Apple

Apple Pay solves chicken-and-egg problem that has plagued mobile payments

Apple's new mobile payments platform saw a few hiccups on launch day, but overall, it's definitely a glimpse of the future.

Apple Pay

On Monday, Apple released Apple Pay. I've written a lot about the platform, and it was nice to finally see it launched into the wild.

There were some bumps to be expected with a brand new product that ties so many stakeholders together — the world's most valuable company and a litany of credit card companies, banks, and retailers — along with thousands of front-line customer service reps, cashiers, and salespeople.

I easily added a number of credit cards to Apple Pay with simple email verification for my Chase Freedom card, but my American Express and Bank of America cards added without any verification at all. Other users had more issues, as some spending hours talking with Wells Fargo to activate their phones. First day bugs, for sure, but they eventually got their cards added with no issues.

Though Apple claimed a number of banks as "launch partners," there were several cards that didn't work at launch. My USAA credit and debit cards won't work until early November, and the same is true for my PNC card. My Best Buy-branded MasterCard didn't work at all, nor did my Fidelity American Express card.

One frequent complaint came from owners of the popular Amazon.com Rewards Visa Card, powered by Chase, which refused to work with Apple Pay. Users speculated that Amazon was intentionally holding back their card from the service, but Amazon says support is coming eventually, though it didn't offer a specific timeline.

Another glitch saw hundreds of Bank of America customers charged twice for purchases, something that Bank of America says is on their end rather than Apple's. Indeed, Apple couldn't help at all, because it doesn't keep records of purchases made by customers. Bank of America said the issue was between the bank and one of its payment processors, that a fix will be issued shortly, and it would reverse all duplicate transactions.

Some buyers at Whole Foods were asked to sign their names, even though NFC payment systems like Apple Pay shouldn't need that confirmation. It turns out that some locations had older NFC devices that were set to require signatures on some purchases.

My friend, Harry McCracken, ran into some issues at a McDonald's drive-through, because the cashier had to physically take his phone from him to complete the purchase.

Overall, however, reception has been positive, though some users have expressed skepticism about whether Apple Pay is actually useful or not.

It's certainly in its early stages. In the small Southwestern Colorado town where I live, there are only a handful of stores that currently support NFC payments, including Apple Pay — mostly chains like Subway, McDonald's, and Walgreens that have chain-wide support.

However, the problem with mobile NFC payments has always been a chicken-and-egg problem: users didn't care about phones with NFC until there were retailers that supported it, and retailers didn't care about NFC until users began to adopt it. Apple has solved this problem with Apple Pay, and the solution is great where it's available.

You don't even need to fire up the Passbook app to use it. At the Walgreens, where I tested it for the first time, a blue light appeared on the NFC reader at the register when it was ready to accept payment. I held my locked iPhone up to it, it asked for my fingerprint, and — as Steve Jobs would say — boom! I had paid.

Some users, like my colleague Patrick Gray, experienced more problems, but I attribute those more to user error and a lack of knowledge about how the system works and where it can be used (something that Apple, for sure, needs to work on).

MasterCard offers an app that shows retailers that support contactless payments (that is, Apple Pay), called MasterCard Nearby. Apple Pay aficionados would do well to download it.

Is Apple Pay ready to take over the world? Definitely not, but it's a great start. Now that it's in the hands of millions of users, I fully expect retailers to begin rolling out NFC payment readers (which many of their point-of-sale systems already include, they just need to be turned on). Once that happens, Apple Pay will really begin to take off.

Until then, however, expect to see a ton of apps beginning to support it. When apps support Apple Pay, users are saved from needing to enter their credit card number every time they want to purchase something, saving hassle and increasing security by keeping every company from getting access to your credit card number.

Am I going to be able to leave my wallet at home in favor of Apple Pay? Not for a while, but that's not the point. Any ambitious technological rollout is going to take time, and predicting failure because of a few day-one glitches is silly.

All I know is that Tim Cook and company has built something very easy to use, and it works largely as advertised. At the end of the day, Apple has put mobile payments in the hands of millions of consumers. Now, it's up to retailers to jump on board, too.

Have you tried Apple Pay? Let us know how it worked in the comments below.

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About Jordan Golson

Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.

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