samsung and Apple users will have their own integrated solutions.
There is one small glimmer of hope for Google: According to TechCrunch and a few other scattered reports, Google may buy Softcard, a mobile payments platform backed by Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. Having the blessing of three major wireless carriers is a good start, but so far Softcard (which was formerly called ISIS, but had to change that unfortunate name recently), hasn’t taken off the way Apple Pay has and LoopPay will likely be able to. And I’m not very confident Google will be able to change that, considering what a dud Google Wallet turned out to be.
Once again, Google is losing control over Android and letting manufacturers take over instead. Google did not respond to a request for comment.