I’m not an avid tech adopter. This was made highly clear to Apple’s PR reps several years ago when they first suggested that I try out the Apple Watch and I’d told them I’d pass. It’s not that I’m a total luddite. I simply didn’t have much need or use for the technology then or now. But when they launched Apple Pay, and other digital payment methods followed suit, I thought I’d give it a proper go, just to see how useful these technologies are.
Even then, I probably surprised the guys at Apple about my tech use. I don’t use Touch ID, I didn’t have anything in my Wallet app and I don’t even display notifications on my phone. I’m deeply mistrustful of digital payment systems because I’m constantly wondering what would happen if I lost my phone (Apple assures it’s a simple matter to wipe everything off on iCloud).
What is a digital wallet?
These payment systems, which Apple, Android and Samsung all offer, basically act as a way of accessing your credit card without needing to reach for your wallet. Which is useful if you forgot to bring your wallet out or misplaced it. After all, if you’re on holiday and your pocket gets picked, you’ll at least be able to go about your regular activities after panicking and calling your bank(s) up to block your card(s). You need to set up your digital credit card, and to Apple’s credit it’s a smooth process.
Apple wanted to highlight to me that unlike other payment platforms (Android, Samsung) they are focused on the privacy of your payment. It’s all encrypted and no one at Apple will know what you bought. Only your bank and payee and yourself have access to that. That also means they can’t use that info to target you as a customer. That to me was a plus point of the method.
If you have an Apple Watch connected to the phone, (Apple loaned me a watch for this experiment, I didn’t buy or receive it as a gift from the brand), it automatically directs you to set up your card on the watch as well. Which made me a bit paranoid about data theft etc. They explained that the NFC tech on both devices are locked for Apple Pay only, and you need to be within 4cm of the PayWave system to work. I generally don’t stand within 4cm of anyone, so that seemed a safe bet.
Apple’s challenge to me was to forego my physical wallet and just go through my regular day on Apple Pay. I decided that this required some discipline, so I had a friend hide my wallet from me for a couple of days, while I carried on. I had to get to work, grab lunch, head home and buy groceries and repeat that the second day, but instead of groceries, I had a dinner-and-drinks appointment. All without a backup.
Getting to work was easy thanks to Uber. Even if I did think the driver took me for a ride, which she honestly did due to mapping issues. I obviously could not go to lunch at my local coffee shop, so I had to wander out (another Uber) to the nearest mall for a bite at a cafe that accepted PayWave. Even if it doesn’t specify Apple Pay, any machine that has the PayWave logo can work with it. (That includes 7-Eleven, thank god.)
The biggest problem I faced with Apple Pay on those two days were figuring out where I could use flash-and-go payment systems. At service outlets like 7-Eleven and Cold Storage, that wasn’t an issue. The real challenge was with restaurants. Counter service restaurants (as in, make your payment at the counter) would probably offer that, but some staff don’t actually realise it works while table service restaurants simply didn’t offer FlashPay (credit cards or cash, please). I literally ran around one mall, trying to find a bistro that would take the payment. If you’re at a bar, which I was the second evening, you’re not likely to find any luck with this. I had to have a friend cover my tab for the evening.
The second issue is staff familiarity with the payment. In one instance, the staff cancelled the payment request on the machine just as the phone registered my thumbprint, so even though the system said there was no payment, my phone registered it and there was momentary confusion as to whether the transaction had gone through or not. Obviously with the tech being so new, no one was sure. I called up the bank to verify the transaction and it took 10 minutes to sort out, during which a queue of impatient customers waiting to pay built up. But it all worked out. The second instance took 5 seconds to complete on my watch.
In fact, the Watch worked better than the phone itself at times. Double press the power button to bring up the card, hold the watch near the terminal and it’s done. You don’t even need the phone in proximity. Which I thought was a good system. And as I mentioned, it’s a great backup if you lose your wallet. For cities or countries which have really embraced the digital wallet technology, you’ll probably have an easier go of it. But until we start doing the European thing and bring the portable card machines to the customer at full service restaurants or bars, it’s a bit tricky.
My conclusion: I’m not about to give up my physical wallet. But if I did, it’s nice to know I have an excellent backup. To give credit to digital wallets, it’s very convenient not to have to search for my wallet when it comes to paying. But like all technology, when it works well it’s great. When it doesn’t, it’s frustration. It might limit my movements to a regular, standard format without veering from my regular routine too much, but Apple Pay will keep you in relative comfort.