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.