Apple leads the (tiny) mobile payment world

But estimates show that Google and Samsung are catching up.

John Minchillo/AP Images for MasterCard

It's no secret that the mobile payment space is becoming increasingly crowded, but who's out in front? If you ask Crone Consulting, it's Apple... although Cupertino might not have much to crow about. The analyst group estimates that Apple Pay is the market leader, with 12 million iPhone owners making tap-to-pay purchases at least once a month. Android Pay and Samsung Pay are distant seconds with 5 million active users apiece. However, Crone is quick to note that both of these rivals are roughly half a year old -- they're catching up quickly to an incumbent that's been around for a year and a half.

Also, the overall market is comparatively tiny. The estimates suggest that just 6 percent of iPhone owners are using Apple Pay, and that ratio only gets smaller when you look at the larger device shares of its rivals. About 4 percent of Samsung users are trying Android Pay, and a single percent of Android users are trying Google's offering. At the moment, leading this arena is like declaring yourself ruler of the local park -- it's just too small to matter to most people.

How does it get bigger, then? Expanding support to a wider range of devices is poised to help, since it'll increase the odds that your next device is payment-friendly. More places to pay will be important, too. However, Crone notes that the biggest obstacle may simply be the lack of distinct advantages of paying with your phone. If your banking card is within quick reach, why turn to your phone? Tech giants may have to provide added incentives to bust out your handset if they want you to forget about plastic cards.