Pay for your groceries by scanning an Apple…iPhone

THE familiar sound of ‘ker-ching’ at the tills could soon be silenced – as shoppers can now pay for their groceries by scanning their Apple iPhones at a payment terminal.

Two and a half years after it first launched in the US, Apple Pay went live in Ireland yesterday.

The payment system means shoppers can use an iPhone like a contactless credit card at thousands of shops around the country.

It comes three months after Google’s rival system Android Pay started. Only Ulster Bank and KBC have signed up to the Apple service so far.

Cyber expert John Kennedy, of Silicon Republic, said the new system was safer than using a card.

He said: ‘If somebody got hold of your phone tomorrow and tried to make payments with it they’d need your fingerprint or PIN.

‘If your card was stolen there’s a chance someone could run around and make transactions up to €30 a time by simply waving the card.

‘It [the phone] has an extra layer of security.’

Bank and card numbers are not stored on the iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch. A Device Account Number is securely stored on the phone.

REALLY, I can’t remember the last time I phoned to get a taxi to collect me or flagged one down in the street – and I use a lot of taxis. Instead, whenever I want a cab I reach for my phone and press the Hailo app, follow the few simple instructions and usually, with minutes, a taxi arrives to collect me. Easy as. Even better, I never need to search for cash as I have it set up to deduct payment off my credit card.

Hailo is now so popular in Ireland’s main cities that it has become a verb. You don’t hear people saying they’ll call a taxi – they’ll Hailo one. This is remarkable for a company that is only about six years old. Bizarrely, however, the new owners of Hailo, the rival European firm My Taxi, has decided that the name of the app is to be changed, as well as the branding on taxis, despite its remarkable success in Ireland. ‘I’ll My Taxi a taxi’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.

This is somewhat explained by the failure of the Hailo app in other markets: for example, Hailo has been more or less run out of the United States by Uber, a slightly different type of ride-sharing service that also harnesses not just the power of the internet, but also of the mobile phone. Solution to getting a taxi when in the US? Just download the Uber app.

Transformation

I’m writing this on a flight back from a meeting in London; my boarding pass was loaded onto my mobile phone and I presented the screen with the relevant flight information for scanning at various points in the airport before getting on the plane. (The irony, of course, is that this is the one place where I can get peace from the tyranny of my phone and the near 300 emails a day I receive, as well as my compulsion to continuously check my Twitter feed for updates.)

The transformation of many of the things of normal everyday life that we take for granted, since the production for sale of the first smartphone just a decade ago – in effect putting a mini-computer into our pockets with more computing power than the giant mainframes that dominated 30 and 40 years ago – is enormous.

The phone continues to provide for communication – some people actually still talk to each other on it – but for most is it is not just a platform for social media or to play games, but something with which to conduct various commercial transactions.

Yesterday I walked from my hotel to the venue where I was making a speech on Brexit, using the map that appeared once I inputted my destination; I didn’t need to put in the starting point because GPS did that for me. I checked my Fitbit app – connected to the wrist watch I wear – to see how many steps the journey contributed towards my daily fitness total of a minimum of 12,000. I listened to a bit of Today FM from back home in Ireland on the radio station’s app, finding out who was being lampooned on Gift Grub. I took a few photos of London – my hotel room had a spectacular view overlooking the Tower of London and London Bridge – and posted them to social media. I realised that I should delete that Pokemon Go app, though, as I never use it. These are all things that I wouldn’t have done five years ago.

It’s also why the announcement yesterday that the Apple Pay system is going online in Ireland is something of a big deal, even if Google already beat them to it with the Android pay system three months ago. It’s another step forward.

As an iPhone and iPad user I can now pay for goods and services in tens of thousands of retail outlets around the country where contactless payments are accepted – as long as I’m a customer with Ulster Bank or KBC. I expect AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB to follow suit quickly. They can’t ignore a trend such as this for fear of losing customers.

There are added benefits. Apple said that if I have an account with those banks, I’ll also be able to use the system to pay for purchases on participating apps and websites too. It reminds me of the ease with which you can buy books, for example, with a single click on Amazon – and I’m not a traditionalist when it comes to that either; as my book shelves are groaning with printed editions, I’m now comfortable with adding to my digital library.

And I suspect the day will come soon enough when I can buy and read today’s newspapers – such as the one you’re reading right now – using only my phone, so even when I’m away I can still be up to date with everything that’s going on back home (and around the world). Ultimately, buying a digital version of your favourite paper should be as effortless as handing over €1.20 to a shopkeeper. And a proper quality digital paper will doubtless be just as easy to read as this is, while offering everything that’s in the print version – plus a whole lot more besides. Still, that’s another day’s work…

Of course I can imagine that some people are worried about Apple tracking what you buy; after all, once you buy something on Amazon, for example, you get bombarded with adverts trying to persuade you to buy something similar.

But Apple swears that the card numbers you supply aren’t going to be stored on your device or on Apple servers, that the company doesn’t know what you’ve bought, where you bought it or how much you paid for it (although it must know the last bit). It says that it retains anonymous transaction information ‘such as approximate purchase amounts’. It also says that card numbers and identities aren’t shared with the retailer or merchant.

Benefit

An added benefit is that if I forget to bring the wallet with me when I leave home in the morning, I’ll still be able to get what I need – because, let’s face it, who forgets to bring their phone?

We are heading to a time when we may not need notes or coins to conduct transactions at all – a cashless society. There will be no need to hoard cash under the mattress, no fear of losing money out of your pocket. Lose your phone and you just get on the internet to report it and lock your account.

Irish consumers are traditionally heavy users of cash, although the use of contactless payments has picked up in recent years. Visa, which is the largest contactless card company here, says users of its contactless cards complete more than three million transactions per week using the system. It says that the average Irish purchase value made with a Visa Debit contactless card is now €12.72, indicating a mixture of casual purchases in convenience shops and bigger items in department stores.

I imagine that the amount may be even larger once the phone becomes the preferred method of payment.

But if there is one downside to the progress I’ve identified and applaud, it is this: the battery life of those damn iPhones. The rare occasions when I haven’t been able to Hailo on a night out were down to the fact that, yet again, the iPhone had run out of power. It takes two full charges each day. Imagine being left without money because of you weren’t able to get to a plug socket?

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