Apple Pay: as HSBC joins and other banks follow, how have the first weeks of contactless payment system gone?

Apple's touch payment system isn't the first to turn your phone into a credit card – but it seems to be the first to push it into the mainstream, teething problems aside

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The Independent Tech

Have you used Apple Pay yet? It’s the contactless payment system which uses the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch. The iPhone wasn’t the first handset that could work like a contactless credit card but it’s already taken off in the way rivals have not.

Mostly that’s because the system is so easy to use. You set it up by scanning a credit or debit card using the phone’s camera. And from today that includes HSBC cards. The bank was expected to be a part of Apple Pay from the start, but it’s joined two weeks in. Since it’s such a big bank, that will be a welcome development for many customers. Barclays, which originally said it would stick with its own system, bPay, has also promised it will have Apple Pay compatibility in the future.

So if you’re making your first Apple Pay transaction today, here are a handful of tips drawn from the lessons of the last two weeks.

1: It’s pretty slick

Mostly, it just works. When you pay at a contactless-compatible till you simply raise the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus to the card reader and rest your thumb on the Touch ID button. You don’t even need to wake the screen. The reader will recognise the iPhone and the transaction will complete. If you have multiple cards then you can choose to switch away from your default card.

2: There can be teething problems

Sometimes you need to a couple of times, though this is as likely to be the retailer as not. I’ve several times tried in a local supermarket to pay by Apple Watch – on the Watch you double-press the Side Button to start the process – and it’s been recognised every time. Then, also every time, it says I need to use my credit card instead.

3: Sometimes it’s slow – though you can speed things up

If you’re using it on the Tube or London Buses, for instance, waiting for the iPhone and card reader to understand each other can take precious seconds. To get round this you can pre-arm your iPhone. As you walk towards the reader you unlock the screen and launch the Passbook app. Then rest your thumb on the Touch ID button. The screen will say “Pay with Touch ID” and then “Hold Near Reader to Pay”. You can do this pre-arming procedure up to 60 seconds before you reach the reader and it improves things considerably. Watch users simply double-press the Side Button a few seconds before getting to the reader.

4: That £20 limit is a nuisance

Sure, the upper spending limit on contactless cards is going up from £20 to £30 in the autumn. But even then, it’s easy to spend more than that, so for these transactions contactless cards or Apple Pay won’t work. Still, there are some retailers, like Pret A Manger and Wagamama which don't apply the limit. Expect more retailers to follow suit, and quickly, as the security of the system becomes apparent to banks and customers alike.

5: You need to add your cards separately to each device

So if you use the Watch as well as the iPhone or want to use it for purchases in compatible apps on the iPad you’ll need to scan the card for each gadget. Even so, it’s a brief, one-off process per device.

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