It's time for mobile pay

Last month marked the official launch of Apple pay in the UK. With it comes the ease and connivance expected of Apple, available on up to £20 transactions, all through your near field communication (NFC) enabled smart phone. But Apple aren’t the only ones to have tried this, lets have a quick look at some of the past efforts.

Google Wallet

Back in early 2011(!) Google was demo’ing a mobile payment system that it would be available later that year in the US. It was an payment system that used stored credit / debit card details and NFC to pay for goods and services. Sounds a little familiar? That’s because it’s very much the model for mobile payments.

However, Google does offer something more than just NFC payments, since 2013 users have been able to send money via a Gmail attachment (again only in the US). Their other selling point is tighter integration with loyalty and gift cards. The idea here is users of Google Wallet would have access to their loyalty and gift cards in the app, NFC would be used in participating stores for a seamless experience and more traditional scanners used where needed.

Overall it seems like a pretty strong offering but never took off in the UK. During Google I/O this year came the announcement of Android Pay. Google acquired a mobile payments platform known as Softcard and this will be integrated into it’s Google Wallet system, the resulting proposition is Android Pay.

Whether Android Pay be available in the UK in unclear right now, but what is clear is Google has put together a competitive mobile payments system. Competition with Apple can only mean good things for the us, the users, as it helps drive features into the platform and keeps things fresh (see the ever raging feature-swap that Android-iOS have been doing for years).

PayPal and others?

One company you might expect to see here is online money service PayPal. Once the natural twin of the auction site eBay and now it’s own independent company, PayPal offers a lot of the services that you see from Android Pay. The ability to send money and store gift cards in the app are both offered by the PayPal app.

That said, to pay for things in a shop or restaurant they first need to support PayPal. This isn’t something I’ve ever seen in the UK but a quick search on their site and it turns out there’s plenty of nearby merchants (even as I write this in relatively empty County Down countryside).

Outside of PayPal’s offering there are plenty of other apps offering digital wallets with each offering some of the features take a look at this list.

Apple Pay

So what’s the deal with Apple pay? Well it’s the first digital wallet to make it to the UK. It’s available to iPhones that have NFC (iPhone 6 / 6+) but also the Apple watch. The process itself is straightforward you register an eligible card with passbook (Natwest emailed me in the run up to prepare me, most UK banks offer support for Apple Pay). Once registered you present your phone at any contactless pay point and the phone will light up Passbook prompting you for a fingerprint.


That’s how I would describe the whole process. I didn’t need to unlock my phone or even have the Passbook app open. It’s simply enough to bring your phone to the reader. The experience is slightly different on the watch, I’m told you need to double click the side button but then again simply hold the watch over the reader. Right now there’s a £20 limit but that’s soon to be increased to £30.


What is actually happening under the hood? Well for starters Apple Pay never gives your card details to the vendor. This is very different from the way card transactions are done today. Simply, the long card number is used in conjunction with a PIN / signature, proving it’s you, to charge your account. How Apple Pay differs is that it generates a one use code, per transaction, that is passed to the reader - this is redeemed by the vendor. You can also suspend Apple pay on your device using Find My iPhone.

The Apple Pay experience is more inline with the Apple experience you’re used it, “it just works” is not a bad summary, and certainly so when achieving it with something as sensitive as digital payment.

Overall I think there’s a future in digital wallets. Right now it seems very new but I see it quickly becoming the norm, much like how contactless has done - but now with added security. If the Android Pay offering makes it to the UK I will certainly give it a go so I can get some idea of the two systems. PayPal’s offering isn’t something I had heard much about before writing this post and isn’t something I can see myself adopting unless something drastic happens, which certainly could now it has broken the eBay bond.

First appeared on Trusty Interior, last update 14 Nov 2023