A new payment era has arrived in Singapore as phone makers Apple and Samsung take a crack at an old wireless payment technology with their e-wallet services.
American Express (Amex) card users can now just tap their iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch to pay for services and goods with the launch of Apple Pay here yesterday.
Visa cards issued by DBS, United Overseas Bank and Standard Chartered will be supported "in the coming months", said Ms Jennifer Bailey, vice-president of Apple Pay, in a statement.
The Straits Times learnt that Samsung Pay will also launch in Singapore by June, following its debut in South Korea, the United States and China over the last eight months. That will mean Samsung devices can also be used to make payments. Samsung has tied up with both Visa and MasterCard as well as a number of banks to roll this out.
Samsung mobile chief Dongjin Koh told The Straits Times: "If we do not make it a success in Singapore, I will not expect another great success in South-east Asia, or other markets."
Like the ez-link stored value cards, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay use the wireless near-field communication (NFC) technology to transmit data between the mobile device and a contactless reader.
Users must first add their credit or debit card details to a digital wallet stored on their mobile devices. Payment information is transmitted when the device is placed near the NFC contactless reader.
There are some 30,000 retail points in Singapore fitted with these NFC contactless readers but not all of them work with Apple Pay. The Straits Times understands that this is because some merchants do not accept Amex cards. Those that do include FairPrice supermarket, Starbucks and Uniqlo. Visa has confirmed it will support Apple Pay, which could widen its reach.
Apple iPhone and iPad users need to place their fingers on the device's Touch ID fingerprint sensor to authenticate every transaction. Supported handsets include the iPhone SE, iPhone 6, iPad Pro and the iPad Air 2. Apple Watch users just need to tap their watch on the contactless reader.
Ms Quah Mei Lee, market research firm Frost & Sullivan's Asia Pacific industry principal (digital transformation), said that fingerprint authentication will ease security concerns and boost adoption.
Another plus is the ease of adding a payment card to the Apple Pay digital wallet. Said Mr Charles Reed Anderson, market research firm IDC's Asia-Pacific vice-president of mobility and the Internet of Things: "You just need to take a picture of the credit card, and enter its expiration date and CVV number - it can't get any easier than this."
NFC payment had several false starts in Singapore dating back to 2003, when the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) promoted the use of cellphones to pay carpark charges.
The service failed to take off partly because it was too cumbersome. As recently as August 2012, IDA revived the concept at retail outlets, but it did not garner much consumer interest.
But Mr Clement Teo, a senior analyst at market research firm Forrester, said NFC payment is now ready for prime time: "The initial stumbling blocks - limited handsets and banking e-wallets that work in silos - are starting to be irrelevant."