Apple CEO Tim Cook wants to replace our wallets, and on a rainy afternoon in Seattle, we found out why.
Team GeekWire spent time on Thursday hopping around some of America’s most-visited retailers — McDonald’s, Macy’s, Walgreens, etc. — and testing out Apple Pay, one of Apple’s newest innovations that lets you pay with an iPhone.
Apple Pay is pretty simple to both set up and use. After initially entering credit card information into an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, users can hold the smartphone near an NFC-reader at a cashier and their payment can be completed within seconds — no cards, no swiping.
“It is so cool,” Cook said of Apple Pay at an event last month.
Though you may think entering credit card information into your smartphone is a security problem, Apple says that Apple Pay is actually more safe than physical credit cards. That’s because it uses an encrypted, one-time payment number for every transaction — the company doesn’t know what you bought, where you bought it, or how much you paid for it.
“It’s fast, it’s secure, and it’s private,” Apple executive Eddy Cue said at the event.
For the most part, our experience with Apple Pay was seamless and quite enjoyable. Apple Pay is not available everywhere, but there’s a decent crop of retailers that have already equipped their cashiers for the payment system.
There were a few hiccups, but after trying out this new feature, I’m more ready than ever to say goodbye to my wallet — and perhaps hello to a smartwatch that lets me pay without having to take out my smartphone.
Read on for a recap of our day with Apple Pay, or watch the video below to see it in action.
Enabling your iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus — these devices are NFC-enabled, unlike all other iPhone models — for Apple Pay is relatively easy. The first thing we needed to do is update our phone with iOS 8.1, which is necessary for Apple Pay.
After that, we opened Apple’s wallet app called “Passbook” and entered our credit card information. There’s a nifty way to take a picture of the card and have the iPhone automatically detect your digits, and that worked well. The only problem was that not all banks have agreed to enable customers to use Apple Pay, so our BECU card didn’t work. We went with the Bank of America debit card instead, and had the option to upload more cards if needed.
I skipped breakfast and was starving, so naturally, McDonald’s was calling our name. It seemed like a good place to grab grub, particularly with such high recommendations the joint received at a recent food industry expo.
We walked inside an McD just north of downtown Seattle and ordered a Big Mac meal and one McChicken. I was a little wary of how exactly to use Apple Pay at the register, but I told the cashier what I was doing. She noted that a few others had already done the same as I placed the iPhone directly above the NFC reader.
Immediately, a screen popped up with an image of my credit card and I was instructed to “Pay with Touch ID” — Apple’s fingerprint scanner. I placed my index finger on the iPhone’s sensor, and after three seconds, the transaction was complete. Easy, seamless, and no wallet needed. Here’s how the process works:
Next, I wanted to give the drive-thru a test run. I pulled my Honda around the McDonald’s and ordered two savory Apple Pies — can’t forget about dessert, right?
Once arriving at the drive-thru window, I asked the McD employee if I could “pay with Apple Pay.”
“Huh?” she responded. “What?”
“I want to pay with my phone,” I responded.
Eventually, her manager — who rang me up inside just minutes earlier — came to save the day. The process ended up being a little cumbersome, as they had to literally pick up the NFC terminal and hold it outside my car window while I reached out with my iPhone.
Initially, I wasn’t placing the device close enough to the reader, so I opened my door to enable further reach. It took about 20 seconds for the “Pay with Touch ID” screen to pop up. However, it finally worked, and I got my pies immediately thereafter.
Ease of use: Our first Apple Pay test inside the restaurant was excellent and easy. Drive-thru was a bit of a pain — McDonald’s either needs to install an easier-to-access NFC terminal outside, or buy extension cords.
Items bought: Big Mac Meal, McChicken, two Apple Pies — total of $11.59.
Our next stop was Sports Authority. We ended up snagging a Seahawks poster and a Nerf gun — every startup needs to have one in its office, after all — and proceeded to pay.
Once the cashier rang me up, everything was smooth sailing — the Passbook app even showed me the “Done” screen after scanning my fingerprint. But this is where we had our first hiccup.
For whatever reason, the payment wasn’t going through — despite my iPhone showing the “Done” message. I tried once more, received the same “Done” screen, and then was told that this particular Sports Authority had clunky NFC readers.
“The tap doesn’t work on my register,” said the cashier, who noted that we were the first to try Apple Pay.
Crap. Thankfully, I was carrying my physical credit card and paid with that — hey, they’re still good for something, right?
Ease of use: This seemed to be a Sports Authority NFC-reader problem, not an Apple Pay problem. Regardless, i would have been screwed without my physical credit card. I was worried that Apple Pay had charged me since I got the “Done” note, but it did not.
Items bought: Seahawks poster, Nerf gun — total of $12.11.
Just next door was Petco, so we headed to where the pets go.
At first, we contemplated buying a ferret with Apple Pay. But that wasn’t a good idea, so we opted for a couple colorful dog toys for our four-legged friends at home.
Whereas the McDonald’s drive-thru employee and Sports Authority cashier didn’t seem too familiar with how Apple Pay worked, the Petco man was well-versed on the subject, even though we were the very first customers to pay with our iPhone at this particular store.
“Put your finger on the reader,” he told me.
Similar to our in-store McDonald’s experience, Apple Pay worked to perfection at Petco.
Ease of use: No problems, and our cashier seemed educated on Apple Pay.
Items bought: Two dog toys — total of $37.21 (these were high quality toys).
We made a brief pit stop at Best Buy, where Apple Pay isn’t allowed yet. For kicks, we asked an employee if he knew about it. He noted that customers once were able to use Google Wallet at Best Buy, but the retailer apparently stopped offering that payment method.
“I think we’re investing in some other NFC system, but that will probably break and we’ll end up doing Apple Pay,” he noted.
It was time for some good ol’ Thursday afternoon mall action, so we ventured over to Macy’s. There were a few ties that looked slick, and Levi’s were on sale for just $36 a pair. But, those Frango mint chocolates looked too damn good to pass up.
When we told our cashier that we were going to use Apple Pay, she perked up with excitement.
“I haven’t done this yet,” she said. “OK, let me see what I need to do.”
We told her that she didn’t need to do anything but ring us up as normal. It seemed that she had heard of this new Apple Pay thing, but wasn’t totally sure of how it worked.
Just like in McDonald’s and Petco, our Macy’s purchase was quick and seamless. The cashier seemed super happy, and somewhat honored to have completed her first Apple Pay transaction. This was a historic moment for all of us.
Ease of use: Quick and easy, no problems.
Items bought: One package of Frango’s chocolate — total of $8.99.
We left Macy’s and entered the actual mall, looking for the Foot Locker. We ended up walking by Champs Sports, which is also ready for Apple Pay, and paid a visit to the athletic apparel shop.
There were some decent options on the clearance rack — including a bunch of LeBron James Miami Heat gear — but an awesome Seahawks winter hat caught my eye. Done deal.
Before heading to the cashier, we disabled the Internet connection on our iPhone — would Apple Pay still work without it?
We told the cashier we were using Apple Pay, and he said it was the first he’d seen anyone do that in this particular Champs.
“I heard it already got hacked,” he said of Apple Pay.
The transaction was smooth, despite the lack of Internet, and my head was now warm with Seahawks love. Oh, and we didn’t appear to get hacked.
Ease of use: Quick and easy, no problems. It was nice that Apple Pay could operate without Internet.
Items bought: One Seahawks winter cap — total of $19.99.
We needed some deodorant and Hi-Chew candy — a great combination — so we drove over to Walgreens. This is where we had our second minor hiccup.
Once the cashier rang up our items, I held the iPhone to the NFC reader and scanned my fingerprint. I received the “Done” message, but then the terminal asked for my debit card pin number.
This was a bit disappointing, since my previous experiences allowed me to purchase items with Apple Pay in three seconds, without having to press any buttons or enter information.
Anyways, I entered the pin and the transaction ended shortly thereafter. We got our sweet fix and smelled good afterward.
Ease of use: Smooth, until it asked for my pin.
Items bought: One Hi-Chew package and one stick of Degree deodorant — total of $5.87.
For our final stop, we wanted to swoop some American staples — gas and beer.
Chevron and Texaco both are set up for Apple Pay, so we stopped at a Chevron on the way back to GeekWire HQ. The first station had its NFC terminal broken, so we headed five minutes down the street to another Chevron.
Once there, we picked up a six-pack of ice cold Rainier, a couple bottles of Coke and Vitamin Water, and $5 of pure unleaded.
This time, we tried disabling the Touch ID feature and elected to enter a four-digit pin we had already set up. Users can choose Touch ID or the four-digit pin to verify identity for every Apple Pay transaction.
However, once at the cashier, we ran into the same debit card pin issue at Chevron, having to enter our debit card pin at the NFC terminal after Apple Pay showed a “Done” notification. So, we entered the pin and the transaction was done.
Ease of use: Same as Walgreens — great until it asked for my pin. While the four-digit pin worked fine, the Touch ID is a much easier way to verify identity.
Items bought: Six-pack of Rainier, one 20 oz. Coke, one Vitamin Water, $5 of unleaded gas — total of $15.37.
Apple is really on to something with Apple Pay.
Yes, being able to pay with your smartphone is certainly not new. You’ve been able to do this for a few years with Google Wallet and other methods.
But Apple Pay is now opening the door for mainstream consumers to change their payment practices. For one, they are partnering with the right companies — big banks and retailers — to allow Apple Pay to be used in more places.
The other important aspect of Apple Pay is the privacy and security components, which are advantageous to physical cards. By using encrypted virtual card numbers for each transaction, a retailer does not have direct access to your card or bank, and employees never see your information. Also, it is impossible for another person to buy items with your iPhone unless they have your fingerprint.
Finally, losing your credit card and having to cancel it can be a real pain — Apple says that the “Find my iPhone” app is an easy way to suspend Apple Pay functionality while not canceling your card altogether in the case you lose your iPhone.
You can also use Apple Pay to purchase items that you find while shopping within apps, which Apple says is a more convenient and secure way to check out.
“Most people who worked on this started by focusing on creating a business model centered around self-interests, instead of focusing on user experience,” Cook said last month. “We love this kind of problem. This is exactly what Apple does best.”
There are roadblocks that Apple will need to get past. In our experience, it was difficult to know where Apple Pay was accepted. Beyond that, more merchants — and particularly small businesses — need to enable Apple Pay payments for this to really catch on. On top of this, there have also been clunky issues with double-payments during the initial roll out.
But after using Apple Pay, I’m convinced that the potential for this payment system is huge. With 200 million credit and debit card transactions taking place in the U.S every day, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple usher this in as the new de-facto way to pay — much like how the company revolutionized how we communicate and access information with smartphones.