Can Samsung Pay beat Apple Pay?

You have to hand it to Samsung. In an attempt to capture the digital-payment market, it has actually provided something unique relative to Apple Pay and big retail's CurrentC (backed by Wal-Mart, Target and others).

Samsung Pay allows you to pay for merchandise with legacy point-of-sale equipment and does not require an upgrade by retailers as needed by Apple Pay. That means Samsung Pay has potential as a technology that can be used today.

Samsung's latest flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S6 and the S6 Edge.
Getty Images
Samsung's latest flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S6 and the S6 Edge.

There's one problem: You need to be on a Samsung phone platform to use Samsung Pay. We have already seen (based on recent sales results) that Samsung is having a problem competing with the iPhone 6. The new Galaxy Edge and Note are designed to reverse Samsung's dismal sales trends and will need to do so if Samsung Pay is to be widely adopted. I'm skeptical based on first reviews that the new phones will provide a compelling reason for users to switch from competitors' devices. If this is the case, the payment technology rolled out by Samsung may have a rough go of it.

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Importantly, the Samsung system may be great for retailers to capture information about consumers. However, I'm pretty sure consumers will not be so excited about sharing this information. In an age where identity theft and digital security is a major issue, Samsung Pay is a leap of faith for consumers that their information will not be abused.

It's that often overused word, ecosystem, that determines the success of an offering. If Apple continues to roll forward capturing market share with its iPhone devices, Samsung Pay will fall flat. But there could be an opening for the underdog. Though retailers will eventually upgrade their point-of-sale technology to work with Apple Pay, I suspect that process will be slow and recent reports of the slowdown in Apple Pay transactions could very well further mute the motivation to upgrade terminals. That would be a win for Samsung.

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After a year of dismal news from Samsung, the company deserves credit for an innovation that is both unique and appropriate for current conditions. The company has been criticized for bungling its smart-phone strategy but Samsung Pay is a rare bright spot for the company. Apparently there are some at Samsung who are thinking strategically rather than attempting to mirror the competitor's strategy.

Still, if the new products released this week by Samsung do not reverse the company's declining sales, Samsung Pay will end up crippled by dependence on Samsung's ecosystem.

Commentary by Michael A. Yoshikami, the CEO and founder of Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, California. He is also a CNBC contributor.

Disclosure: Michael Yoshikami does not own shares of Apple or Samsung and has no other business relationship with the companies. But Destination Wealth Management may buy shares for clients.