After a bit of a bumpy start to the year, what has become a now multi-week debacle with the FBI over that phone and a solid month of share prices below $100, it has been a while since Apple has managed a whole week of headlines that were, more or less, positive and even hopeful about innovation in the offing.
However, March seems to have brought some better news, including a seasonally appropriate thawing in investors’ view of Apple and a new run of encouraging news for Apple Pay, if a bit overshadowed by the buzz about the new iPhone, the fate of headphone jacks and the ongoing debate over privacy as a core value.
So, what should you be watching?
Apple Pay Reportedly Feels Some Merchant Love
The team at Piper Jaffray published some good news on Apple Pay. According to its survey of 507 vendors of merchant processing systems, Apple Pay is the most requested mobile digital payments service among retailers. According to the recently released figures, 44 percent of those vendors’ customers are using, or have asked about using, mobile digital payment systems.
Of that 44 percent, 67 percent requested Apple Pay specifically, 18 percent requested Google Wallet and Android Pay, 8 percent requested PayPal and 7 percent requested Samsung Pay.
“It is telling that PayPal, who has been the leader in digital payments, so significantly under-indexed Apple Pay and Android Pay,” Piper Jaffray Analyst Gene Munster said. “PayPal did announce recently at Mobile World Congress that it would be enabling NFC payments, though the timeline was not disclosed.”
Sort of suggesting that NFC and tapping, instead of swiping, is the holy grail for mobile payments, which is still very debatable. Just ask Starbucks and the mobile order-ahead movement that is bypassing the traditional point of sale entirely.
Now, there are a few important grains of salt to be taken here. The first is that Munster is one of the more enthusiastic Apple bulls out there, though a respected analyst. Also, it is notable that a minority of merchant customers expressed an interest in mobile payments at all — 44 percent, apparently.
And it matters a lot what consumers want and use, since we all know that is what merchants respond to most. We’ll get a peek at the latest consumer adoption of Apple Pay — our sixth quarter of results on that score — on March 17 at Innovation Project 2016.
Apple Pay got another big endorsement this week from the nation’s largest gas station chain, ExxonMobil.
Coming Soon To A Gas Pump Near You — Sort Of
Well, really, more coming soon to a smartphone app near you, since Apple Pay doesn’t quite work as a pay-at-the pump method in its normal tap-and-go fashion. But Apple Pay did get a major boost this week with the announcement that, after a brief trial period that was announced earlier this year, Apple Pay is rolling out as an available payment method at 6,000 Exxon stations nationwide.
To use Apple Pay, however, consumers will first need to download the ExxonMobil Speedpass+ app and enable location services.
Using those services, the app recognizes when it is at a ExxonMobil station and prompts the user to select a pump number or they can use the app to scan a code on the pump.
From there, it is gas pumping as normal, followed by authorizing payment with Apple Pay.
“Anything that involves the pump, from a hardware point of view, takes years to deploy and is extremely expensive,” Bryant Russell, Americas program manager for mobile payment and loyalty at ExxonMobil, said during a demo of the app at the San Mateo gas station.
The program’s initial rollout includes the aforementioned 6,000 stores in 46 states, with 2,000 more set to be added by the halfway point of 2016. All 10,000 ExxonMobil locations are supposed to be online by the end of the year. ExxonMobil is the world’s biggest oil and natural gas company.
The service’s next aim is to make it possible for consumers to purchase goods in-store and to link the Plenti loyalty program with the app.
Exxon is not the first brand to embrace Apple Pay. Chevron attempted a limited rollout in northern California with NFC-enabled pumps, but Exxon is the first mass rollout and the first based on in-app software changes, as opposed to hardware upgrades.
While ExxonMobil’s app is available on Android devices, it does not yet work with Google’s payments service, and there is no available timeline for adoption, according to Exxon.
And that is a pretty nice win for Apple Pay: entrance into a big, national retailer that everyone with a car is likely to interact with, at least at some point, at one of its 10,000 or so locations that its competitors don’t get by default. If users will flock to the Speedpass+ payment method remains to be seen, though the ability to pay from inside the car does pose an obvious benefit that Exxon’s Russell pointed out.
“I live in Houston, Texas, so it’s blazing hot in the summertime,” Russell said. “I would rather not be out here answering all those prompts, dipping cards, sweating.”
And though we live in Boston, Massachusetts, where it is usually dreadfully cold in the winter, we take his point about the dipping, answering and discomfort.
But only if that came with someone to pump the gas, since he in Houston and us in Boston still have to brave the elements to get said cars gassed up and ready to go.
This is not the first of such adoptions that Apple Pay has seen. Starbucks and Dunkin’ offer Apple Pay in a similar way, and it might just be opening a window not just into how Apple Pay may really play out but what the mobile wallet win will actually look like. Which is in an app interacting with the physical point of sale in a very different way.
Just as we’ve said from the jump.
For this week, however, it is enough to note that Apple Pay seems to be pivoting. Let the mobile wallet wars really begin!