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Game of phones: get to know the power players in the mobile payments arena

Game of phones: get to know the power players in the mobile payments landscape.
Apple Pay is promoted on signs placed at the cash register of Whole Foods in Columbus Circle on October 20 2014 in New York NY

Recently, Alfred F. Kelly, Visa’s CEO was quoted as saying that there are too many mobile wallets available on the market. “Consumers are not going to ultimately want to have 50 wallets,” he maintains. He makes a valid point; there may be too many “Pays” in the mobile payments sector. Despite this, there is a handful of major players who are growing well and establishing themselves. Here’s a quick overview of the who’s who in the growing mobile payments field.

The heavyweights

Chances are, you’ve already come across the following names. These are the services that are the best contenders for the mobile payments throne.

Apple Pay

With about 12 million monthly users, Apple Pay is perhaps the most well-known mobile payment service currently available. Much like other mobile payment services, Apple Pay digitises the debit and credit cards of users, stores the information in the Wallet app, and uses contactless technology and two-factor authentication (through Touch ID) to facilitate transactions made in person, in apps and online. So far, Apple Pay is available only to iPhone users.

Android Pay

Android Pay is Apple Pay’s closest competitor and works in a similar manner to Apple Pay: mobile wallet, contactless transactions, and two-factor authentication. Android Pay can be used to pay online, in-store or in apps, exactly like Apple Pay. What distinguishes Android Pay from Apple Pay is how it can integrate with other online and mobile payment services like Masterpass and Visa Checkout and PayPal.

Samsung Pay

Samsung Pay competes with both Android Pay and Apple Pay but works in a slightly different way. Unlike Android Pay and Apple Pay that are accepted only at participating stores for payments made in person, Samsung Pay is accepted anywhere magstripe cards are. Samsung uses MST (magnetic secure transmission) technology to send a magnetic signal from the smartphone, that a card reader interprets as a signal from a magstripe card. Samsung claims that an MST transaction is more secure than a transaction done with a normal magstripe payment card (presumably, because smartphones can’t be skimmed the way cards can).


PayPal started out as an online payment method and has been very successful in that regard, establishing itself as the go-to ecommerce channel for small online businesses, charities, etc. But it also has a stake in the mobile payments market with its smartphone app. In addition, PayPal has recently acquired the popular P2P (peer-to-peer) payment app Venmo, but more on that later. PayPal’s advantage in mobile payments is that it already has a substantial global user base (203 million, according to Statista). PayPal can be used to make a variety of payments online, in-app and in-store.

Between friends

P2P or social payments are a growing sector of the mobile payments arena. Here’s who’s diving headfirst into the fray.


The PayPal-owned P2P payment service Venmo has had significant success since its inception in 2009, especially among millennials. The app allows users to transfer money to friends, family and casual acquaintances without ever reaching for their wallets. You can send money from your Venmo wallet or directly from your bank account via a linked debit or credit card. The app has become so popular that “Venmo” has become a verb, a la Google.


Zelle is the plucky new app that is already being dubbed the “Venmo-killer” before it has even been released. Before rebranding as Zelle, it was conceived as clearXchange by a collective of major US banks such as Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Capital One. This alliance among the banks could be what makes Zelle a formidable player in the P2P space, especially for consumers who are hesitant to supply third parties with their details.

Square Cash

Square’s success with their mobile POS solutions makes Square Cash, their experiment with mobile payments, worth watching. Square Cash has a very sleek and minimalist interface that makes it easy for anyone (not just millennials) to use. They also have a feature called Cashtags, that are a lot like Twitter handles except with a dollar sign where the @ symbol usually goes. Users can set up Cashtags for themselves, events and crowdfunding causes. While Square Cash comes in the form of an app, the service can be used online or via email.

Who will win?

Only time can tell which mobile payment services will become market standards. There could be more players fighting for the title by the end of the year, and there could be fewer. But if you subscribe to our blog below, you’ll get to hear the play-by-play action first.