The two things I’d change about Apple Pay after using it for a week

I admit it: I was a mobile payment naysayer for years. I always felt that the conversation around tap to pay was a lot of rigamarole — after all, how hard is it to get out your wallet? But, as credit card terminals slowly evolved around the US, so too did my troglodytian attitude about them. I had my phone out when I was in line to check out regardless most of the time, so why not? And then, the whole last year… happened. Mobile payments went from a passive preference to a very active one for me, and many more businesses here in the States that had lagged behind adoption finally ponied up for contactless. Even gas stations — where ancient magstripe readers have remained stubbornly dominant — in my experience, by and large now offer NFC here in California.

As you may know, I recently switched over to iOS, and that included dusting off my Apple Watch Series 5 to pair with my purple iPhone 12 Mini. Apple Pay, in many ways, is exactly like Google Pay on Android (the Wallet app is a whole other thing, though). You unlock your phone, you tap it to a terminal, and voila: you’ve paid. But on iOS, Apple makes you go through the effort of explicitly confirming this is the action you wish to take, which I’ve always found a bit redundant. You either need to double-tap the power key of your iPhone (which initiates a Face ID check for Apple Pay), or double-tap the power key of your Apple Watch (which uses a simple on-wrist check similar to Android’s Smart Lock). In the grand scheme, this is absolutely nitpicking, and I get that. But as tap to pay has become my default action, little bits of friction in that user experience add up. And I think Google, quite frankly, has handled that friction better.

The Apple Watch mitigates the whole Face ID check, but it’s still a rather awkward reach — and requires two hands to initiate.

On Android, simply unlocking your phone is confirmation enough for Google that you want to buy something. Tap your fingerprint reader or enter your PIN, and simply waving your phone over an NFC reader will initiate a Google Pay payment whether you have the Pay app open or not — no additional action is necessary, and your default card will be processed. On the iPhone, there is no way to bypass Apple’s two-step verification for tap to pay. You must double-tap the power key (which must be enabled in the Wallet app), at which point a Face ID check is initiated, and then you are allowed to pay. Interestingly, there is an option to simply allow the phone to process a payment even when the screen is off and locked — but only for supported public transit partners, like the Clipper system here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Traditional NFC payments aren’t supported in this mode.

Using the Apple Watch, you don’t have to go through a Face ID or password check, but you do need a second free hand to double-tap the power key unless you have some seriously double-jointed digits. I’d welcome a simple double-twist wrist gesture; it’d look a touch silly, but it keeps your second hand free, which I think is a preferable solution, all things considered. Even so, arching your wrist backward over an NFC reader remains, at best… awkward (my kingdom for an official Apple Watch Apple Pay wrist band), which tends to make me prefer using the iPhone to pay anyway. Google Pay, by comparison, is just a tap of my thumb on the screen, a wave, and away I go: it truly feels seamless. Apple Pay requires a bit more active attention, which I can understand from Apple’s perspective is about explicitly confirming the desired action (and security), but also feels silly in this day and age when essentially everyone understands that swiping your phone over a credit card terminal is going to cause you to initiate a financial transaction.

None of this is a big deal. But it’s one of those little things that I just don’t think you see talked about much in the Apple versus Android discourse. And it’s one that I, as a decade-plus Android user, find myself noticing — probably more than I should.

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