One month after the release of iOS 8.0, Apple officially rolled out iOS 8.1 today with a major new feature: Apple Pay, the Touch ID-powered digital transaction software. As of now, Apple Pay is solely available for U.S. users of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, though it will also be supported — partially — by the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 once they are released later this week. Here’s a look at the Apple Pay setup process, which is somewhat more complicated than was initially expected when the service was announced in September.
On U.S. iPhone 6 and 6 Plus devices, the settings for Passbook have become “Passbook & Apple Pay,” and if you’ve already saved any credit cards on your device, you’ll probably have to add them again here. Apple has set up the Transaction Defaults menus to choose your known phone number, billing, shipping, and email addresses from your contact information, but they can be changed here if need be. In order to use Apple Pay, you’ll need to turn Touch ID on, set a passcode, and add at least one fingerprint scan — assuming you haven’t done these things already.
The first time you go to add a new Credit or Debit Card, you’ll see the Apple Pay explanation screen, followed by a page that lets you manually enter or camera-scan each card. Your iPhone 6/6 Plus’s rear camera will almost invariably capture the card number and expiration date properly on the first try; if not, you can fix any errors while entering the rear security code manually. At that point, you’ll probably see a Card Verification screen with at least one of three choices: Phone Call, Text Message, or Email. You may also have to accept terms of service provided by your card issuer.
Some banks may require — for certain cards, perhaps not others — that you tap on a button to call the bank and speak with a human being for card authorization. As of press time, Bank of America was doing this with a dedicated Apple Pay telephone line, though its ‘specialists’ were failing to properly verify cards 50% of the time in our testing. American Express and others are using instant online verification with text- or email-sent verification codes. This system gets your card verified to your phone within a minute or less. Cards may also be verified instantly, without the need for a code.
The card scanner shown here most often led to positive, immediate new card additions. But we did run into a notice that a bank didn’t yet offer support for Apple Pay — this bank had actually emailed promising support later this year. Most of the cards we tested worked properly. Once you finish whatever verification step is required by the bank, you receive a push notification from Passbook that the card is ready for Apple Pay, at which point the settings menu is populated with all of your active cards.
This is what Passbook looks like when you have credit cards activated. Credit cards take the top spaces in your Passbook collection and can be individually selected. Tapping on one will show you a message from your bank, as well as a rendition of the card that looks a lot like the original card from your wallet. For security, retailers who look at your iPhone’s screen won’t see your name or even your full credit card number; after you authenticate your ID with your fingerprint, their payment terminals will receive one-time tokens authorizing payment. Apple Pay is a seriously cool system.
While Apple Pay’s value is obvious in physical retail stores, the feature appears to require an active Internet connection and NFC wireless hardware to function in brick-and-mortar environments. For now, brick-and-mortar payments are supported only by the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which should (almost) always have cellular connections for immediate Internet connectivity. By comparison, the larger iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 aren’t guaranteed to have Internet connections in stores, and Apple didn’t give them NFC hardware to make brick-and-mortar transactions. But Touch ID iPhones and iPads do support in-app Apple Pay transactions from specific retailers and restaurants. This is how Apple Pay looks within the just-updated Apple Store app: a large black button appears at the bottom of the screen, you tap it, confirm your purchase and then billing/shipping details on separate screens, and scan your fingerprint to complete the transaction. Once everything’s set up, making payment is very simple.
Ideally, our last photo would show a drawer full of plastic cards that need only be kept for reference — we can’t wait to see Apple Pay available everywhere. But as of right now, Apple Pay-ready terminals are just beginning to make their way into stores, and only certain brick-and-mortar retailers and restaurants have promised to support Apple Pay by year’s end. So you’ll probably need to carry around your old wallet for the foreseeable future. Hopefully 2015 will bring considerable expansion of Apple Pay both in the United States and internationally.