Virtual payments in the physical world have been around for a long time now but they have uniformly failed to spark the interest of the western retail world, where we are spoilt for choice with different ways to pay.
Apple’s first foray into the world of NFC and mobile payments has been joyously received by the industry. Everyone is praying the tech industry mover can kick-start consumer interest in a market they have already poured in a great deal of time and money, and it will. Apple is a technology company for people that don’t like to deal with technology, and its approach to payments will be the same slick, controlled experience.
Apple has made it so the shift to mobile payments is as gradual as possible with people still very much tied to their credit cards. The reliance on cards for Apple Pay is such that the move is more of a favour to the card companies than it is an innovative move by Apple.
The card companies have been struggling to make digital payments work with their own clumsy attempts (MasterCard PayWave and Visa’s V.Me) which never got a lot attention, not least down to Apple’s refusal to support them with NFC.
Now that Apple has made the move to NFC and has let the card companies climb aboard the good ship iPhone, Apple has been sure to do it under its own brand with Tim Cook firmly at the help. Visa, MasterCard, and AmEx just got what they’ve wanted since the iPhone first launched and the clear proof is that they are having to share the platform – certainly not the way any of them would have chosen it to go down.
If bitcoin is jumping into digital payments at the deep end, Apple Pay is splashing around in the shallows, wearing armbands, with Tim Cook and AmEx as your lifeguards
This gradual approach to digital payments is a mirror of the virtual payments poster boy bitcoin, requiring almost computer science graduate level of computing ability to and a fair bit of courage to use regularly as a consumer.
Eschewing the digital wallet that many other companies have experimented with Apple is perfectly happy to for now act solely as a card carrier, designed to let you keep you existing wallet in the same form, just in your phone instead of your back pocket.
This softly, softly approach to introducing the public to mobile payments, cominbed with the usual Apple gloss and retailers keenness to be seen working with Apple strongly suggests this is going to work out well for both Apple and the card companies.
The Apple Watch with one of many customisable straps
I cannot write up a piece post the Apple Pay announcement without mentioning my previous incorrect prediction that Apple would focus not on NFC but on its much more self contained iBeacon technology.
The live announcement from Apple’s HQ passed without even a mention of BLE of beacons and it would appear that Apple has decided to pause the beacon offensive for the time being, although no doubt we will be hearing of it again eventually.
With hindsight I can see why Apple taking the slow and steady route with NFC and the card co.’s in two makes a lot of sense. In this scenario, with the amount of money to be made taking a slice of the payments market, the tortoise beats the hare hands down.