Paying with your smartphone using NFC is nothing terribly new. Our own Michael Fisher showed us how to use Google Wallet on the Verizon Galaxy Nexus – something that wasn’t officially supported at the time – back in April 2012. It was as simple as tapping the phone to a compatible card reader, entering your Google Wallet PIN on the phone, tapping once more to confirm, and grabbing your receipt on the way out.

Apple had shown some interest in mobile payments before WWDC earlier this year. Two years ago, alongside iOS 6, it introduced Passbook, a catch-all for all your loyalty and payment cards. This year, Apple took it one step further with Apple Pay, a direct competitor to Google Wallet and ISIS. And it went live for those with compatible hardware (iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad mini 3, and iPad Air 2) yesterday.

To see what it’s all about, I spent the better part of the day driving around to different stores – looking for things I needed to buy and the proper POS equipment – to put Apple Pay to the test. You’ll find out everything you need to know about Apple Pay and the process below.


The setup

using-apple-pay-add-cardusing-apple-pay-cardsThe first thing you will need to do is to get any cards you want to make payments with loaded into Passbook. These credit and debit cards will exist alongside any loyalty cards you may have and any other forms of payment. If you already have a payment method enabled through iTunes, you can simply import that debit or credit card to Passbook by entering your iTunes password.

That said, adding other cards is no real chore. Rather than entering all your information manually, such as your card number, name, or the expiration date, you can simply use the camera to scan the card. This will automatically insert the appropriate information, leaving only the security code around back for you to manually enter.

You may run into a snag during this process. Some cards will show the prompt stating that the issuer does not support Apple Pay yet. If this happens, you will need to contact your bank or credit card company. Most likely, you will have to wait until they update their systems with support for Apple Pay.

If the process completes without a problem, you are ready to use Apple Pay in the real world.


Using Apple Pay in-store


The next step is finding something to purchase and a store that has the proper pay pass or contactless card reader.

I spent about half the day driving around Winston-Salem checking businesses and looking for things to buy. Over half the stores I went to either 1) didn’t have anything I wanted or 2) didn’t have the proper equipment. There were also several stores with contactless terminals that didn’t work with Apple Pay. More specifically, Best Buy. It has the proper card reader, but Apple Pay simply isn’t accepted as a form of payment.

If nothing else, we learned that out of all the stores we went to, not a single employee knew what Apple Pay was. Most were completely baffled that you could actually pay for something using nothing more than your phone. (That’s probably more a testament to how behind the curve this part of North Carolina actually is than the newness of NFC payments.)

Once you find something to buy and a store that supports Apple Pay, all you need to do is hold your phone near the card reader, over the pay pass symbol. Passbook will automatically open and prompt you for your fingerprint. By default, it loads your primary card – just swipe upwards if you want to use a different one. Next, place any registered finger to the TouchID sensor. If you need to enter your PIN, that will be handled on the dedicated PIN pad. Hit enter and you are done.

If no PIN is required the process is completed even faster with less hassle.

That’s it. Every time I used Apple Pay today, the process took just a few seconds, minus any delays on the cashier’s part.

So long as you find the right place with a compatible PIN pad – Walgreens and McDonald’s were two sure-shots for us – it’s as simple as waving your phone near the card reader and scanning your fingerprint.


Using Apple Pay from your couch


IMG_0664You don’t even need to leave the comfort of your home to use Apple Pay. It works exactly the same from within third-party applications, like Target, Uber, Panera, Groupon, and several others.

I tried to buy some Clif Bars from the Target app, which definitely shows Apple Pay as a payment option (only if you buy one item at a time, not if you add a host of items to your cart), but the checkout process never completed. It threw several errors until I eventually decided I’d bought enough stuff for one day.

With my brief experience in-app, I’d say this aspect of Apple Pay might need some time for developers to work out any kinks. That said, simply choosing Apple Pay and touching your finger to the TouchID sensor is far more streamlined and simple than manually entering card information for each individual app. The sooner third-party apps implement this, the better – that is, for the checkout experience, not your bank account.

Support for third-party apps and retail locations is expected to grow by the end of the year. While this is great for Apple Pay users, it also bodes well for all mobile payment systems and digital wallets alike. The only downside is how easy it’s becoming to spend all your cash with the wave of a phone, the touch of a finger, or the click of a button.


Is Apple Pay better than money?


The real question that everyone has been trying to answer since Google Wallet and other mobile payment options first originated is: does paying with your phone actually improve anything? Does it bring new security concerns to light? Does it streamline an already very streamlined process?

Truthfully, yes. Since I usually already have my phone in my hand when I’m paying for things, it saves me the trouble of reaching for my wallet. No, grabbing my wallet and swiping my card isn’t anything difficult to do, nor is it time-consuming. It’s a very quick process that muscle memory carries me through several times every single day.

And of course it raises new questions about security and, likewise, concerns for said security. But the risk is actually pretty low. At least with Apple Pay, your card information is secured on a dedicated chip. Apple doesn’t track what you’ve bought or where you’ve bought it, and the retailer never sees your card number, security code, or the name on the card. So long as you keep a solid grip on your phone, your information, in theory, should be just as safe as it is when carrying plastic.

As for whether we’ll be using Apple Pay, it depends on how quickly the process catches on. It’s extremely quick and virtually effortless, but finding a place that accepted Apple Pay was trickier than you might think – especially if you go on the word of employees at various retailers.

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