The last year has been frustrating. Apple launched Apple Pay in the U.S. back in October of 2014 and yet, despite having far, far, far better infrastructure for contactless payments in Canada and other countries, all we could do is watch from the sidelines. Well, that changes today, thanks to American Express.
While Apple Pay is also launching with American Express in Australia on Thursday, I'm in Canada, that's the implementation I had a chance to test out, and so that's what I'm going to focus on. Most of it should be really, really similar though.
That it's American Express bringing Apple Pay to Canada rather than any of our national banks is interesting for me as a customer (and kind of embarrassing for our banks as businesses.) American Express, like Apple, is an integrated vendor and that lets them not only be nimble, it lets them be bold. And the future, like fortune, favors the bold.
With American Express, you can add your card to Apple Pay in exactly the same way Americans and the Brits have been adding theirs for a while now. iTunes cards can be added automagically and other cards, scanned and authorized.
If you already have a U.S. or U.K. card added, you can add your Canadian Amex right alongside it and use all your cards interchangably. As long as the issuer supports Apple Pay, you're good to go. You can also use your Canadian Apple Pay cards in any country that supports Amex contactless payment, of course. That makes it especially great for cross-border business people and frequent travelers.
As with other Apple Pay regions, you can add cards to your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. iPhone and Apple Watch can be used at retail points-of-sale and iPhone and iPad can be used in-app.
Unique to the Canadian market, thanks to the maturity of the contactless payment system here, is the lack of the typical $100 transaction limit. American Express is treating Touch ID one the iPhone and passcode on the iPhone and Apple Watch, as just as secure as a chip and PIN. High marks for the enlightenment there, Amex!
Security is part of what makes Apple Pay so great. My credit and debit cards have had NFC payment chips for years and years already, yet I've always been super careful with them. The last thing I want to do is drop my card without realizing it and end up buying gas and burgers for miscreants, should they find it. (Yes, the credit card companies cover me for fraud, but the miscreants still got gas and burgers!)
Better still, you don't have to go through the hassle of waiting for a physical replacement card. Amex can update your Apple Pay card directly.
With Apple Pay I don't have to worry about it. There's no card to drop and no contactless transaction without my authorization.
Likewise, while chip and pin is secure, every machine has a completely different, often complex, interface and experience, and you never know which one you're going to get—and be forced to figure out. That's extremely stressful for people who already find technology inaccessible. Apple Pay, by stark contrast, is simple and consistent.
There's also no information shared, which is huge for me. I have nothing against loyalty and reward programs, but if I'm giving merchants my data for analytics, I expect something in return. When they can just snoop transactions, I'm not getting that. When they have to make programs compelling enough that I'm willing to sign up for them, then we both benefit. That's how it should be, and that's how Apple Pay's distinct credit, debit, reward, and store card programs force it to be.
The only downside here is that I don't see American Express as a contactless payment option as often as I see Visa and MasterCard. They're launching with a lot of big partners, including McDonald's Canada, but it may not be everwhere for a while.
That's part of what makes the lack of support from Canada's banks so vexing. I don't have a Canadian Amex right now, but I'm signing up for it just to use Apple Pay, and it'll be my go-to from now on. Amex was probably counting on that, which is why it's rolling out Apple Pay in Canada and Australia now, and expanding to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Spain next year. First mover advantage goes to the first mover.
Yes, convenience and security really are that important to me. And Canada's banks, and other international financial institutions, should be concerned by that. Because, if there's one thing more valuable than money, it's time and effort.
So congrats to American Express and Apple for getting this done. I look forward to shopping with you soon!
Update: Corrected Australia launch date, it's Thursday.
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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.