I only had to use Apple Pay a few times before I got over the novelty of paying for stuff with my phone.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing — the future of payments shouldn’t have to constantly remind you that you’re doing something new and different, which is the feeling I’ve had when using Google Wallet and PayPal’s various mobile payment solutions. What we really need is a faster and more secure payment method than plastic cards with magnetic stripes.
After testing out Apple Pay at several stores in Manhattan today, I was struck by how seamless the entire process was. Setting up Apple Pay for the first time took about 15 seconds, as it just pulled in my default credit card from iTunes into Passbook (analysts have long discussed what Apple could do with all those credit cards it’s gathered through iTunes — expect a lot of “told ya!” commentary soon).
When checking out at participating stores, you just need to hold your phone up to the payment terminal, watch your default card pop up, and hold your finger down on the Touch ID sensor for authentication.
While that may not sound easier than just swiping your credit card, I was surprised to find that it was actually much faster. There’s no more fumbling for your credit card in your wallet; no need to swipe multiple times if your card strip is a bit dirty; and even the payment processing itself felt a bit zippier (though I’ll admit: That might have been my imagination).
After making a few payments, I felt like an Apple Pay master. And that’s key to getting average consumers on the service. It’s easy to use and the entire process quickly feels boring and familiar.
I’ve used plenty of mobile payment solutions over the years, but Apple Pay is the only one I’d consider using consistently. I used Google Wallet for a bit, but its unpredictable support across Android phones made it tough to rely on. PayPal also has some interesting payment integration in its new mobile apps, but the best features, like ordering something before you step into a store, aren’t widely supported. Apple Pay’s support across major retailers and banks gives it a huge leg up on the competition.
But given that Apple Pay just launched yesterday, there are still plenty of issues to work through. It doesn’t yet support loyalty cards, for one, even though you can store loyalty cards in Passbook. When I was checking out at Duane Reade, I still had to sift through all my other Passbook cards and have my phone scanned to take advantage of their Halloween candy sale (and boy did I). There’s no easy NFC waving for loyalty cards yet.
Also, not all NFC terminals are created equal. When I grabbed lunch at Subway, the clerk didn’t know how to activate the NFC payment option (the terminals used at Duane Reade, on the other hand, always have NFC activated at checkout).
And of course, while using your phone to pay for things is far more secure than a traditional wallet, you’ve never had to worry about your wallet running out of battery life at the end of the day.
The lack of loyalty card integration is a glaring issue for Apple, but it’s one that can be fixed easily, especially since they’re already supported by Passbook. Ideally, loyalty cards on Apple Pay should work just like its checkout function: Just hold your phone up to the terminal and have the appropriate card pop up. (Eventually, loyalty and payment transactions could even be combined into one wave of your phone, though some consumers like to make sure they’re getting their proper rewards before they pay.)
Apple Pay isn’t just about retail payments, either. App developers can also take advantage of it as a payment method, which should encourage new users who are often scared off by a credit card authentication page. (iOS 8 also lets developers use Touch ID to authenticate their apps, which has made it dangerously easy for me to make unwise late night shopping choices from Amazon.)
It’s too early to call Apple Pay a hit, but at this point it looks like it could finally be the one mobile payment solution we’ve been waiting for. And given how well it works now, I can only imagine how it will take off once the Apple Watch hits.