Apple Pay in the UK: Prepare to blow some minds, hold up lines


Apple Pay
Apple Pay meets the U.K.
Photo: Apple

Apple Pay rolled out in the U.K. this week, letting a bunch more people start paying for snacks, clothes, and commutes with their late-model Apple gear. It’s all very neat and exciting, but our friends should get ready for some unexpected side effects of living in the high-tech future time.

For example:

You may not find that many places to use Apple Pay

Just because plenty of banks already support the touchless payment method, that only means that you can add your card if you use one of them. Actually finding a place to buy stuff with your Apple Watch or iPhone 6 might take a bit more work.

I’ve been using Apple Pay for about two months, and that’s also the number of stores I’ve gone to that have had the infrastructure to let me pay with my watch. I’m not complaining, but I do go other places sometimes, and my tastes and Apple’s don’t appear to have much overlap.

So basically, just temper your expectations, and keep an eye on Apple’s list of places that accept the payment system.

Be ready to explain yourself

Apple Pay
“No thank you. I already have a phone. And we do not accept barters as payment here.”

Once you find a place that supports Apple Pay, you may still have some difficulty when it comes time to check out.

Cult of Mac’s news editor Buster Hein says that he’s had some trouble using the system in the drive-through at McDonald’s. The fast-food chain has the readers to accept a payment via near-field communication, but it hasn’t figured out how to make the things accessible to drivers without some help. Buster says that the employees at the window have had to actually hold the scanner up so that he could reach it.

Even if the reader is right there on the counter, you might have a little extra work to do in these early days. I’ve had cashiers not notice that I was holding my Apple Watch up to the scanner, so we ended up just standing there staring at each other because I was waiting for her to select the “Credit” option, and she was waiting for me to take out my wallet.

Cooperation is going to be important until everyone gets the hang of the new tech.

People are going to warn you about teh haxxorz

This was not even cool in the ’90s.
Photo: Hackers/United Artists

I get this one; I really do. The idea of storing your credit card information on your phone or watch sounds like the riskiest thing imaginable. Someone could steal your stuff, or your data is just, like … on there, right?

Despite some security gaps, no. Apple Watch locks when you take it off, requiring a PIN to use, and the iPhone 6 has both a PIN and Touch ID to keep people from getting up in your business if they swipe your gadgets.

One cashier shook her head sadly at me and said, “Well, if they can hack the government’s systems … ”

I almost told her about end-to-end encryption and how Apple Pay transactions use a specialized, proprietary token that is different from your credit card information, which basically makes it more secure than your card.

But I didn’t want to, so I just said, “I think it’s alright” and left.

Prepare to be treated like a wizard

Wizards 5 and 6 by floodllama
“Sir, is that a service ostrich?”
Photo: floodllama/Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Even if a store is fully briefed on how touchless payments work and how to spot them, and everything knows what’s up, some people are still unprepared for what happens when they see a person pay for biscuits with their smartwatch.

I try to be low-key when I use Apple Pay because we’re all still getting used to it over here, but I do still need to buy my stuff. So I’ll double-tap the side button and hold it up to the reader and wait. Usually, nothing happens, but sometimes, I get The Gasp.

“Oh my god,” one woman said. “I love it when people do this!

Another guy was horrified. “What are you doing?” he asked, his eyes wide as I held my arm up to the reader.

I close my hand when I do this, so hopefully he didn’t think I was about to punch him for no reason, but then the scanner beeped, and he jumped a little.

“Did you … is that …?” he said.

“Yeah, we live in the future,” I replied. “It’s amazing.”