A customer pays for their tube journey using an Apple Watch. Photo: Getty.
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Apple Pay is here – if you have the right device

In certain shops, with certain banks, you can now pay amounts up to £20 using certain Apple devices. 

Trailing, as ever, behind our transatlantic friends, today the UK finally got its hands on Apple Pay. On the surface, it sounds great: you can now pay contactlessly for amounts up to £20 using a phone or, for the lucky few, an Apple Watch. But there’s a catch – or rather, a series of them.

First, you have to be with the right bank. As of the launch today, Natwest, American Express, Nationwide, MBNA, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Santander are all participating. Barclays, meanwhile, has only just agreed to be involved in future, while HSBC has delayed for two weeks. That still leaves First Direct, Halifax, Lloyds and TSB. 

Then, you need the right device. Only the very newest Apple stock  - ie the iPhones 6 and 6 Plus and Apple Watches – can be used for contactless payments. For online payments, you can also use the latest iPad Airs and iPad Minis. (As James Allgrove points out at Tech City News, the online payments aspect of the technology could actually be the most revolutionary: we already have contactless cards in the UK, but online payment forms are still long, laborious, and often can’t be filled out on phones.)

If you’re with the right provider, and have the right phone or watch, and manage to set up the payment system (in-depth instructions here) you then need to go to the right shop. Around 250,000 locations are currently signed up, including M&S, Boots, Waitrose, Costa coffee, and TfL’s public transport network.

In a way, the limited nature of this payment system so far is no bad thing. The gradual move towards a cashless society – and perhaps, eventually, even a cardless one – will make things much more convenient for the lion’s share of us. But as of 2008/9, around 3 per cent of households did not have a bank account, and this proportion rises significantly when you look at the poorest section of society. Other customers feel uncomfortable using payment systems which can easily be tracked. New "fintech" developments like Apple Pay could incentivise businesses to phase out riskier payment options (cash, cheques), and restrict their businesses to those with a bank account and/or an iPhone.

So in summary: for most of us, today’s launch won’t significantly change how we pay. But for the lucky few of you buying lunch today at M&S with your iPhone 6 and American Express card, enjoy. The future is yours. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.

European People's Party via Creative Commons
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Ansbach puts Europe's bravest politician under pressure

Angela Merkel must respond to a series of tragedies and criticisms of her refugee policy. 

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, is supposed to be on holiday. Two separate attacks have put an end to that. The first, a mass shooting in Munich, was at first widely believed to be a terrorist attack, but later turned out to be the actions of a loner obsessed with US high school shootings. The second, where a man blew himself up in the town of Ansbach, caused less physical damage - three were seriously injured, but none killed. Nevertheless, this event may prove to affect even more people's lives. Because that man had come to Germany claiming to be a Syrian refugee. 

The attack came hours after a Syrian refugee murdered a pregnant Polish woman, a co-woker in a snack bar, in Reutlingen. All eyes will now be on Merkel who, more than any other European politician, is held responsible for Syrian refugees in Europe.

In 2015, when other European states were erecting barriers to keep out the million migrants and refugees marching north, Merkel kept Germany's borders open. The country has resettled 41,899 Syrians since 2013, according to the UNHCR, of which 20,067 came on humanitarian grounds and 21,832 through private sponsorship. That is twice as much as the UK has pledged to resettle by 2020. The actual number of Syrians in Germany is far higher - 90 per cent of the 102,400 Syrians applying for EU asylum in the first quarter of 2016 were registered there. 

Merkel is the bravest of Europe's politicians. Contrary to some assertions on the right, she did not invent the refugee crisis. Five years of brutal war in Syria did that. Merkel was simply the first of the continent's most prominent leaders to stop ignoring it. If Germany had not absorbed so many refugees, they would still be in central Europe and the Balkans, and we would be seeing even more pictures of starved children in informal camps than we do today. 

Equally, the problems facing Merkel now are not hers alone. These are the problems facing all of Europe's major states, whether or not they recognise them. 

Take the failed Syrian asylum seeker of Ansbach (his application was rejected but he could not be deported back to a warzone). In Germany, his application could at least be considered, and rejected. Europe as a whole has not invested in the processing centres required to determine who is a Syrian civilian, who might be a Syrian combatant and who is simply taking advantage of the black market in Syrian passports to masquerade as a refugee. 

Secondly, there is the subject of trauma. The Munich shooter appears to have had no links to Islamic State or Syria, but his act underlines the fact you do not need a grand political narrative to inflict hurt on others. Syrians who have experienced unspeakable violence either in their homeland or en route to Europe are left psychologically damaged. That is not to suggest they will turn to violence. But it is still safer to offer such people therapy than leave them to drift around Europe, unmonitored and unsupported, as other countries seem willing to do. 

Third, there is the question of lawlessness. Syrians have been blamed for everything from the Cologne attacks in January to creeping Islamist radicalisation. But apart from the fact that these reports can turn out to be overblown (two of the 58 men arrested over Cologne were Syrians), it is unclear what the alternative would be. Policies that force Syrians underground have already greatly empowered Europe's network of human traffickers and thugs.

So far, Merkel seems to be standing her ground. Her home affairs spokesman, Stephan Mayer, told the BBC that Germany had room to improve on its asylum policy, but stressed each attack was different. 

He said: "Horrible things take place in Syria. And it is the biggest humanitarian catastrophe, so it is completely wrong to blame Angela Merkel, or her refugee policies, for these incidents." Many will do, all the same.