Doctor of Credit reported a sad development yesterday: Samsung has confirmed that the latest generation of Samsung Galaxy S phones (the S21, S21 Plus, and S21 Ultra) will no longer have MST technology. That’s a bummer for those who want to use mobile payments at merchants without upgraded terminals.
Samsung phones (and the Samsung Gear S3 watch) have a mobile payment solution called Samsung Pay. This is similar to Apple Pay or Google Pay with a key difference: whereas Apple and Google technology rely on what is known as NFC (near field communication) that requires the merchant to have an NFC-enabled credit card terminal, Samsung Pay works nearly everywhere since it can run on NFC or MST. The pandemic has certainly led to more widespread adoption of those newer terminals with NFC and the widespread acceptance of NFC payment technology is indeed why Samsung is abandoning MST.
The magic of Samsung’s MST technology is that it doesn’t require anything special from the credit card terminal. MST essentially mimics the magnetic strip of a credit card. You hold the phone (or watch) up to the part of the terminal where you could ordinarily swipe a card and it basically tricks the terminal into thinking that a card was swiped. As a Samsung Galaxy Gear S3 watch owner, I’ve often gotten a laugh out of a cashier jumping to tell me that mobile payments won’t work with their terminal only to be stopped mid-sentence when the transaction goes through.
The nice thing about having MST technology is that it works almost everywhere that you could otherwise swipe a credit card. Again, as more and more merchants have installed newer NFC-enabled terminals, the value of that MST technology has plummeted for most people. Since I live in a rural area where there are still a lot of older terminals, I enjoy having my Gear S3 watch. I’ll note that Samsung stopped putting MST technology in watches after the Gear S3, but they continued in their major phones until now. While Samsung Pay also uses NFC, I do wonder whether the days of Samsung Pay are numbered as the differentiators that separate it from competitors (like MST and the rewards program) are disappearing.
All hope isn’t lost for those who want MST capability. MST was originally known as Loop Pay. As Doctor of Credit notes, the founders of Loop Pay are working on a new device that attaches to your keychain and essentially works the same way. They had an indiegogo crowdfunding campaign last year and are expecting to ship their first batch of devices in April. I backed that campaign out of a nerdy desire to play with a new credit card-related tech toy. The value I see in it is that, unlike my watch, the OSV Valet supposedly runs for up to 3 months on a single charge. That would be a lot more convenient than remembering to charge my watch every other day. We’ll see how it goes and which banks are available when it launches.
Overall, I am sad to see Samsung abandon MST. I always expected to buy a Samsung phone at some point, I’ve just gotten stuck in a loop of Google Pixel deals that have made it hard to get a Samsung phone in my household. For now, I’ll have to settle for the watch and hope that OSV Valet works out to be something useful.