Apple Card first impressions: Terrific version of a terrible business

How do you know Apple is serious about services? No, not Music. Not video. Not gaming. Not even health, though I think that'll be huge one day. No, it's financial services. There are few better ways to make money than… money. And, Apple's hoping the same great health-coaching approach it took with fitness on the Watch could help you, and them, with budgeting in the wallet.

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Apple is positioning Apple Card as a credit card by a company that doesn't just want to get you hooked to the interest needle and drain you… not dry… but to the edge of a very long, very draining life.

To that end, it's partnering not with any long-established, long horrible bank, but with a new bank, that admittedly has a pretty **** horrible history all its own, but is kinda like Cingular was when the iPhone first launched — just desperate enough to let Apple do pretty much whatever Apple wants to do.

1. Virtual First

To start with, Apple Card feels very next-generation. In almost opposition to every card to payment play in the past, Apple Card feels virtual first.

If Apple Card sounds a lot like an inflection point, it is.

It lives in Apple Wallet. You sign up in Apple Wallet. You get approved, potentially rapidly, in Apple Wallet. And the card, you guessed it, is in Apple Wallet, tied to Apple Pay. You can use it everywhere you can use Apple Pay, including internationally. And if this sounds a lot like an inflection point, I think that's because it is.

A lot of these new services leverage established services. Oprah's book club is going to host authors at retail stores and broadcast them through the TV app. That's very only Apple. So is Apple Card. It lives in Wallet but you can get real-time help, any time, through iMessage Business Chat, which is just a phenomenally good experience.

WeChat is like the iconic example of services integration, but Apple Card is bridging worlds here, and in a way that I think will may a lot of sense to a lot of people who haven't quite crossed that divide yet.

2. Low rates... but not no rates

OK, one more bit of good news first. Apple isn't charging any fees. no annual, late, international or over-the-limit fees. And that's good, that's great.

But it's still a credit card, and that means the interest is still real, and the business model is still awful. The entire credit card industry is still absolutely and unabashedly evil.

The entire credit card industry is still absolutely and unabashedly evil.

Apple's doing some good stuff to mitigate it. They're keeping them low. They're suggesting ways to pay debt off faster, including bi-weekly and weekly payments. They're showing you how much interest you'll be paying if you choose different payment options. They're offering payment plan options to help you get debt free.

But the entire credit card system is still absolutely and unabashedly evil. If Apple has to get into bed with it, I'd much rather see something like American Express, the classic version, where you can't carry a balance and so there's no usurious interest rates and no debt-built business. Which, frankly, should be absolutely illegal anyway.

In fact, I'd love it if Apple was doing this with American Express because…Apple Card, like Apple Pay Cash, is only launching in the U.S. at first. And, because Apple would need to find banks like Goldman Sachs, willing to let them do this in each and every country they want to expand into — including many countries with effectively zero competition and hence incentive to innovate — that's an uphill battle that makes even dealing with carriers look easy by comparison.

I mean, I get that American Express isn't Europe's favorite credit card, and merchants hate the extra fees, and there's probably a host of other reasons that makes less sense. But consider this: The services Apple can control and that don't require deep regionalization, they launch in 100+ countries. Music. TV+. Arcade.

Apple Cash and now Apple Card: Grand total of one country.

Don't get me wrong, everything about it sounds great. Sounds fantastic, in fact. So great, I can't help but wonder how much better it would be if Apple wasn't saddling itself with the traditional banking system.

3. Like Watch but for Wallet

Apple is also using all the coaching skill they've developed for fitness on Apple Watch and with the Health app, and are applying it to financial services.

So, it shows you what you're spending your money on with color-coded categories, automatically parsed and totaled out for you, like food and drinks, shopping, entertainment. God, I hope not Apple Watch bands…

And it can provide you with weekly and monthly totals so you can see what you're spending your money on and when.

Which, to be honest, like with Screen Time, I'm not sure I want to know. I mean, I do. I totally do. But if ignorance is bliss then I'm in for one hell of a financial reckoning. Which, of course, my account will love as much as I'll hate.

4. Daily Cash back

Apple isn't doing any obscure, purposely abstracted point system where, like, 973 tokens equals a dollar, and no human understands ever. Instead, they have my favorite kind of reward system — cash back. Or, what Apple is calling Daily Cash.

You get 3% back on direct Apple transactions, online or retail, 2% back on other online transactions, and 1% back IRL, which I'll get to more on in a sec.

All of that gets put on your Apple Cash card, and you see all the details for it all the time. And use it just like you would cash.

I love this part so much.

5. Titanium. Seriously.

But not as much as I love this part. For the IRL transactions, Apple is making an actual, physical card. Out of titanium. Laser etched with your name. Yeah. **** seriously, yeah. That's it. No number, no CCV. No expiry date. Nothing to leak your data to any shoulder surfers or cashier delinquents.

Just a gorgeous piece of metal that looks so cool I bet it generates 90% of sign-ups the moment it becomes available this summer.

Hot. Damn. Hot Damn. Hot. Damn. And yeah, that's three hot damns.

Yeah. Titanium. That's three hot damns.

What's more, Apple's privacy first policy is extending all the way through Apple Card as well. That includes not sharing your information with Goldman Sachs. It'll even generate a unique number stored in the secure element on the device's chipset. Plus, you have to Face ID or Touch ID, like any Apple Pay transaction.

That's all good. That's all great. But we'll have to wait until Apple Card launches this summer in the U.S. to see if the value exceeds the cost.

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Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.