Apple Pay has launched in the UK at last, but it isn't the only way you can pay for products with a mobile phone. There are lots of alternatives to Apple Pay, in fact, some of which work with Android phones, and some of which work with any smartphone at all. In this feature, we're going to look at some of the alternative options available - focusing on current and near-future offerings from Samsung, Google and Barclays - and help you decide which is the best service for you.
Apple Pay may be the most interesting mobile payment option, especially for Apple Watch owners, but it's not for everybody. Although Apple Pay has launched in the UK, it's not available to everybody. Barclays Bank and Lloyds Bank are two pretty big names not supporting Apple Pay. Barclays has its bPay system, and support from Lloyds will come later in the year.
And not everybody owns, or wants, an Apple iPhone or Apple Watch. If you're not an iPhone user, but like the idea of paying for things by tapping your phone or watch to a surface, then here are the various options available.
- 12 awesome new features coming to Apple Watch with watchOS 2
- Apple Pay UK user guide
- How to set up and use Apple Pay in the UK
- Is Apple Pay safe? Find out if you're at risk by using Apple Pay
Using Apple Pay to buy products
Let's start by going over the essentials of Apple's contactless payment service.
Apple Pay was announced back in September 2014 along with the iPhone 6, but it's been a long wait for it to arrive in the UK. It finally launched here on 14 July.
Setting up Apple Pay is simple. Your bank card is added to the iPhone using the Passbook app (soon to be rebranded Apple Wallet in recognition of its newfound ability). Once you've added a bank card to Passbook, Apple Pay is activated on your iPhone and synced Apple Watch: you're good to go. Here are four ways you can use Apple Pay:
Pay in shops on your iPhone 6. Pretty much all shops that currently accept contactless payments will accept Apple Pay. Just tap your iPhone 6 or 6 Plus to the contactless reader and your iPhone wakes up. Tap your finger against the Touch ID sensor and make sure the iPhone taps the contactless reader to make the payment.
Pay in shops on your Apple Watch. Paying with the Apple Watch is probably easier than using the iPhone. You double-click the side button and hold the face of the Apple Watch to the contactless reader. The Apple Watch will buzz to let you know that the payment has gone through.
Pay within apps. Another aspect of Apple Pay is that you can pay for items inside apps. A wide range of third-party apps are compatible with Apple Pay payments.
Pay for TFL travel. Perhaps one of the best aspects of Apple Pay is that you are able to use it to pay for travel in London. All London buses, the Underground, and overground trains will accept Apple Pay in the same way you use Oyster Cards or bank cards. See: How to use Apple Pay on the London Underground
Apple Pay is causing waves in the US where most shops still use a magnetic swipe system along with signatures (and checking ID). In the UK, we've had Chip-and-Pin and contactless payment on major bank cards for a while, so Apple Pay isn't quite the revelation.
Read our Apple Pay review
Apple Pay vs Samsung Pay
Anything Apple can do, Samsung can do… slightly later. Samsung following in Apple's footsteps is something of a running joke in the tech community and true to form, it's not letting us down on mobile payments.
Samsung announced Samsung Pay in May 2015, and it's currently testing the Samsung Pay system out. As with Apple Pay, you hold your finger over the fingerprint sensor and tap a compatible mobile phone to a card reader to complete a payment.
Like Apple Pay the service is designed to work with the company's own phones: in this case, Samsung Pay will only be compatible with the Samsung Galaxy S6. While further details may become available closer to launch, we understand that it won't work with older Samsung phones (in that respect, it's pretty much on par with Apple Pay, which is limited to the latest generation of iPhones) or the Samsung Gear watch (where it falls down compared to the Apple Watch's Apple Pay compatibility).
Samsung has a big advantage in the US, thanks to its acquisition of a system called LoopPay: this allows the phone to work with magnetic card readers. But in the UK we have contactless terminals everywhere, so there's no real advantage to using Samsung Pay. We're also unsure when the system will launch in the UK. The US launch is due later this year.
Read more: Apple Pay vs Samsung Pay comparison
Apple Pay vs Android Pay/Google Wallet
In some ways, Google has a real advantage on Apple, having launched its Google Wallet System in the US over three years ago. In which case we're led to wonder why we've not heard more of it.
Google Wallet enables you to make contactless payments in the US, where there aren't any contactless payment systems in shops. (Google Wallet uses a traditional PIN system rather than the finger-scanning option Apple Pay and Samsung are using.) But here in the UK, Google Wallet doesn't seem to offer any advantage over using a traditional Chip-and-Pin card: you still have to enter a PIN.
More interesting than Google Wallet is Android Pay, which is Google's response to Apple Pay. Android Pay offers a similar service to Apple Pay, but for a much wider range of phones. It will essentially work with all Android 4.4 KitKat or later phones with NFC chips. And the list of companies offering contactless payment in the US is growing fast. Unfortunately, Google hasn't committed to a launch outside of the United States. It could be a long wait.
Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Samsung Pay vs Barclays bPay
One of the big names missing from the roster of banks offering or planning to offer Apple Pay support at the launch announcements was Barclays. (Barclays has since backpedalled somewhat, and now says it will support Apple Pay soon.) This initial reluctance to commit itself to Apple Pay may be related to the fact that Barclays has its own contactless payment system, called bPay.
bPay offers an interesting alternative to Apple Pay (and all the others we discuss above) because it enables you to upgrade any device to contactless payment. Well, sort of.
Barclays has three different bPay devices available:
- bPay wristband (£24.99). Just tap your wrist to the contactless payment system to make a payment.
- bPay fob (£19.99). Attach to your key ring and tap to the contactless reader to pay.
- bPay sticker (£14.99). Stick to the rear of your phone (or phone case) and tap your phone to the contactless reader to pay.
The first thing to note is that you can use Barclays bPay with any bank card. You top up the amount on the devices using an app for iPhone or Android. You can top up to £200 on the system and then make payments. So while it's not a true bank system, like Apple Pay or Google Wallet, it is a convenient way to pay for things without digging out your cash card.
We're not sure if the sticker is worth £14.99, but we think the bPay wristband is a great way to tap for products. Payments are limited to £20, but you don't have to enter a PIN or use a fingerprint scanner to use them. Security is a potential worry, however, as we discuss in the following head-to-head.
Read more: Apple Pay vs Barclays bPay