Will Apple Pay work when it comes to the crunch?

Apple Pay
Apple's bold bet with Pay

Apple Pay lacks the innovation we've come to expect from Apple, but the new payment technology stands a good chance of success based on a reliable technology and smart alliances. Ralf Gladis, CEO of payment specialist, Computop gives his thoughts in an interview with TechRadar Pro

TRP: Apple announced Apple Pay for iPhone 6 and Apple Watch last week. According to what we heard from the keynote: How does this work?

RG: Apple's iPhone 6 and Apple Watch both include payment functionalities for Visa, MasterCard and American Express. In order to process a payment at a POS terminal in store, Apple Watch and iPhone 6 use the mobile radio technology standard NFC which is an acronym for Near Field Communication.

TRP: Is this the innovation the world was expecting from Apple?

RG: To be honest, I expected a more innovative new mobile payment system, simply because Apple has a track record of doing innovation better than anyone else. On the other hand, Apple has a global reach and it's a clever move to join a global standard like NFC and take sides with global card organizations like Visa, MasterCard and American Express.

Otherwise it would be an endless fight to convince and connect merchants to Apple Pay. By using NFC, Apple will be compatible with millions of POS terminals worldwide giving its users the positive customer experience they need to be able to use their iPhones and Apple Watch everywhere they go. Not every POS terminal is NFC compatible, yet, but many already are and NFC will be mandatory for new POS terminals for instance in Europe, soon.

To put it in a nutshell: By aligning itself with Visa, MasterCard, Amex and NFC, Apple ensures its users will be able to pay with multiple merchants globally, which provides excellent user experience. Provided that Apple Pay does not deviate from existing established standards, merchants won't need a lot of integration work because it's an established card payment.

TRP: Given the past nude photo scandal, what level of security can we expect from Apple Pay?

RG: Apple's iCloud service is a much easier target than data on a device. A cloud service is also more rewarding for hackers than a single device belonging to one person. From what I've heard, Apple Pay uses the Touch-ID fingerprint scanning in order to authenticate payments on the iPhone.

Given that Apple Watch doesn't seem to have such a sensor, the amount users can spend with Apple watch will probably be limited to low value purchases. That should be comparable to tap payments with credit cards:

Below a certain amount cardholders only need to tap their NFC enabled card at the POS terminal. Beyond that limit, however, cardholders have to enter a PIN. Apple Watch will likely be limited to a certain amount but using the iPhone with Touch-ID fingerprint scanning will be good for larger payments.

On a general level, fingerprints are not a secure means of authentication, though and at Computop, we don't trust them [fingerprints]. The German Chaos Computer Club demonstrated in September 2013 that fingerprints can easily be forged and they stressed that all of us leave our fingerprints everywhere. Users will have to decide themselves if they want to trust fingerprints.

With regards to the card data on the iPhone, we heard that payment data will be encrypted and stored with the Passbook app. Users can either transfer their iTunes credit card details to Apple Pay or they can take a photograph of their card in order to add a credit card to Apple Pay.

In order to avoid handling sensible card data it seems that Apple Pay uses tokens. Tokenisation is nothing new and brings real security to the payment process.

Provided that Apple follows the security processes of Visa and MasterCard on the device, I would not expect issues other than risk from phishing attacks. However, if we all start using our phone as a wallet, we all need to start to use dedicated firewalls and virus scanners, too. Fast.

TRP: What costs should merchants expect for Apple Pay?

RG: First of all, the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch are accelerators for NFC and a door opener for Visa, MasterCard and Amex who have been challenged in the area of mobile payments by many small but innovative competitors. To date, NFC has delivered slow adoption.

That might change now. Rumors and comments in the payment industry indicate that current stakeholders (issuers, acquirers and card brands like Visa, MasterCard and Amex) will share their margins with Apple.

Ironic really, when you consider the continual hype about mobile payments. If mobile payment is really already such a big trend, why do banks and acquirers need to share their margins with Apple in order to speed-up mobile payment adoption?

My view is that if Apple Pay bases this on the back of NFC standards, this shouldn't be different to any other NFC payments. Merchants shouldn't pay extra charges.

There another little detail that makes me think twice: Apple mentions a small number of US acquirers they work with. If Apple Pay sticks to industry standards like NFC, then why should the number of acquirers be restricted? Could it be that the future brings a tick box for merchants having to choose Apple Pay 'yes' or 'no' at a certain price? Only the future will tell…

  • Ralf Gladdis is the co-founder and managing director of the German based companies Computop GmbH and Computop International GmbH. He also acts as a non-executive Director of the Board at Computop USA
Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.