Apple Pay: The cure for slow chip-card awkwardness

No doubt that over the past couple of years you’ve heard about Apple Pay. But if you haven’t used it yet you might not know what you’re missing. It’s amazingly fast, easy, and most of all secure.

What is Apple Pay?

ApplePay is Apple’s mobile payment system that allows you to:

  1. pay at thousands of retailers with your iPhone or Apple Watch
  2. pay in mobile apps on iOS
  3. pay in Safari on your Mac (coming this fall)

Now that the US is on board with EMV chip cards, you’ve no doubt found how frustratingly slow the transactions are processed. Some terminals can take 5 or 10 seconds to process. For an American with no patience that’s excruciating. Fortunately EMV has a faster wireless cousin called NFC, which processes the transaction as fast as the old magstripe cards, possibly faster. NFC has been out for several years, but Apple has given it a lot of love lately.

Apple Pay is not a proprietary payment method, so a merchant doesn’t need to explicitly configure their systems to support it. As far as the merchant is concerned, Apple Pay, Android Pay, and NFC-enabled cards are interchangeable because they are all based on the same NFC industry standard. So while many of these points apply to Android Pay as well, I’m going to ignore it for the sake of this Apple-centric blog.

Why use Apple Pay?

There are lots of great reasons to use Apple Pay:

  • Wayyyy faster than chip cards.
  • The merchant never gets your actual card number. Instead they receive a one-time use “token”. If their system is ever hacked the hacker just gets a bunch of used token numbers which is completely useless.
  • If you lose your iPhone it’s very difficult for anyone else to use your cards since they are protected with your fingerprint or passcode. If you use to put your iPhone into Lost Mode all of your cards are suspended.
  • If you get a new card you don’t have to update your number in all of your apps, since Apple Pay-supported apps don’t actually keep your account information.
  • Get push notifications for each purchase, letting you detect fraud immediately.

What is required for Apple Pay?

First you must have a bank that supports Apple Pay. Most banks, even many of the smaller credit unions, support Apple Pay. Apple maintains a comprehensive list.

You will also need a compatible device:

  • iPhone 6, SE or higher
  • Any Apple Watch, even if it is paired to an iPhone that does not support Apple Pay
  • Any iPad with Touch ID (in apps only, not retail use)

How do you use Apple Pay?

Before you can begin making payments using Apple Pay you’ll need to set up your cards. to get started on your iOS device visit Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay. From there you can add or remove payment methods, set your default card, and provide your shipping address, email address, and phone number for the apps that require it. Each bank has different security measures for activation, so depending on what bank you have you may need to call customer service to verify your identity or maybe you’ll need to install their app and log into your account.

You can manage the cards on your Apple Watch in the Apple Watch app on your paired iPhone.

In retail stores

In any store where you see the Apple Pay, Android Pay, or NFC icon, you can pay with your iPhone or Apple Watch. Apple maintains a list of the largest national retailers, but many independent businesses such as my own accept Apple Pay as well. Some of the most popular include Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, Best Buy, Staples, Panera Bread, Subway, and McDonald’s. I’ve even seen it come up at many local retailers such Chevy Chase Supermarket, Giant in downtown Silver Spring, and Morris Miller Wines & Liquors. Some don’t explicitly state that they take Apple Pay, but look for the NFC logo, which looks like a hand holding a card up to some radio waves. An exception is CVS; their terminals display the NFC logo but NFC was disabled a couple of days after Apple released Apple Pay. And I hate them for it. I already don’t like making eye contact with my pharmacist and those slow chip cards make it all that much more awkward.


To pay with iPhone, default card:

  1. With your finger on the Touch ID ring (don’t click), touch your iPhone to the payment terminal. No need to wake up your iPhone or go to the Wallet app.
  2. Hold your iPhone to the payment terminal until you see a checkmark on your screen.

To pay with iPhone, choose a different card:

  1. Hold your iPhone to the payment terminal without touching the Touch ID ring. No need to wake your iPhone up or open the Wallet app.
  2. Tap the stack of cards at the bottom and then tap the card you want to use for that transaction.
  3. Touch (don’t click) the Touch ID ring.
  4. Once you see the checkmark in the middle of the screen you can take your phone away from the payment terminal.

To pay with Apple Watch

  1. Double click the side button on your watch.
  2. Swipe left or right until you see the card you want.
  3. Touch your Apple Watch to the payment terminal. You may need to flip your wrist upside down so your Apple Watch makes contact.

In apps

Many iOS apps now support making payments through Apple Pay, which is great because it means you don’t have to share your card with multiple companies, and if you get a new card you only have to update your number in Wallet settings. Among the most popular include Uber, Lyft, ExxonMobil (yes, you can pay for gas using the app by scanning a QR sticker on the pump), Starbucks, Fandango, Postmates, OpenTable (you can pay at some table service restaurants from your iPhone), and Etsy.

Each app will behave slightly differently, but once you get to the payment screen Apple Pay should be an option. When you choose Apple Pay a panel will slide up that allows you to choose your card, billing address, shipping address, or any other detail that the transaction requires. When it’s all set to your liking simply touch (don’t click) the Touch ID ring.

In Safari for Mac

This feature has been announced for iOS 10 and macOS 10.12 Sierra next month. If shopping on a supported website using Safari, you’ll be presented with an Apple Pay button. Click that and the request for payment will be sent to your iPhone, where you can pay just like you would in an iOS app.