As actor Will Chase led a cast of performers in skits to demonstrate the new features of the Samsung Galaxy S4, one scene was notably absent from the script at Thursday evening’s press event — mention of the smartphone’s payments capabilities.
While Samsung may not have been ready to put the mobile pay features of its flagship handset on display under the bright lights of Radio City Music Hall, the South Korean technology developer confirmed in a press release that the Galaxy S4 will come preloaded with Visa’s PayWave contactless payments app when it hits stores in April.
Mobile payments enthusiasts had hoped the launch event would serve as a platform for Samsung to delve further into products and initiatives previously announced during the Mobile World Congress in February—the Passbook-like Samsung Wallet and the integrated Visa PayWave contactless payments app, which will become a standard feature on Samsung’s Near Field Communication-equipped mobile devices.
But neither feature was mentioned during the nearly hour-long presentation, and the apps were not installed on the handsets made available to PaymentsSource and other attendees to use after the show. Still, the demo units provided some indication of Samsung's attention to updating the way it handles payments.
The phone maker showed off Samsung Hub, a digital media store that brings together content previously offered in standalone apps together in a consolidated e-commerce app. In addition to offering a single source for five categories of media, Samsung Hub includes a revamped payments method menu for consumers to store credit card account info, as well as gift cards and coupons.
The payment method menu enables single sign-on credentials so users don’t have to enter credit card information for each transaction and the user interface has been updated with icons to select the card type. The gift card and coupon payment options are also new features.
In addition, Mobeam, the developer of “light-based communications” technology that generates digital signals that can be read by the laser scanners used at retail point of sale terminals, separately announced that its technology is used in the new phone.
San Francisco-based Mobeam said its technology sends pulses of light to the sensor in POS scanners to mimic the black-and-white sequencing of a standard bar code, enabling consumers to use traditional bar codes for coupons, loyalty cards, gift cards and tickets using their phones, without requiring merchants to upgrade their POS hardware.
But overall, these features played bit parts at Samsung's unveiling, never taking the spotlight for themselves. Until now, payments took the spotlight in Samsung's marketing, both at the Mobile World Congress last month and earlier at the London Olympics.
In this way it is even more jarring than Apple's omission of a payments function at the iPhone 5's unveiling. In that case, whatever its audience expected, Apple made no promises beyond offering Passbook as a sandbox for other developers to play in.