Remember when you needed cash on-hand to make a purchase, and your watch could do little more than tell time? Today, the once-humble wristwatch can make calls, manage your schedule, direct you to your destination, keep you abreast of the news and weather, and track your health and fitness. And, with a flick of the wrist, you can use some watches to pay for everything from restaurant meals to the spin classes you take to work them off. One day, your watch might even make your wallet obsolete.
The mobile pay market has exploded in recent years, and analysts predict $720 billion in transactions by 2017. Several Apple, Samsung, and Android-enabled smartphones already come equipped with mobile pay platforms that let you make purchases in stores, restaurants, and other retailers, without having to fork over cash or credit cards. Yet the wearable market has lagged behind, and currently only two wearables available in the U.S. come equipped with these pay technologies.
The list of pay-enabled wearables is expected to grow quickly. And once it does, more consumers will experience the benefits of convenience and enhanced security these devices promise.
Here’s a look at wearables available this shopping season that offer mobile pay, and a few that are on the way.
Apple Pay is Apple’s first and only mobile payment system. It uses a technology called near field communication (NFC) to communicate with point-of-sale systems in stores, allowing consumers to conduct transactions simply by holding their device in front of a NFC-compatible pay terminal.
More than 2,500 banks and credit card companies have signed on to Apple Pay, including Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Chase, Citi, and Wells Fargo. Though it’s still not available everywhere you shop, the list of retailers, restaurants, and hotels that accept Apple Pay is growing — up to about 700,000 today. You can use your Apple Watch to buy produce at your local ACME supermarket, a designer dress at Bloomingdale’s, or an airline ticket on jetBlue, to name just a few of the places where it’s accepted.
If you already have Apple Pay installed on your iPhone (models 5 or 6), and you want to carry it over to a wearable for convenience, you have only one choice — Apple Watch. The watch doesn’t have a fingerprint touch sensor, like the iPhone — you’ll need to create a four-digit security code to access the pay feature, or press the fingerprint sensor on the phone to sync it up with the watch. Once you get past this security checkpoint, the pay feature is easy to use. Just double-click the button on the side of the watch, and a list of activated credit cards pops up. Swipe to the left or right to pick one, hold your wrist in front of the terminal until you hear a tone, and then charge away. As long as the watch stays on your wrist, you don’t have to re-enter the passcode.
Each time you use Apple Pay, it creates a unique security code. Card information is encrypted, so even if your watch is stolen the information is useless. The merchant never receives your account number or name, so the nefarious cashier who might be angling to steal your credit card info is out of luck. Even Apple stays out of the loop — the company doesn’t collect any transaction data.
These security layers, as sophisticated as they might be, aren’t foolproof. There have been reports of credit card fraud with Apple Pay. Thieves have stolen credit cards or purchased stolen numbers online, entered them into their iPhones, and then convinced banks to authorize the cards on their phones.
The Apple Watch’s convenience and elegant design don’t come cheap, but Apple devotees don’t seem to mind. Estimates of sales in fourth-quarter 2015 alone hover around 4 million. And the Apple Pay technology seems to be a big hit among those who’ve used it. In a survey of 1,000 Apple Watch owners, 42 percent called it “convenient,” and 51 percent were so awed by the experience, they described it as “magical.”
Google was the original pioneer in the mobile wallet market when it released Google Wallet in 2011. But following a tepid consumer response to the technology, the company recently released a revamped version of the system, called Android Pay. Like Google Wallet, Android Pay lets you store all your credit cards, but the new system promises to offer greater speed, security, and convenience than its predecessor.
Android Pay is available on more smartphones than Apple Pay, and the company says it can be used at more than a million locations. Using the app (which is already loaded on most Android smartphones), you can add a credit or debit card just by taking a picture of it. When it’s time to check out at a store that accepts Android pay, you simply tap the phone against the reader and you’re done.
Now, here’s the hitch. Android still lags behind Apple when it comes to wearables. Though the Android platform works on an entire line of smartwatches, as of now none of them offers Android Pay capability. That should change soon, as Android-compatible wearables are redesigned to accommodate NFC technology. And, with a generally lower price point than Apple, Android-enabled wearables may gain more of a base among customers skittish about forking out several hundred dollars for smartwatch.
Samsung also has a line of smartwatches, but the only wearable that’s compatible with its mobile payment service — Samsung Pay — is the recently released Gear S2. With its round face, the S2 resembles a traditional wristwatch — albeit a futuristic one — but it has a lot to offer beneath the surface. A rotating bezel ring lets you navigate through email, weather, a calendar, fitness tracking, and other features. The smartwatch also has built-in Wi-Fi, 4GB storage, and an integrated NFC chip to handle payments via Samsung Pay.
To make a purchase, you’ll need a four-digit PIN number, but you won’t have to re-input the number as long as you keep the watch on your wrist. The initial model only works at NFC-enabled terminals, but the company promises the next incarnation will be accepted at non-NFC terminals, which will vastly broaden its reach. Samsung is slowly developing partnerships with banks and credit card companies, and is currently supported by Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Bank of America, City, and U.S. Bank, with 14 additional banks soon to be added. The company estimates the number of merchant locations accepting Samsung Pay at around 30 million worldwide.
Apple, Android, and Samsung aren’t the only three companies pursuing wearable mobile payment systems. If you don’t want to pay for an Apple Watch or wait for an Android Pay-enabled watch, you do have other options. Pebble Technology — which financed its Pebble smartwatch via a Kickstarter campaign — allows you to pay using your PayPal account. The slim Jawbone UP4 fitness tracker incorporates an NFC chip that lets you tap to pay with any American Express card.
A Canadian company is working on a wearable with a unique payment verification method. Its Nymi Band, which is currently in pilot testing, uses your heart rate to prove you’re you. The Nymi is being tested in Canada, but the company plans to bring it to the U.S. soon.
Scottish knitwear company, Lyle & Scott, has taken wearable pay technology in an entirely new direction. Its Contactless Jacket doesn’t just keep you warm — it comes with a Barclaycard bPay chip on the right sleeve that lets you make small purchases with a registered Visa or MasterCard. The hitch — this shop-capable coat is only available in the UK for now.
November 22, 2015