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Apple Pay Has Problems

John Gruber is ripping into the Wall Street Journal for their reporting on Apple Pay. Specifically, he complains that the Journal didn’t explain how to remove an alert that is meant to encourage people to set up Apple Pay, agrees that Apple has done a bad job explaining how Apple Pay is more secure than using an actual credit card, and mocks an analyst’s comparison to Apple Pay to Microsoft’s antitrust cases in the 1990s and early 2000s.

I agree with a lot of what John wrote but, at the same time, think that it’s all too easy to dismiss complaints about Apple Pay. I work amongst an incredibly technical group of colleagues. Many of us have iPhones. But I’m the only person who uses Apple Pay with any regularity…and I’ve run into issues time after time. Let me list some of the problems I’ve experienced:

  1. I tried to return an item I bought using Apple Pay (linked to my credit card). But when I returned it the credit card number displayed on the receipt was different from that on my credit card…so the retailer refused to take the return.1 It was only after I undertook some independent research that I figured out how to pull up the temporarily assigned number in Apple Pay and, then, additional time to educate the frontline staff, the manager, and then wait for the manager to call central office to confirm they could process the return. Time to return a product to a store that was down the street from me? About 3-4 hours split over 2 days. I wouldn’t have the same issue if I’d just bought the item with my physical credit card.2
  2. Apple Pay doesn’t work as reliably with tap-enabled Point of Sale machines. I’d say that I have about an 85-90% ’hit’ rate with Apple Pay versus using the tap feature of my credit card. That makes Apple Pay less convenient than a tap-enabled credit card or debit card.
  3. Various Point of Sale machines have disabled tap and force me to use one of my chip/PIN cards. This is typically done in restaurants or retail locations where either they can’t afford to fix their Point of Sale machine or refuse to pay to enable the feature (or simply haven’t upgraded their machines to accept tap payments). So I have to carry my regular credit card and debit card with me, wherever I go, on the basis that I can’t trust that I can use Apple Pay at any given location.
  4. Sometimes Apple Pay just doesn’t work. I have no idea what the problem is but there are times where I just have to remove the cards and re-add them to Apple Pay. I don’t know why this takes place but it happens at least once a year. And I find out about it when I’m trying to pay for something. I don’t have this problem with my credit card.3

Do I like Apple Pay? I do, actually, and I use it a lot. But I’m willing to deal with the above teething issues as an early adopter. Security is fine and good, but for the majority of people usability is the most important component of using a product. And Apple Pay remains, in my eyes, only mostly-usable. It needs to be a lot more reliable before it is adopted by the mainstream.

  1. I know: this is a security feature (one I love!) but it’s a feature that’s been introduced without an equally clear explanation of how to find the temporarily used number. This education needs to happen at both the end-user and retailer level.
  2. And I have no clue what you’d do if you lost your phone or it was stolen between the time of purchasing an item with Apple Pay and wanting to return it.
  3. To be fair, I have to replace my debit card (rarely used either as the card or in Apple Pay) approximately every six months because it just stops working. But this hasn’t ever happened with my credit card, which is my primary way of paying for everything.