by Matt Swider, via TechRadar |

Apple Pay is as easy as apple pie. In fact, that’s exactly the first thing I paid for when installing the iOS 8digital wallet on my iPhone.

Waiting in line at McDonald’s, I had my hands full with my smartphone, car keys I hadn’t put away yet and sunglasses I just had to take off indoors – I’m not that much of a badass.

For the first time since my parents bought me McDonald’s Happy Meals as a kid, I didn’t have to take out my wallet. It remained firmly in my back pocket.

Apple Pay and my Touch ID fingerprint handled the transaction on my end, while an NFC base station accepted the contactless payment on behalf of McDonald’s.

Setup

Apple Pay requires upgrading to iOS 8.1 and owning an iPhone 6 oriPhone 6 Plus. The new iPad Air 2 andiPad mini 3 also work as will theApple Watch early next year.

Yes, iPhone 5S has the same sapphire-coated Touch ID button, but it doesn’t have the near field communication antenna that’s necessary to pull off the transaction.

Apple Pay

 Installing Apple Pay is a cinch

Apple Pay NFC

Tucked away in Passbook is Apple Pay along with the ability to add new credit and debit cards. I could have manually entered my card number and expiration date, but in this fast-food workaday world, that’s not the easiest option.

Instead, tapping the camera icon opened up the camera app so that I could snap a photo of my card. It automatically filled in the card numbers and expiration date – all I had to do was punch in the security code on the back and agree to Apple’s lengthy terms of service.

It worked flawlessly for four out of five of my card capturing attempts, picking up the wrong expiration date once. Manually overriding this error was rather easy. The numbers were verified and it logged the credit card into the Passbook app within seconds.

How it works

A graphic representation of my cards appeared within Passbook app showing the last four digits, but like a proximity-sensing Passbook flight reservation, I never had to dig into this menu again.

Simply waving my iPhone above the McDonald’s NFC reader surfaced my lead credit card. It popped up “magically,” as Apple always likes to say.

This form of sorcery isn’t new at all thanks to the years-old Google Walletand Windows Phone 8 Wallet apps. In fact, Apple Pay uses the same base station for transactions, a huge plus for cutting-edge stores already equipped with NFC readers.

The instructions asked me to put my fingerprint on the Touch ID sensor that doubles as the iPhone 6 home button and doing so completed the purchase. No pen, no paper and no plastic credit card required. Only an all-metal aluminum iPhone 6.

Apple Pay retailers

 Apple Pay success by lifting one finger

Security

What’s unique about Apple Pay is its integration with the Touch ID sensor. Your fingerprint is now the signature that completes the transaction. And unlike your autograph, the biometric fingerprint can’t be forged.

Apple Pay also listed my most recent purchases, but doesn’t store all transaction information, instead referring me to my issuing bank for more details. That’s so charges can’t be tied back to me.

It also never revealed my name, card number of security code to the in-store cashier. ID checks aren’t required either thanks to Touch ID.

Where it works

Apple’s NFC digital wallet works in more than just McDonald’s. Apple Pay retailers include Walgreens, Whole Foods, Macy’s, Toys R Us, Subway and, yes, the Apple Store.

Actually, Apple’s own store is kind of a big get for the company. Passbook showed up in 2012 as an all-encompassing loyalty and coupons app after being demoed with an Apple gift card at WWDC. Turns out, many of the Passbook items demoed that day, including ones for Apple’s own store, weren’t ready at the iOS 6 launch later that year.

Apple Pay uber

 An Uber driver, even without an NFC reader, accepts Apple Pay

That’s not the case here. Charging your life’s savings against everything the Apple Store has to offer is feasible from day one. It’s also possible to pay for Apple Store items within the app.

Opening up the Target, Uber, Lyft, Groupon and Panera Bread apps do the same from within. Just because the Groupon small business merchant or that part-time Uber driver doesn’t have an NFC base station doesn’t mean they can’t accept your wireless transaction. In this way, Apple Pay rivals Paypal and WePay.

Stores adding their name to this growing list of merchants include Staples, Disney theme parks, Starbucks, MLB, AirBnB, Ticketmaster and StubHub. There are 220,000 stores accepting or readying this contactless payments system, according to Apple. Money is drawn from the three major US credit card companies, Visa, MasterCard and American Express, and over 500 participating banks.

Problems

Apple Pay isn’t a perfect contactless solution for mobile payments. Sure, it captured my credit card numbers with accuracy in all but one test and the transaction time is mighty quick. It was actually difficult to snap photos of the process, it was that fast.

But what happens when your battery runs out? This is a problem that iPhone 6 owners with iOS 8 battery issues know all too well. For this reason, Apple Pay isn’t a viable solution to eliminate the need for credit cards. It’s just a convenience if you already have your phone out.

Apple Pay problems

 Mo’ money, mo Apple Pay problems

iOS 8.1 is available to download everywhere, but Apple Pay hasn’t launched outside of the US. That means UK debit and credit card holders have to hold out until banks outside of the US coordinate with Apple. It’s going to be an ongoing Apple Pay review for us for this reason.

Crafty iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus owners living outside of Apple’s home territory have been able to trick the service into accepting NFC payments. The hack is fool’s gold for most users, though. It works at any NFC terminal, but requires a US credit or debit card and re-selecting your iPhone 6 region as the United States.

Apple Pay is “coming soon,” but clearly not soon enough for some desperate users.

We liked

Passbook captures credit and debit card information and instantly moves you away from swiping these plastic cards. Not completely away, but it’s a safe distance. Its use of proximity-sensing NFC adds to that convenience because Passbook doesn’t require you to bring up a specific app to make purchases. A simple magic-wand-like motion with the new iPhones and iPads automatically surfaces your logged cards in front of NFC terminals.

Touch ID authentication and the ability to stay anonymous in front of the cashier gives me peace of mind when using Apple Pay. No one can steal my iPhone and rack up charges the same way they could be forging my signature. It’s locked behind biometrics. Given the rash of US credit card data thefts recently, Apple Pay could be a game changer one day.

Some stores are ready with NFC, others require app logins

 Apple Pay stores

We disliked

Apple Pay doesn’t significantly solve real-world problems compared to swiping a credit card. Even though the iPad event keynote highlighted Apple Pay as a major part of the iOS 8.1 update, it’s not a good enough reason to buy a new iPhone or iPad over previous models or an Android that uses the very comparableGoogle Wallet.

Its biggest downside right now is availability. Currently limited to US banks and credit card firms, Apple Pay works outside of America in limited cases. Even in the US, not all stores are ready to take your iPhone as a form of payment – unless you’re handing it over the expensive gadget as a form of bartering. No, it’s not time to shred your credit cards.

Does Apple Pay work?

 It works in more than just McDonald’s

Verdict

Apple Pay is money when it comes to convenience and security. You hardly need to lift a finger to pay for something with Apple Play. In fact, you aren’t even required to press a button to buy something. An effortless placement of your Touch ID finger on the home button executes purchases after Passbook detects an NFC card reader.

That made the McDonald’s ordering process go from fast food to faster food. Well, unless you count the cashier’s confusion when I asked to use Apple Pay to buy an apple pie. “Yes, you can buy an apple pie. How will you be paying for it?” No, the iPhone wasn’t able to place our order to avoid the language barrier between early adopters and everyone else.

Apple Pay is likely to solve other barriers thanks to NFC and Touch ID: card reading errors, credit card skimmers and lost or stolen debit cards could be a thing of the past. Apple’s making a bigger, more focused push compared to the 2011 Google Wallet rollout on Android, but there’s no guarantee Apple Pay will pay off any more than it did for Google.

Apple Pay is somehow both confusing and blindingly simple at the same time.

On the one hand, mobile payments have been around for so long without gaining any traction whatsoever – so how can Apple do anything different?

On the other hand, when you see it in action, this couldn’t be a simpler system. Tap the phone or press a button online and you’re up and running.

Apple Pay review 

The confusion comes in the setup, where you’ll be able to add as many credit and debit cards as possible to your Passbook to use at checkout. How do you get them on there? Can you use any of them?

That’s the bit that’s got me for so long. Google Wallet promises to do that in the US, and in the UK various networks have partnered with other credit card providers to try to make this contactless thing work.

Apple Pay review 

But forget all that for now. It seems that if (and that’s a big if) Apple can bring the solution it showed on stage in Cupertino to the world, it will quickly be the most easy to understand for consumers.

The Apple Pay system seems to have come at the right time. Where there are contactless terminals to pay for things (and there are hundreds of thousands in the UK, with more coming all the time in the US) you only need to select a card from Passbook, hold the phone to the payment terminal, use TouchID to verify your fingerprint and you’re done.

I saw it in action a few times, and each time the whole transaction took just a few seconds. It was seamless and easy, with no tapping in your PIN or swiping and signing.

Apple Pay review 

It was the easiest way to use your fingerprint to pay for things, one of the most secure out there, without having a scanner on the register itself.

Obviously Apple Pay needs and iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus to work at the moment, as you’ll need the NFC chip inside to enable contactless payments.

The Apple Watch can also be used to pay for things in the same manner as above, but the demo guys wouldn’t tell me how that worked. Surely you need to press your fingerprint to TouchID to make it work? If so, then you’ll have to use a phone… if that’s the case, then why bother with the watch?

Or perhaps the Watch will only come into play for low value transactions. That would be cool, although it would need to be tethered to a phone to prevent theft and use.

Online magic

Apple Pay review 

The same Apple Pay system works really well online too – although in fairness, it’s very similar to PayPal. Both have a dedicated button you can use to pay, and if you’re using a phone with a fingerprint scanner then you can use that for verification rather than tapping out a password.

Apple Pay review 

The difference here is Apple is much more vertically integrated into the process. Where Samsung has partnered with PayPal, leading to a confusing set up of app downloads and other verifiers at times, Apple Pay should be as simple as setting it up and looking for the logo when you want to hand over cash to a vendor.

That said, I felt it would be that easy with the Samsung Galaxy S5, and I’ve yet to find that even after all this time – it may have improved since then, but when a consumer loses confidence in a financial app, they’re usually not so keen to play around with it.

Availability

Apple Pay review  

At its iPad launch event, Apple announced that its coming through on its promise to launch the mobile wallet before the end of October, at least in the US.

The stateside Apple Pay release date is Monday, October 20 and Apple says it has signed 500 banks around the world with some rolling out sooner than others.

Visa, Mastercard and American Express are all here along with Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo and Citi. Saimilar UK Apple Pay launch details are still unknown.

But walk into big-name retailers like Target, Staples, Starbucks and Panera Bread next week and expect to pay without having to lift anything more than a fingerprint.

Apple still hasn’t addressed the question: If you only need a fingerprint scan to make it work, will Apple Pay online come to the iPhone 5S as well? After all, it’s still on sale in the Apple Store.

Early verdict

I really, really want to use my phone to pay for things. Simple as that. I forget my wallet, I don’t forget my phone. And apps to track your spending make it much easier to budget. The notion that we still mess around with paper receipts seems so archaic.

Apple Pay seems to simplify the issue by reaching more agreements with more vendors than ever before. I need to hear more about the rollout plans to be really excited about it, but right now it looks good, and will once again be a good way to lock people into the ecosystem.

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