Apple Pay isn't the first mobile payment service, but it has quickly emerged as the leader. Part of Apple Pay's appeal lies in its ease of use. All you need to do is bring your iPhone close to a supported payment terminal and touch the Home button. No unlocking required. You can even pay with a tap of your wrist if you own an Apple Watch.
Apple Pay is also evolving fairly quickly, with Apple planning to add support in the next iOS update for store-issued credit and debit cards, as well as loyalty cards. With iOS 9, you'll be able to easily access all of these cards from Wallet, the replacement app for Passbook on your iOS device.
However, there are plenty of retailers that don't support Apple Pay yet, and it doesn't work with all iOS devices. Here's what you need to know to get started with Apple Pay and how you can get the most out of it.
Which devices support Apple Pay?
Apple Pay requires devices with an embedded NFC chip that you tap to an NFC reader, instead of swiping a credit card, to pay for an item. Apple Pay works best with the iPhone 6/6s and iPhone 6/6s Plus, models that include NFC. However, you can use Apple Pay with an iPhone 5, 5C or 5S if the phone is paired with an Apple Watch, which provides the integrated NFC chip you'll hold to an NFC reader to make the payment.
MORE: Mobile Wallet Guide
The non-NFC version of Apple Pay, in which you simply place your finger on your phone's Touch ID sensor to authenticate a payment within an app, also works on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, as well as the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 2.
What else do I need to use Apple Pay?
In addition to the right hardware, you'll also need an iCloud account. Next, you'll need to associate a credit or debit card with Apple Pay. On your iPhone, start by loading up your Passbook*. (On your iPad, go to Settings, and then the Passbook & Apple Pay option.) Then tap the plus icon within the Apple Pay section.
If you already have a credit card associated with your iTunes account, you'll just have to enter your card's security code to transfer it over to your Passbook. Otherwise, you can use your device's camera to capture your card's information (and, likewise, enter the security code in manually). If your particular card works with Passbook, you'll be set. If not, you'll be stuck — unfortunately, not every single credit or debit card out there is Passbook-friendly.
* Note that Passbook has been renamed Wallet in iOS 9.
Where can I use Apple Pay?
Plenty of stores currently support Apple Pay, and more are coming online all the time. In fact, the service is available at more than 1 million locations in the United States. Apple says that half of the top 100 merchants in the country will accept Apple Pay this year, but a Reuters report found that two-thirds of retailers surveyed said they have no plans to jump on the bandwagon in 2015. Regardless, Apple Pay has a ways to go before it's ubiquitous.
Some of the well-known merchants that accept Apple Pay include Aeropostale, BJ's Wholesale Club, Disney Store, Foot Locker, GameStop, Macy's, McDonald's, Office Depot, Panera, Petco, Sephora, Starbucks, Subway, T-Mobile and Walgreens (to name a very few). Some of the more recent additions include Best Buy, Dunkin' Donuts, Express, JCPenney, Kohl's and Peet's Coffee. Approximately 40,000 Coke vending machines currently support Apple Pay, and Coke wants to up that count to 100,000 by the end of 2015.
MORE: Apple Pay: Where You Can (and Can't) Use It
Plenty of apps support TouchID-based Apple Pay purchasing, including Airbnb, Best Buy, Delta Airlines' Fly Delta, Dunkin' Donuts, Gilt, Groupon, Hotel Tonight, Kickstarter, LivingSocial, MLB.com, Lyft, OpenTable, Panera, Starbucks, Ticketmaster and Uber (to name a few). If you're using your mobile device on a JetBlue flight (in airplane mode, of course), you can use Apple Pay to buy in-flight items.
If you use Pinterest, you'll be interested to know that the social networking site is adding Buyable Pins that support Apple Pay. More than a thousand stores are participating, such as Cole Haan, Macy's and Neiman Marcus.
Those living or traveling to the United Kingdom will be able to use Apple Pay at more than 250,000 locations.
Which banks and credit cards support Apple Pay?
Apple maintains a comprehensive list (opens in new tab) of all the cards that Wallet does and does not support. Do note that this isn't determined on a bank-by-bank basis; within one bank, a variety of cards may or may not be supported by Passbook. Apple Pay works with all the major financial institutions, including Chase, Bank of America, Citi and Wells Fargo, as well as three major credit card companies: American Express, MasterCard and Visa.
With Discover Card support coming this fall, Apple claims that Apple Pay will be able to cover 98 percent of all credit card purchase volume in the United States.
How do I pay for stuff at retail?
At a store that accepts Apple Pay, check for the Apple Pay or contactless payment logo somewhere near the checkout terminal, near or on the device that you'd otherwise slide your credit card through. If it's there, you're set. To pay for your items, just place your finger to your iPhone's Touch ID sensor (don't press down) and move your iPhone to within an inch or so of the store's NFC reader. You'll hear a little sound to indicate that the payment was successful, as well as a "paid" message on your device's display. (The store's reader might also ask you whether you want credit or debit. If so, just pick credit.)
How do I pay for stuff within apps?
Using Apple Pay within mobile apps, such as those for Target and Panera Bread, is even easier. Just look for the Apple Pay checkout option in the app to see if it's supported. If so, tap on the Apple Pay button and authenticate yourself via fingerprint on your Touch ID sensor. It's possible that you'll have to review your payment, contact and shipping information before your transaction completes, but at least you won't have to enter any pesky credit card information.
Is Apple Pay secure?
If you're comfortable using regular credit cards, rest reassured that Apple Pay is safer. Instead of transmitting a credit card number to an NFC terminal or an app, Apple Pay transmits a Device Account Number (DAN) and a temporary token that verifies the transaction. The retailer never receives the card number, and the verification token can theoretically be used only once. Your phone, tablet and watch never store a credit card number, instead storing the DAN issued by the bank or credit card provider once it approves the card for Apple Pay use.
DANs are stored in the device's Secure Element, a hardware-encrypted chip isolated from the rest of the circuitry. The weak spot in this arrangement is the card issuer's own security — if the DANs are stored on a server, they can be stolen.
To use Apple Pay, you need to either enable the TouchID fingerprint reader or set a passcode (or do both). Neither method is perfectly secure, as thieves can guess short numeric passcodes, and fingerprints can be cloned relatively easily. But until iPhone thieves make a habit of cloning people's fingerprints, TouchID probably will be enough.
More problematic is the Apple Watch. Two bloggers recently showed that they could steal one of the watches off a user's wrist and use it without providing a passcode, allowing them to make purchases with the watch.
With watchOS 2, the Apple Watch will get the same Activation Lock security as the iPhone. Thieves would need your iCloud Apple ID and password.