The mobile payments market is huge, and it's only getting bigger.
In China alone, consumers spent $1.6 trillion through their mobile devices in 2013.
Apple (AAPL 0.88%) is expected to get into the mobile payments service with its Touch ID authentication. The company has filed several patents indicating its interest in developing a secure mobile payments platform as it takes on eBay's (EBAY -1.88%) PayPal and Google (GOOGL -1.77%).
One company that's poised to capitalize on the growing trend, nearly regardless of who becomes the preferred mobile payments processor in the world, is Synaptics (SYNA -4.23%), which recently acquired fingerprint identification company Validity Sensors. Synaptics is poised to capitalize on the trend as it places Validity's technology in more smartphones, including Samsung's (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) upcoming Galaxy S5.
The FIDO Alliance
With the purchase of Validity, Syanptics became a member of the FIDO Alliance. (FIDO stands for Fast IDentity Online.) The goal of the consortium is to enable secure authentication processes that are easy to use and heavily relies on biometrics as a unique identifier. The alliance is mostly interested in creating a secure mobile payments platform, as one of its founding members is PayPal.
As a member, Synaptics is working closely with mobile payment companies like PayPal, Google, and Mastercard, as well as phone manufacturers such as Lenovo. But it's most recent partnership with FIDO member Nok Nok Labs could help move biometric authentication for payments forward.
The companies worked together to make Synaptics fingerprint sensors compatible with Nok Nok's authentication suite. As a result, fingerprint identification using Synaptics' sensors is essentially plug and play for any app developer -- say Google Wallet or PayPal. It's also interoperable with other apps -- say a fingerprint scanner on a point-of-sale system.
There is a hesitance for many consumers to switch to mobile payments due to security concerns. But as credit card hacks like the one at Target last fall continue to surface and technology advances, the migration will continue. Synaptics can capitalize with its fingerprint sensors, but could also see additional revenue from manufacturers bundling its touch microcontrollers in their units.
The growth of fingerprint scanners
Fingerprint identification is something that was tried and largely failed in the laptop PC market. But Apple's implementation of its Authentec TouchID technology showed that it can be implemented cleanly and used easily on mobile devices. As a result, it's expected many manufacturers will copy Apple's lead (what's new?) and implement fingerprint scanning technology.
Samsung's upcoming Galaxy S5 flagship smartphone will reportedly ship with a fingerprint sensor in the home button. From the description -- you have to swipe the entire fingerprint -- it sounds like a Validity scanner. Synaptics also won the design for the touchscreen controller in the S5.
Synaptics also has a small area sensor (i.e. swipe free) that it's been shopping around with OEMs, and plans to integrate the technology with its touchscreen microcontrollers to scan fingerprints on the touchscreen.
Apple could oddly support Synaptics
Apple bought Authentec in 2012, and it integrated its fingerprint scanner technology into its iPhone 5s in 2013. The company has been rolling out small features like iBeacons that could facilitate mobile payments as well. When asked about it on the conference call, CEO Tim Cook said, "the mobile payments area, in general, is one we've been intrigued with. It was one of the thoughts behind Touch ID."
With about 600 million credit cards on file through iTunes, Apple could easily integrate a payments service into its smartphone. This would likely help sell more iPhones over other high-end devices, but it will also spur Android OEMs to incorporate things like fingerprint scanners and mobile wallets into their devices in order to compete. Apple's not going to license its Authentec technology, so Synaptics is likely to get tapped for a lot of those scanners.
A winner in any market
Mobile payments is a burgeoning market, and thus highly competitive. It's easy to capitalize on the growth opportunity without trying to predict who will come out as the Visa or Mastercard of mobile payments. Synaptics is poised to capitalize on the need to add security and authentication to mobile payments to ease the concerns of consumers. With its deal with Nok Nok, it's the go-to option for almost any Android OEM.