November 12, 2014


So as I mentioned last week, I now have an iPhone 6 and quite frankly I am loving it. I had a brief moment of hesitation before deciding to continue my journey with Apple, as I have not been happy with some of the blatant bugs in the latest versions of iOS 8 or OS X. I think Apple can do better.

However, one thing that Apple has gotten completely right is their implementation of NFC (near-field communication) payments, or as they call it, ApplePay.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, here’s how it works. You register your credit or debit card with Apple through an app on the phone. I think most people use the credit or debit card tied to their iTunes account. Now, when you go to a retailer with NFC readers, such a Panera, Walgreens or Bass Pro Shop, you can pay with your phone. You tap your phone on the customer facing credit card machine, validate your fingerprint with Touch ID on your iPhone 6 and then tap your phone again. At least, this is how I’ve been doing this. The reader is given a one-use credit card number as your credit card number, so the retailer is never given your credit card information. The transaction is approved and off you go. Ironically, when I used this at Panera, they still printed a receipt and I had to sign the receipt, but apparently that was because the transaction was over $25 (I was buying lunch for three).

NFC payments are not new; Google has been doing this for a couple of years with Google Wallet, however, it hasn’t caught on as quickly as it should have. Hopefully the popularity of ApplePay will help Google Wallet catch on as well.

The thing is, there’s a consortium of retailers coming up with a new approach called “CurrentC”, which will be released sometime in 2015. CurrentC has an admittedly outdated approach; you scan a QR code on the cash register with your phone, punch in your credentials on your phone and then the cashier scans a QR code that appears on your phone. It’s a much bulkier approach and it uses QR codes which have proven to have security issues. In addition, CurrentC will allow only your debit card or a direct tie to your checking account, because the chief motivator for CurrentC is for the retailers to bypass the surcharges that credit card companies collect per transaction. In addition, CurrentC will store your personal information on their servers, so if hackers had broke into Target next year instead of a year or two ago, they would have had access to your debit card or checking account number, social security number and driver license number, as the latter two are required to sign up for CurrentC. The CurrentC app also requires access to your health data on your phone.

To make matters more interesting, a couple of retailers in this consortium have disabled their NFC readers, the same ones that used to work just fine with Google Wallet. When I tried to pay for a transaction with ApplePay at Best Buy, the cashier told me that it’ll try to work but because Apple doesn’t exchange enough personal information about me with Best Buy, they can’t approve the transaction.

This really rubs me the wrong way, to the point that I have abandoned shopping at any retailer that has purposely disabled NFC payments (ApplePay or Google Wallet) in favor of CurrentC, which hasn’t been implemented yet.

I am all for competing technologies letting the market decide which product is superior and I firmly believe that given a level playing field, it’s a no brainer that NFC, whether it’s Apple Pay or Google Wallet (both work with the same system, though there are slight differences in the implementation) would hands down beat CurrentC. But I can not and will not support an organization that is trying to beat the system by purposely disabling technology features that they already had before Apple released ApplePay to the world.