Samsung's (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) next flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S5, will have a fingerprint scanner on its home button, according to SamMobile. Although a Samsung executive had teased a retina scanner as an alternative biometric that could leapfrog Apple's (AAPL 0.88%) technology, it looks as if Samsung will, once again, be following Cupertino's lead.
While there are several takeaways here -- Apple remains a leader in hardware innovation; Samsung displays an ability to rapidly replicate any advancement Apple makes -- the biggest winner could be Google (GOOGL -1.77%), as it continues to push its mobile payment initiative Google Wallet.
Fingerprint scanners remain controversial
On its last earnings call, Apple's management admitted that it had misjudged the demand for the iPhone 5s in North America last quarter -- Apple had believed that the iPhone 5c would've taken a bigger chunk of the market.
Offering an explanation for why consumers seemed to so strongly prefer the iPhone 5s, Apple CEO Tim Cook cited the phone's fingerprint scanner -- a feature that the iPhone 5c lacked:
I think the 5s, people are really intrigued with Touch ID. It's a major feature that has excited people. And I think that, associated with the other things that are unique to the 5s, got the 5s to have a significant amount more attention and a higher mix of sales.
Cook's explanation is certainly possible, but fingerprint scanners remain far from beloved. Even Apple's implementation of the technology, despite being widely praised by tech critics initially, has its fair share of problems. A number of owners seem to have run into issues, with numerous media outlets including Forbes, Business Insider, and CNN reporting widespread issues with Touch ID.
It's possible that Samsung may be able to offer something better, but I wouldn't count on it. The motion controls and eye-tracking technology Samsung built into its previous Galaxy handsets are at best unreliable.
A play for mobile payments
Still, Samsung's move into biometrics is great for Google, as Samsung remains its most dominant hardware partner. Apple's Touch ID is, by itself, an interesting feature, but most analysts believe it's only laying the groundwork for a push into mobile payments.
With millions of credit cards attached to iTunes accounts, and millions of iPhones in the pockets of consumers, Apple has the building blocks in place for a mobile payment solution. At some distant future date, iPhones could come to replace their owners' wallets.
Getting consumers onboard could be tricky, however, with security concerns preventing many from making the switch. But pairing mobile payments with a secure biometric solution could eventually emerge as the superior alternative to traditional credit cards.
Google Wallet gets two new allies
If biometrics do prove to be a necessary component of the equation, Google is at a big disadvantage relative to Apple. Without controlling the hardware production, Google couldn't implement the sort of solution needed to pull off a biometric-dependent mobile payment solution.
So far, Google has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into its Google Wallet mobile payment product, with little to show for it. Still, the search giant doesn't seem to be giving up. In fact, it scored a big win last week when Visa and MasterCard announced their support for Google's most recent initiative -- a cloud-based version of its mobile payment solution.
The handset that could put Google Wallet on the map
Samsung's decision to embrace Apple's Touch ID could be another victory for Google Wallet, as it would put a biometric security feature in the hands of many Android handset owners. According to OpenSignal, about half of all Android devices in existence were made by Samsung, and if recent trends continue, the Galaxy S5 should be the single most popular Android handset of 2014.
While analysts continue to salivate over Apple's mobile payment potential, Google's alternative, supported by Samsung's hardware, could prove just as potent.