Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks about Apple Pay during the iPhone launch in California. / Getty

Apple’s contactless payment system has just launched – and it's stunningly easy to use

Last month in San Francisco I was one of a handful of UK journalists taken on a tour of stores on a whirlwind demonstration of Apple Pay, the payment setup which works with the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch.

It’s been live in the USA since October, and the UK is the first place to see it outside America. There it launched on 220,000 card readers, here it’ll work on more, 250,000 from day one. That’s not least because the contactless payment system is more advanced here than in the States, where chip-and-pin is still relatively new, for instance.

So how easy is it, really, compared to using a contactless credit card or just keying in your pin code?

In the San Francisco tour, one thing stood out: it was mighty quick. So fast that our tour guide (Apple exec Eddy Cue who has just overseen the launch of Apple Music) had to buy more stuff so we could watch more closely.

The American contactless payment machines are not designed by Apple. Jony Ive wouldn’t have permitted anything as pug-ugly as the card readers instore. Since Apple Pay works with existing contactless readers, it’ll just be the regular ones we use in the UK.

Anyway, that aesthetic detail aside, all Mr Cue had to do was hold his iPhone an inch or so away from the reader, with his thumb resting but not pressing on the Touch ID sensor in the phone’s Home button. And a second later, it was done, the same timing as it would take with a contactless card.

Walgreens was the first visit, which promised a similar experience will be available to UK customers in Boots, which it owns. Next up was a food market where Mr Cue held his wrist over the reader. His Apple Watch behaved exactly as though it was the iPhone. Double-press the side button as you move the Watch near the reader, hold, beep, done. Apple Pay is spectacularly convenient, and has a real wow factor to it. Just a very quick wow factor.

In most places in the UK the current £20 limit for contactless cards will apply, but for some, such as Pret A Manger and Wagamama, there’s no limit, which will be even more convenient. Other stores will raise their limits soon and for everyone the standard limit lifts to £30 in the autumn.

Of course you may want to switch from one card to another. That’s easy. Hold the iPhone over the reader without touching the Home button. Mr Cue did this and the iPhone woke up and showed one card. Choosing another card was as simple as tapping on the screen and completing the payment with that.

Some apps allow you to pay using Apple Pay and for these you can use the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 as well as the latest iPhones.

Anyway, how do you get it? On the iPhone, the Passbook app is the place to go, where your virtual credit cards will sit alongside boarding passes and gig tickets. Passbook is being renamed Wallet from this autumn, by the way.

You need to be using the latest version of iOS 8, which is version iOS 8.4. Open Passbook and find the Apple Pay symbol, which will be there by the time the service goes live, in time for the daily commute. Touch the plus symbol and add a card. If it’s a card you have on file with iTunes, you just enter the security code. To add another card, use the iPhone’s camera and hold the card in front of it. It will automatically recognise the numbers on the front of the card and enter them on the next page. Your bank then decides to authorise you or demands extra verification. Once that’s done, tap Next and you can start using it. If you can’t see the Add Card icon, you may need to close and re-open Passbook. And one reader has let us know that they needed to go to Settings and Passbook…

Apple Pay works with a lot of credit cards, debit cards and plenty of retailers. Some banks, such as HSBC, are not there yet but joining soon. And having TfL on board means your Oyster card can sit in your iPhone. The great feature here is its convenience – contactless cards are so much quicker than the insert, key in code, press enter, remove card process on regular cards. And this means your credit card stays safely in your wallet so you can’t accidentally leave it behind in the reader.