For the past few days I've been using Apple Pay on my Apple Watch to make pretty much all my purchases. We've had ubiquitous tap-to-pay in Canada for so long I can't remember the last time I had to swipe or sign. As of a week ago, though, all of our major banks finally went fully onboard with Apple Pay as well. So, now I can use it pretty much anywhere and everywhere.
My experience with it so far has been delightful. Quick, secure, and delightfully convenient. That's in stark contrast to some of the more fud-dy-duddy accounts some media outlets have been promoting. So, what's really going on?
Apple Pay in action
I've tapped my Apple Watch to pay for coffee and clothing, food and flowers, toys and tech products, groceries and gas, and the list goes on. As long as the store takes Visa or Master Card, American Express, or debit, and the contactless payment terminal is online and operational, I've been Apple Paying.
And the reaction has been terrific. There's no magic to tap-to-pay itself anymore — we've had it here far too long for that — but there's still a considerable WOW factor at work when tapping to pay with an iPhone, and especially with an Apple Watch.
"That's amazing!" "That's so cool!" "I've got to get that!" are the typical reactions I've been getting. It's a fun feeling, of course, but now that all the major banks are online here, I don't expect it to last. I expect it to spread far and fast enough it becomes almost as normal as tapping plastic cards in a few years.
My friends set it up and started using it immediately as well. They'd all had to go through the hassle of fighting charges and changing card numbers due to data breaches in the past. So, the security and privacy features of Apple Pay — it never passes your actual card number, doesn't provide any transaction details, and is useless if not connected to the pulse on your wrist or authorized by the print on your finger — were hugely appealing.
That Apple Pay immediately offered to set up the credit card already authorized for iTunes made it all the more easy. (Additional cards, for the most part, get authorized via the bank's iOS app.)
I helped my mother set hers up this past weekend as well. She'd left home without her purse and been unable to buy something she needed, even though she'd had both her iPhone and Apple Watch with her at the time. She found it incredibly stressful. Now she's no longer worried.
Even though it's early days, Apple Pay has already become one of the most compelling services on the market. And it's still growing.
Give me numbers
Anecdotes are one thing. They apply to my use case in my area. So, beyond the subjective, how's Apple Pay doing, objectively?
Since it was released in October of 2014, Apple Pay has spread across the United States and into the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Singapore, and China.
In the U.S. alone, Apple Pay is accepted at over two and a half million locations, and globally, at over ten million contactless payment locations. It's not just growing either; it's accelerating. The end of last year saw ten times the growth as the beginning. That translates into double-digit growth each and every month.
It's not just at retail either. In-app, payment volumes doubled in the second half of 2015, with developers seeing a proportionate increase in checkout rates.
American Express has been pushing Apple Pay internationally. Starbucks is rolling it out across 7,500 company-owned stores in the U.S. Exxon and Mobile is integrating it into Speedpass+. All major Canadian banks now support Apple Pay for Visa, Mastercard, and the unified Interac debit-card system.
And that's only the information that's been made public.
The biggest challenge facing Apple Pay today is simple FUD. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt has long been the negotiation and deflection tactic of choice for companies less-than eager to embrace better and more modern technologies, especially when those technologies benefit customers.
Last year it was claims of "Apple Pay fraud" when Apple Pay has been the only secure part of the banks historically poor fraud-prevention system. This year it's "technical hitches", once again ascribed to Apple Pay, but only present in the systems controlled completely by the banks.
"Bendigo Bank [in Australia] is experiencing some unforeseen technical issues in accepting Apple Pay payments at selected merchant terminals," a spokeswoman for the bank told Reuters, adding that a lack of wider industry engagement in launching the service limited the lead time in testing the new technology.
What Reuters utterly fails to report is that Bendigo Bank apparently couldn't or wouldn't support tap-to-pay for American Express, the primary Apple Pay mechanism in the country. So, people trying to tap American Express cards via Apple Pay couldn't get it to work. But that's the bank's choice, not any "technical" issue with Apple Pay.
The gas stations near me have chosen to support Visa and MasterCard for tap-to-pay, but not debit. So, I can't use my debit card there, not with Apple Pay and not with the actual plastic card. And that also the gas station's choice, not a "technical" issue with Apple Pay.
In Australia, where more than 60 percent of all card transactions are through contactless cards, reception has also been muted. A spokesman for one large retailer said he had seen "very little uptake of the payment option" in his sector. He didn't want to be named as he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Australia's banks are where Canada's banks were a few months ago. One has already seen value in adopting Apple Pay and others will eventually follow suit. That's how technology works.
Once that happens, growth will follow. Then, at some point in the future, the same "financial analysts" and "media outlets" will claim Apple Pay has so much adoption the path the further growth is unclear. Sensationalism seldom cares about consistency, after all.
Three months after the China launch, users on online forums complained that using Apple Pay, even at popular fast-food outlets, was not as seamless as local services such as WeChat, Tencent's messaging and mobile commerce phenomenon.
Again, there's no difference between using Apple Pay and using an NFC-equipped credit or debit card. The terminals register them in exactly the same way. The signal, as they say, is the signal.
I've encountered tap-to-pay terminals that have been dropped and broken by the staff or previous customers that wouldn't work with Apple Pay anymore — or my cards. That also has nothing to do with Apple Pay. Blame physics. And humans.
As contactless payment terminals become better and more consistent, so will Apple Pay. That's one of the biggest benefits of the system — it works with existing credit and debit tap-to-pay.
As the world continues to go contactless, the potential for Apple Pay only grows.
In the meantime, the problem with FUD, and reckless reporting, is that it makes people afraid of technology, especially those who would otherwise benefit from it the most. That includes those with accessibility needs for whom Apple Pay is an incredibly enabling feature, and those who are tired of being victimized by traditional fraud and privacy violations.
Shame on them.
The Apple Pay off
Friday was National Donut Day. I drove through Tim Horton's — Canada's Dunkin' Donuts — and picked up a dozen mixed for a party. When I got to the window, the gentleman extended the standard terminal towards me, I tapped my Apple Watch, we both heard the ping, his eyes lit up, he exclaimed how awesome it was, and passed me my box.
A few months to a year from now, I no longer expect that reaction. Not at the drive through, not at the cash register, not anywhere around here.
When I visit the U.S. and tap-to-pay at Square terminals in coffee shops, it's already that way. The magic becomes the everyday. That's the story of technology, and it'll be the story of Apple Pay.
Soon we'll be enjoying faster, more convenient, more private, and more secure transactions, and we won't even give it a second thought.
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