Apple Pay is here, and just like the Apple II in 1977 and the iPod in 2001, it promises to make giant waves. The platform will support NFC (near field communication)-based payments from the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, and the Apple Watch, promising to bring tap-and-pay to the masses for the first time… well, sort of.
The truth is, NFC-enabled phones have been around for almost four years—an eon in tech years. The first was the Samsung Nexus S, debuting in late 2010. After the phone’s release, Android was quick to roll out updates, including tap-and-pay functionality linked to Google Wallet.
But it never caught on. Although you can find NFC tap-and-pay devices in NYC taxis, Walgreens, and thousands of other small-purchase, high-volume retailers, few people use them. So what makes Apple Pay different? Three words: timing, timing, timing. And a fourth: Apple.
Making Security a Priority
Putting sensitive information on a device that can be hacked, broken, or left in a taxi makes people uneasy. When they lose a credit card, most people know exactly what to do—but the rules for digital wallets are not as simple. To capture this market, Apple has positioned Apple Pay as safer than predecessors. The system uses tokens to add a layer of security, making sensitive information tough for hackers to reproduce.
Perfecting v. Inventing
Heightened security and brand name aside, timing is everything. Precisely because Apple isn’t the pioneer of NFC-enabled payments, the company is in a position to perfect it (sorry, Samsung). Furthering the hardware inroads made by Google and MasterCard, Apple can claim some 220,000 retail and dining partners, lending further authority to its culture-generating brand. Many of these retailers were early Google Wallet adopters and haven’t had to change a thing in their stores.
Striking Hot Iron
But Apple isn’t just hopping on a bandwagon. It’s positioned on the crest of a wave: a long-planned, nationwide transition to a new, more secure payment standard called EMV. EMV stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, and is a global standard for inter-operation of integrated circuit cards (IC cards or “chip cards”) and IC card capable point of sale (POS) terminals widely used in Europe. This change will require merchants to upgrade to IC-capable POS terminals, or risk being held responsible for fraud. Since all new terminals accept mobile NFC payments, they will go from rare to the rule.
We won’t fully know how much users will embrace Apple Pay until it’s tested on the free market. But we’ll put our money—and our iPhones—on a giant shift in how we buy.