Apple Pay Lead

We learned this week that Apple Pay has reached a new milestone with 2 million locations accepting the iPhone and Apple Watch-based mobile wallet. This an impressive climb for the service that launched with just over 220,000 locations on board in fall 2014, but what does it look like in everyday use and what’s next for Apple Pay?

For me personally, the Apple Pay rollout was pretty smooth starting in October 2014. I already had an iPhone 6 so I updated the software that turned on Apple Pay and was able to add my debit card. Luckily I already banked with one of the handful of major partners signed up so I could start paying with my iPhone from day one; Apple has since added nearly 1,000 banks and credit unions.

I was also impressed at the number of businesses ready for Apple Pay from day one. I live in a Gulf Coast town in South Mississippi with a population of roughly 18,000 people — it’s not exactly the center of Silicon Valley — and I was able to spot four Apple Pay businesses on day one: McDonalds, Walgreens, Subway, and a local drug storage with contactless-ready terminals.

Now that we’re into year two of Apple Pay, the list of businesses in my own town has expanded.

I wrote a year ago about the awkwardness of using Apple Pay versus swiping a card when it attracts attention or fails, but I’ve had few experiences like those I detailed in the year since.

Walgreens adding their rewards card to Apple Pay has actually made checkout smoother than before. Previously you’d have to type in your phone number or scan a QR barcode from your card or phone. Now it works by waving your iPhone or Apple Watch near the terminal. (You do a separate wave to process your payment; these two steps could be combined, but Walgreens opts for two steps.)

Apple Pay Walgreens Balance Rewards card

My local grocery store chain updated their payment terminals to accept contactless payments including Apple Pay (but they warn you not to use the chip reader!) so I shop there much more often instead of going to the town over for Walmart which still isn’t on board.

And when I snuck out of the house to pickup breakfast for my wife and myself a few weekends ago only to learn my car battery needed a jump, discovering that I could pay for the battery cables at the local Advanced Auto Parts with Apple Pay turned a rather sour experience into a positive one for me.

A couple of towns over, I’ve used Apple Pay to checkout at both Best Buy and GameStop (and probably RadioShack before they disappeared).

I’m not seeing a rapid increase in adoption in every day business just yet — I’m still swiping my debit card way more than I’d like — but there’s noticeable movement here. Square’s new Apple Pay reader for small businesses should certainly help, too, as the mobile credit card readers are already popular at local cafes, bakeries, and festivals.

Square Apple Pay Reader

Other Apple Pay experiences are still mixed. Target and Starbucks both let me use Apple Pay within their iOS apps to place orders, but I still can’t pay in their stores with Apple Pay. That’s already changed for Starbucks at some locations, however, and Target‘s CEO has expressed desire to support Apple Pay in stores following the last holiday season.

Then there’s the car. I probably wasted way too much gas during Apple Pay’s first week just driving around hunting gas stations that accepted contactless payment methods at the pump (I know, move outside of the U.S. and this is everywhere). Even as new gas stations seemingly pop up regularly, payment terminals at the pump still aren’t a thing around me.

Chevron announced plans to integrate Apple Pay into its pumps last year and has at least a few locations already up, but I don’t happen to live near any. Apple CEO Tim Cook shared that Apple Pay was also coming to Exxon Mobil stations soon, but as an in-app payment method with the Speedpass+ app. We may be all driving (or riding in self-driving) electric Apple Cars before Apple Pay reaches most U.S. gas stations.

Taxis, Uber, and Lyft aren’t really a thing where I live, either, but I’ve used Apple Pay when hitching a ride in various big cities over the last year. Uber and Lyft both let you use Apple Pay in their apps (although Uber’s Apple Watch app is limited without storing a debit card), but I actually prefer paying in cabs with contactless payment terminals. The problem is you can’t always tell which cabs accept Apple Pay, but it does feel cool when they do.

My colleague Benjamin Mayo and I agree on one thing with Apple Pay: the experience is absolutely best at self-checkout terminals. (Well, and anytime I accidentally leave the house without my wallet.) There’s no delay in explaining Apple Pay to cashiers, saying yes, that’s an Apple Watch, or any other awkwardness. I used Apple Pay at the Winn-Dixie grocery store self-checkout line a few towns over before, and the experience is just great.

Apple Pay Apple Watch 16-9

We’re already deep into Apple Pay’s second year and there appears to be new feature and innovations on the horizon.

Apple’s rumored to be working on a peer-to-peer payment feature that would let you send friends and family cash using Apple Pay, and ATMs are adding NFC readers that will let you withdraw actual cash using your iPhone or Apple Watch in place of a debit card.

Apple’s also continuously adding new banks and credit union partners, which means more and more people are able to use Apple Pay (I’m considering dropping one bank account that I’ve had for years because the bank still isn’t on board). And the iPhone 5se that we’re expecting to see next month will bring Apple Pay to the 4-inch form factor for the first time.

In addition to the 2 million number we learned this week, Tim Cook shared last week that there are 5 million contactless-pay ready terminals in the countries where Apple Pay is available. Speaking of which, Apple Pay has only expanded outside of the U.S. to the U.K. (and Australia plus Canada for American Express cardholders). China’s huge and being planned next,

Apple Pay London The Tube

But it’s clear that the one thing readers (including myself) want to see most from Apple Pay is more places to use it. Okay, that and Apple Pay at drive-throughs of fast food chains that accept Apple Pay.

The move to debit and credit cards with chips and terminals that accept them in the U.S. has been a helpful factor, but there’s plenty of progress left to be made. The funny thing here is that contactless payment terminals are more popular in countries without Apple Pay yet.

So that’s been my Apple Pay experience from launch day to now. Time to go buy some milk with my iPhone.

How has Apple Pay changed for you and what do you want to see in the future? Let us know in the comments.

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