Apple Pay vs. Google Wallet vs. Softcard -- a mobile wallet review
CreditCards.com tried out Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Softcard to see how they stack up against each other -- and your old-fashioned wallet.
Virtual wallets on smartphones will make your purchasing experience easier, more convenient and more secure than using traditional credit cards – that’s what the top three virtual wallet apps say anyway.
We’re going to compare Google Wallet, Apple Pay and Softcard -- which used to be known as ISIS -- to see if a smartphone wallet really can replace your conventional wallet.
First, all three virtual wallets require phones with near-field communications capability, which means the smartphone can transmit data to an NFC-equipped cash register that can receive the information. Without this capability none of three wallets will work.
Second, Softcard works only on the Android platform, and only if you've got a plan with AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon. Apple Pay works only on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and Google Wallet works with those iPhones, plus all NFC-enabled Android phones.
Installing the software is easy for all three wallets. So I call it a draw on setup. All three are simple to get going once you have the right hardware and operating system.
Your virtual wallet isn’t of much use if it's not compatible with your particular credit or debit card or the payment terminals at stores where you regularly shop. So here’s how our three contenders stack up:
Softcard is currently limited to just three card issuers: American Express, Chase and Wells Fargo, though they say more are being added. On the other hand, Google Wallet supports almost any credit or debit card. Apple Pay takes most cards from top U.S. banks, and is adding hundreds more in coming months.
As far as places that accept the wallets, all three suffer sorely from lack of participating stores. Both Apple Pay and Softcard say they can be used in more than 200,000 stores. Google Wallet says more than 300,000 merchants accept contactless payments through the MasterCard PayPass system.
The number of participating merchants is constantly increasing for all of the platforms. But for the time being we’ll give Google Wallet the win in the compatibility test.
When it comes to security, the fingerprint authentication feature of Apple Pay helps protect your information if your phone is lost or stolen. It also makes the app more convenient to use -- you don't have to type in a password each time you want to pay -- and it’s the only one of the three wallets with this technology.
Apple Pay and Google Wallet use tokenization technology, which essentially masks card information and is transaction-specific, so hackers can't do much even if they intercept data at the point of sale. While Apple Pay stores these tokens on a secure element in the phone, Google Wallet stores them on its servers, which makes them more vulnerable to security attacks. Softcard stores the card numbers themselves in a secure element on the phone's SIM card.
One more point: Apple Pay says it does not track purchase details -- that means it can't offer you customized shopping deals, but it gives the wallet a privacy edge, which also has security implications. With all of that in mind, Apple Pay gets the nod in the security category.
My conclusion: Apple Pay has a slight edge over Google Wallet, with Softcard trailing in third place. But they've all got a long ways to go before they can replace the traditional wallet.
I’m Gina Miller for CreditCards.com.