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A more interesting use for Apple Pay

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry | Sept. 12, 2014
Did you know Apple announced some phones this week? Did you know Apple announced a watch this week?

Did you know Apple announced some phones this week? Did you know Apple announced a watch this week?

Those aren't actually the most interesting announcements Apple made this week, if only because they were mostly expected.

Unexpected but was much more interesting was Apple's new payments service, Apple Pay.

Apple Pay is a standard mobile wallet solution like Google Wallet and Square and similar offerings from companies like PayPal. Wave your phone at the counter and presto! You've paid. Apple is touting its user experience and higher security as a selling point — with Touch ID, your fingerprint is your identification (as I predicted, biometrics are changing security).

Will it take off? Who knows, it's Apple. 

The reason why it shouldn't take off is because mobile wallets are a geek fantasy that doesn't solve any actual problem that real people have. Swiping a card is every bit as convenient as waving a phone. A phone that is just like a credit card except it doesn't work when you run out of battery is not a compelling value proposition.

At the same time, Apple has a magic for confounding expectations and making people love stuff that seem totally superfluous a priori.

But that's not actually what's most interesting about Apple Pay. 

What's most interesting about Apple Pay is what it could yet become — a one-touch payment system for everything. 

After all, believe it or not, Apple doesn't just make mobile devices. It also makes computers. And it also makes a browser. 

One thing that the web has lacked from the beginning has been one-click payments inside the browser. Marc Andreessen, the inventor of Netscape, reportedly said that it was on the feature to-do-list and somehow slipped through the cracks in those crazy days in the 1990s. 

We have been trying to come up with hacks and tricks and solutions to figure out online payments, but never with much success. It pretty much only works on Amazon — and in the Apple App Store. That has decimated the web. Think of how much one-click payments have changed the economics of mobile apps versus the economics of the web. Because paying for stuff is easy and not a hassle, people are much more willing to pay for things. Things like micropayments become possible, and are the basis for very large businesses. 

The internet's lack of a built-in one-click payment solution has actually been very harmful. We'll never know what kind of internet we would have gotten with it. 

It's certainly been very harmful for media, which are basically forced to rely on a free model, in brutal competition with the rest of the web for the Incredible Shrinking Banner Ad Dollar. That, in turn, has had an impact on public discourse and democracy.

 

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