Accidental Apple Pay triggers: When iPhone and NFC don't get along

On Wednesday, I spent a lovely afternoon with my aunt, uncle, and gentleman friend at Fenway Park in Boston to see the Red Sox. (Unfortunately, they ended a two-game winning streak by losing quite definitively 10-5 to the Nationals, but it made my Montreal-born aunt pretty happy.)

But we came close to not making it through the gates, thanks to an iPhone quirk with NFC and Apple Pay.

Apple Pay, NFC, and iPhone mishaps

On your phone, Apple Pay works by automatically detecting a compatible NFC reader and bringing up the payment screen. If the NFC reader isn't actually a payment terminal, you'll still get the screen, but any attempt to pay will provide you with an error: As there's no connection to your banks, you won't be able to authorize with Touch ID.

That keeps your data (and your money) safe, but that automatic screen can cause other issues — as I discovered at the ball park.

I had our game tickets as a PDF on my phone in Dropbox, but when I went to scan them, Apple Pay popped up. The ticket reader also happened to be an NFC terminal. Eeek.

I tried several times to trick my phone into not pulling up Apple Pay — turning on Do Not Disturb and Airplane Mode, trying to dismiss the screen — but no luck. Eventually, the ticket-taker pulled out a hand scanner and was able to process our passes, but for a few moments, I was worried we'd be out of luck without a visit to the ticket office and paper reprints.

The ball park isn't the first interaction I've had with accidental NFC triggers, either. I've been at several restaurants whose pagers have NFC chips within them — get them too close to your phone while you sit and wait for your table, and you'll have an Apple Pay screen waiting for you to dismiss.

This is far from an "end of the world" problem, of course. But it's funny to me that a gesture Apple intended to make paying for things easy — just wave your phone over the terminal! — unintentionally makes other actions more difficult.

Watch what happens

It's also why I'm excited for Apple Pay and ticket scanning on the Watch: To trigger Apple's payment service on the Watch, you have to double-press the side button, then wave your wrist over the NFC device in question.

In part, this is done because there's no way to confirm you want to buy something on the Watch, like the iPhone's Touch ID authentication. But it also avoids NFC misfires, bringing up the Apple Pay screen only when you desire it loaded.

I'm not necessarily saying that the solution here is for the iPhone to have a dedicated Apple Pay button — that seems unnecessary and may clog up Apple's workflow. But would it be too hard to have a "Dismiss" software button in the top right corner, in case Apple Pay is triggered accidentally? Or keep NFC from working when Airplane mode is enabled?

Apple likely has plenty of bigger, more important problems to tackle, but it seems like a simple fix. Until then, I'm going to have to hunt down a printer the next time I head out to a Red Sox game.

Note: I've filed this quirk as a bug with Apple. It can be found at rdar://20570121.

Serenity Caldwell

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.