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With Samsung Pay Announcement, 2015 Feels Like the Year of the Mobile Wallet

The Samsung Pay announcement means that Apple, Google and Samsung have all made big moves in the mobile wallet space in the last six months.

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Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

This year may or may not be the year of Apple Pay as Tim Cook proclaimed, but it definitely feels like the year of the mobile wallet. For real this time.

Samsung confirmed on Sunday what Re/code has reported for some time: That Samsung’s new phones would include a mobile payment system that will let you tap your phones at checkout in brick-and-mortar stores using your Visa or Mastercard account to pay, but without the need for a physical card. Shoppers will use Samsung’s fingerprint sensor to help authenticate the transaction, which will pass along a placeholder card number through a process called tokenization, rather than a customer’s actual card information.

This Samsung Pay announcement means that Apple, Google and Samsung have all made big moves in the space in the last six months. And a consortium of retailers led by Walmart, called MCX, claims they have their own mobile wallet coming too. So even if 2015 isn’t the year when the masses start using their phones to pay in stores, it’s definitely the year that the tide starts turning in that direction.

Yes, things are still too complicated. Apple Pay and Google Wallet only work in stores that support a technology called NFC, which is growing in prevalence but still only available in a fraction of U.S. stores. Samsung says Samsung Pay should work in a majority of U.S. stores even if they don’t have NFC technology enabled because of a technology Samsung recently acquired that mimics a traditional card swipe. But this is the first time that technology is being made publicly available inside a phone, so it’s not yet clear how well it will work. Then there’s the fact that new Android phones in the U.S., including Samsung phones, will soon come pre-installed with Google Wallet, thanks to Google’s recent deal with wireless carriers. This means Google and Samsung will be competing for the same in-store transactions on the same phone.

Shoppers are also going to need better reasons to use these new mobile wallets. As an Apple Pay user, I can say it is slightly quicker to pay with my iPhone than to swipe a card, wait for the receipt and sign it. But I doubt that’s enough of an incentive for mainstream America to make a switch from cash or cards. Integration of loyalty cards and digital coupons will help. So will making it clear how these systems will be as safe, if not safer, to use than new credit and debit cards rolling out in the U.S. These cards rely on embedded computer chips instead of the traditional magnetic stripes and are believed to be harder to clone.

All of that said, there’s been no time in the past where it has felt like mobile wallets are the future as much as it does right now.

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