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How Apple Watch will be your digital wallet... and keychain

The Apple Watch is going to be different things to different people — sometimes singularly, but often in combination. One of the things that will likely be compelling to many is Apple Watch as digital wallet and keychain. We've seen Apple Pay already, but when it comes to authentication, there's a lot more to see.

Apple Pay

With the Apple Watch, you have Apple Pay — Apple's mobile payment system — right on your wrist. Load your credit and debit cards into your iPhone, put on your Apple Watch, and then authenticate with Touch ID or your passcode. As long as the sensors on the back of your Apple Watch stay in contact with your skin, you can double tap the button, use the default card or swipe to another, and use your Apple Watch to pay at any supporting NFC terminal. It uses a one-time token to protect your information, and a subtle tap confirms the purchase.

Best of all, you can use Apple Pay on your Apple Watch even when you don't have your iPhone with you. So, if you're out for a jog and need a refreshing beverage, it's only a double-click away.

Home keys

The Alarm.com app will not only let you monitor a live feed of your home from your Apple Watch but also do things like open or close your garage door, even when you're far from home. There are already iPhone apps that let you not only lock or unlock your front door, but allow access from afar on an as-needed basis.

The time could come where, whether we're driving home or walking to the door, our Apple Watch identifies us and authenticates us, and is the only key we need to get in.

Away keys

The Starwood Hotel & Resorts app — think W and Aloft — not only lets you check in and find your room, right from the Apple Watch, but it lets you open the door as well. No, it's not using some private NFC access, it's just using some very, very clever technology to make sure when your watch gets close to your door, it unlocks for you and you alone. Starwood may be the first, but it probably won't be the last. Hospitality could be big for Apple Watch.

Disney already uses bands to do almost everything at its parks. Perhaps one day Apple Watch will do the same, but at every venue.

On-the-go keys

In a recent interview, Apple CEO, Tim Cook, said Apple Watch could replace car keys and the "clumsy, large fobs" that are used in many current vehicles.

Just like with home automation, there are already iPhone apps that allow for monitoring and accessing electric cars. Moving those to Apple Watch seems inevitable.

Voice as passport

Apple's personal digital assistant, Siri is built into the Apple Watch and into Apple's home automation framework, HomeKit. That means at least some of the tasks mentioned about, if integrated, could be performed not only with the Apple Watch's proximity, but with voice control as well.

Whether at home or away, with the lift of our wrists and a "Hey, Siri!", our voice could literally, finally become our passports.

The future of wearable security

We're at the very beginning of Apple Watch and wearable security. Traditional Bluetooth trusted devices were dumb — taking one took ownership along with it. The Apple Watch can know our identity based on Touch ID, however, and know state due to skin contact. It's trust made smart. And that opens a lot of doors, figuratively and literally.

How quickly and how well it all comes together is something only time can tell, but having become accustomed to biometrics and having tried the Apple Watch, I think it's going to be transformative.

Rene Ritchie
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.

20 Comments
  • I'm excited for all these possibilities.
  • What do you do if your watch dies? Or the battery is dead? Or your watch is stolen and easily used to steal your car...there is a real trade-off for this convenience. Sent from the iMore App
  • "What do you do if your watch dies? Or the battery is dead?" - I think Apple should had made Watch such that when the battery is too low (say <10%) then it only displays time, nothing else (no background functioning of apps, notifs, etc.)
    "Or your watch is stolen and easily used to steal your car..." - If someone can steal your watch, then it is even more easy to steal your car keys in the first place.
  • Battery issues? Longs trips, take a battery pack or plug in for 5 minutes.. problem solved. Stolen or lost?? non-starter issue. If you've read up at all on Apple Watch, you'd know that it locks down the second it's removed. So stating it can be easily used to steal your car is, again, a non-starter. In most cases, wireless key entry will not just be your wearable. Many wireless key solutions already offer both smartphone and FOB based entry. I see no reason you could not have the proverbial backup wireless key fob ... like the old days of putting a spare key under the wheel well. I actually do not see any added problems that are not easily managed or that did not already exist with the old physical key and wireless entry. In-fact, your lost/stolen argument applies MORE to old keys.. since you cannot 'lockdown' a key thats stolen from your pocket. heh.. yay, free car!
  • What if lose your wallet or stolen? You cannot find your keys. The battery in your current key dies. All the issue we currently face. Never understand why people think that new tech is any different than how we do it now.
  • Because people are stupid. Sent from the iMore App
  • If I understood correctly nobody but you can use your watch without the pin you have to put in so even if they took your watch what good would it do? If I misunderstood please let me know Rene
  • I don't know about third party apps but for Apple pay it deactivates when you take the watch off your wrist. If imagine that, if Apple allows them, car manufacturers would do the same for their app. Sent from the iMore App
  • Correct. I think this is primarily for Apple Pay. Sent from the iMore App
  • Can't you do all of those things with your phone already? The argument that you won't have to remove your phone from your pocket makes me think that laziness is the top reason to buy one. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • My wife thinks they made the watch mainly for ladies so they dont have to dig through their purse. I know I dont like having to pull my phone out for simple things.
  • @johnnybe65 - It is not laziness - once you get notifications on your wrist, you will never go back. I loved (past tense - sold it) my Pebble Steel, BUT, could not make quick replies from it. That's not Pebble's fault, it is Apple's walled (proprietary) garden, but since I choose to live within that garden, I am resigned to using their toys.
  • A dream come true - no wallet, no car fob, no house key - just my watch (and iPhone). Someone raised the issues of "dead battery" and "stolen watch." 1. Battery pack. 2. Watch no more a threat of being "stolen" than my keys - in fact less, since once it's off my arm it is deactivated without my passcode (probably more secure than stealing the keys).
  • I think MOST of this is great. I had two different automatic door locks on my house and I had to change them to one where you enter a code and then turn a button. The others worked fine in the summer but just didn't cut it when it was -30 or colder in the winter. Just my experience. I live in Canada and Apple Pay hasn't been rolled out here. I have a question for those of you using it in the US. The idea is to not have to carry your credit cards or bank cards with you, right? But what if you go somewhere that doesn't take Apple Pay? Do you ONLY shop where it's accepted? Carrying your cards with you anyway seems like a bit redundant. Or am I missing something? Currently, I have an iPhone wallet that I can keep my MasterCard (with a chip) in. When I am somewhere that has "tap" for credit cards, I just press my phone up against the reader and the card is read through the leather in the wallet. BUT if I'm somewhere that doesn't have that at least I still have my card. So I guess what I'm saying is that I don't see the advantage of Apple Pay, except maybe on the Apple Watch.
  • I still carry my card around because not every place takes it yet. Give it a couple of years and there goes the card. I just like the fact I dont have to pull my wallet out since it is easier to get my phone out of my pocket. I do try to shop more at the places that will take it.
  • And that's why I have a wallet/iPhone case. For me, paying by Watch would be even better. I just wonder if small stores will actually EVER switch to NFC.
  • I agree. I remember when I used to keep cash in my wallet because a lot of places didn't take debit or credit cards...I can't even imagine that now. Sent from the iMore App
  • Its all going to be about bio-metric identification. Just like finger prints: voice and heart beat are unique. Its going to be our passwords. From now on, then next hot companies being acquired are going to be all about advanced sensors. And more and more studies are going to be about human biology during moments of threat, danger, physical injury, etc. Not long from now, if someone puts a gun to your head, the cops will be automatically informed.
    -Domnic
    @m3mario
  • Why don't I see single article questioning if it's really needed? Rene please can you write one. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • this is want to have. you are not bothered to place your phone to the public place but you can simply check your message, notification, etc. through you i watch. i can't wait to have this one!