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Two coasts, 10 days: Macworld's thorough field test of Apple Pay

Caitlin McGarry, Leah Yamshon | Nov. 3, 2014
No gimmicks, just life: We put Apple Pay through its paces to figure out if the future of mobile payments is here.

I usually grocery shop at a store near my apartment, but Whole Foods is within walking distance, so I ventured off my usual path to procure food for the week. Whole Foods is, without a doubt, Apple Pay's most supportive partner. There was signage outside the store advertising Apple Pay, and the card reader in the checkout lane was emblazoned with the Apple Pay logo. The cashier didn't blink twice when we tapped my partner's iPhone 6 Plus screen to pay. Success.

I didn't experience any cashier confusion or glitches when I used Apple Pay, except when I tried to buy pumpkin-shaped Snickers at Rite Aid--but we all know why that happened. Rite Aid and CVS are my only neighborhood drugstores, so my Apple Pay usage would skyrocket if they turn NFC back on. Which brings me to my only problem with Apple Pay: It's not available at most of my usual spots. Lunch options in midtown Manhattan are bad enough without having to resort to McDonald's and Panera when I need to eat. Hopefully, Apple's support of contactless payments will encourage more stores to embrace NFC.

Leah:  My first experience with Apple Pay was in Lost Hills, California, at a McDonald's truck stop off the Interstate 5. It was the second day Apple Pay was available, and I was really interested to see if merchants statewide were ready for the rollout--not just in tech-centric San Francisco. Luckily, I happened to be driving back from Los Angeles and could check it out in a small town in the Central Valley. 

After ordering, I noticed the bright red and yellow McDonald's NFC pad attached to the credit card terminal, but saw no mention of Apple Pay anywhere. So, I asked the cashier about it. She was a little confused, but then when I pulled out my phone and started talking about it more, she nodded.

"Oh yeah, that. We've been able to do that for a while," referencing Google Wallet. She didn't react at all when I tapped my iPhone 6 Plus to the terminal and giggled when the transaction went through.

At Panera, I, of course, picked the one register that wasn't NFC-equipped, but the cashier didn't mind moving me over to another register (props to the Panera in Dublin, California for being so cool about that despite the long lunch-hour line behind me). That's something you may encounter, too--that some registers can handle Apple Pay, but others can't.

I have a car and I filled up the tank at a Chevron a few days ago, but I didn't use Apple Pay. Why? Because there was no NFC terminal at the pump, and I assumed that my local Chevron just didn't have the technology yet. However, I later learned that this wasn't the case--the human-operated cash registers could handle it, meaning I would have had to go inside to the cashier to complete the transaction there. That's problematic for drivers who typically pay at the pump: It creates an extra step. It's not that I'm too lazy to walk over to the Chevron mini mart to pay for gas that way, but it's certainly not more convenient than just swiping my credit card there at pump. I'd love to pay for gas with Apple Pay due to the added security measures, so hopefully we'll see tap-to-pay terminals at the pumps soon.


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