Ben Dodson

Freelance iOS, macOS, Apple Watch, and Apple TV Developer

UK Apple Pay

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I’ve been excited about Apple Pay ever since it was first announced for the US last year. It finally arrived in the UK today and so I’ve made a few purchases in a selfless act of testing! There has been quite a bit of confusion and misinformation about how it would work in the UK so hopefully I’ll clear up some issues there as well as giving my opinion on how Apple Pay works.

First of all, it is insanely easy to setup. You just open up the Passbook app on your iPhone1 and a new “Pay” option will appear above your passes. When you add a card, Apple will automatically default to the card you have on file for iTunes purchases or you can add a new one via the camera. Some banks have a security step and I was offered the choice of calling RBS or having them text me a security code; the code came through instantly and everything activated within seconds. Unfortunately neither my credit card company nor my business bank are using Apple Pay yet so I could only add my personal account card.

If you have an Apple Watch, you need to repeat this step in the “Passbook & Apple Pay” section of the Apple Watch app. The reason for this is that your card information is stored securely within the hardware of the device, not in software (so there is no iCloud syncing or anything like that).

When it comes to paying, you can use Apple Pay at every single shop in the UK that has a contactless card reader. When paying, you simply say you are paying by card and if the amount is under £202 the contactless section will light up and you can then place your iPhone near the reader. Your iPhone will automatically come out of standby mode, show your card, and ask you to hold the fingerprint scanner on the home button; within a second it’ll buzz and the payment is done. If paying with the Apple Watch you have to double-tap the side button to bring up your cards and then hold it against the scanner (for the simple reason that the NFC chip isn’t always on as it’d kill the battery). Once the payment is done, an unexpected nice touch is that you get a push notification telling you how much you paid and where - useful for making sure that you paid the correct amount. I tried this in W H Smiths, which is not an official “Apple Pay” partner, and it all went through fine. Your iPhone (or Apple Watch) is simply pretending to be a contactless card so if your card works, then Apple Pay will work.

The main piece of misinformation about Apple Pay in the UK has been this £20 limit; “Apple Pay limited to £20” is a frequent headline but it isn’t actually true. If a launch partner (like Marks & Spencer) supports full Apple Pay, then you can make a purchase of over £20 using the same system as above. The difference is that they have upgraded their hardware so that the contactless part will work specifically with Apple Pay rather than just being the standard contactless payment system. I tested this by buying £35 of stuff at M&S and it all worked flawlessly. The real issue is that “Apple Pay” encompasses both the “pretending to be regular contactless” and “being an upgraded contactless system” and it isn’t easy to tell which a retailer supports. I think if you see an Apple Pay logo on the reader (like I did at McDonalds), then they support the full no transaction limit Apple Pay.

After successfully paying with both my iPhone and Apple Watch at multiple stores, I decided to give the in app payment system a try. This is live for several apps (highlighted in the App Store currently) and basically allows you to make payments in app using Apple Pay. This is limited to physical goods and services3 so I bought some stuff from Etsy, supported a project on Kickstarter, and bought a new Apple Watch strap from the Apple Store app. In all cases, the process was insanely simple; during the checkout process, I was never asked for my address or card details but a simple “Apple Pay” button bought up a sheet which showed the address my card is issued to and let me pay by holding my fingerprint on the home button.

Overall, the whole process has been simple and fast. A lot of people wonder why bother using this when you can already use a contactless card? For me, it boils down to two reasons: simplicity and security. With my Apple Watch on, I didn’t have to take my wallet out of my pocket; whilst this isn’t a mindblowing change (only takes a second), it is an added level of convenience and means I can make purchases if I leave my wallet at home (or if I’m somewhere sketchy and don’t want to take it out). The real benefit though is in security. When you make a payment, the retailer never gets your card number; Apple Pay gives a randomly generated number every time you buy something which means retailers can’t track you across stores or link you to payments. I was able to check this by looking at my receipts and each time the last 4 digits they displayed of my card number were different. This may be a minor thing to a lot of people but this increase in privacy and the convenience of making payments (some of them over £20) from my wrist mean that this is a big deal to me.

The real test will be when I’m in London next and can try it out in place of an Oyster card4.

  1. Only iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are supported for Apple Pay via contactless payment. You can use iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 for in-app payments. ↩︎

  2. This is increasing to £30 for all contactless payments in September. ↩︎

  3. Obviously you can already pay for in-app purchases like extra game levels or subscriptions using TouchID which works essentially the same way but charges your card on your iTunes account. ↩︎

  4. I’ve seen a lot of comments about “the readers are on the right so how will I use it if I wear my watch on my left hand like 90% of the population”. I’ve got this clever trick called “moving your arm across your body”… worked like a charm at the McDonalds payment terminal. ↩︎

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