In a term often reserved for interior design, women's fashions or ballroom dancing, Apple Pay users call the mobile pay system "elegant" because of how easy it is to use.
That ease has allowed Apple to avoid the ominous question that usually accompanies mobile payment plays: Swiping a payment card is pretty easy. Why would I want to change?
Apple can answer that question, even after only four months. Put all of the Near Field Communication technical protocols and tokenization security coding aside, as well as the politics of merchant adoption and mobile payments on card network rails, and you still have this: Apple Pay is easy to use.
Apple Pay can sell that ease with even more confidence this year in the U.S. because paying with Apple Pay through a smartphone is much easier and faster than inserting a new EMV chip-based card into a reader and waiting for the receipt before you can take the card out of the reader.
Canadian payments experts say the conversion from mag-stripe to EMV causes at least one big problem. Consumers forget their card is in a chip reader slot and walk away from the point of sale without their card. It's a new behavior to ingrain, one that isn't likely to be easier or faster than tapping a phone near an NFC reader.
Like it not, EMV card payments will represent the payment process at most U.S. point of sale terminals in the coming years, starting in October 2015. Even though we are talking about fractions of a second difference, transaction speed is vital at a POS.
And Apple Pay doesn't have to beat the time for EMV, though it certainly might. It only has to be just as easy or easier.
Chase, an Apple Pay supporter, reports payment time at the point of sale is reduced up to 40% through contactless technology. So the merchant incentive is there, whether it is a contactless card or a smartphone.
But considering we have smartphones in our hands or easily accessible in a pocket almost all of the time, the dawn of Apple Pay means it's easier to use a smartphone than pulling a plastic card from a physical wallet.
Apple Pay is also easier to use than other mobile payment systems. Google Wallet and the Softcard Mobile Wallet, while using NFC, still rely on the consumer entering a PIN to initiate a transaction.
Apple Pay uses a TouchID fingerprint scan and linking to a card in the wallet. The new Apple Watch, which is expected to launch in April, will call for an initial PIN to conduct Apple Pay transactions, but the PIN stays active as long as the same user is wearing the watch. An Apple Watch user will simply point the crown of the watch at the NFC reader.
Apple Pay's off to a great start-- the contactless mobile pay system accounts for two-thirds of the contactless transactions moving along card network rails, according to CEO Tim Cook. And that's after just four months in the public eye and being available on only some merchant terminals.
It doesn't hurt that Apple sold 74 million iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus handsets during its first fiscal quarter, which ended Dec. 27, 2014. That signals a significant chip in the Android operating network armor, as Samsung reported a 3% drop, selling only 76 million handsets that quarter, according to Juniper Research. Apple has done what it had hoped in terms of closing the market-share gap that so many feared would work against the company when it jumped into mobile payments.
Apple Pay still has work to do to lure more merchants. It has the card brands in its corner, which can work for them and, in some cases, against them when it comes to merchant relationships. Such is the case with some major retailers blocking Apple Pay and holding out for the MCX venture's upcoming CurrentC system based on QR codes.
But if the merchants are listening closely, they will hear what matters most for consumers and what may ultimately be the most important factor in the mobile wallet world: Apple Pay is easy to use.
David Heun is Associate Editor of PaymentsSource.