Apple Pay UK Launch Guide: How It Works, How to Get It, Which Shops and Banks Support It

By James O Malley on at

The Apple Pay UK launch has arrived (July 14th), making it easier for us to part with our cash following a successful launch in the States. But what is it all about? And how will it work?

What is Apple Pay?

Apple Pay is Apple's new payment system that works through your iPhone or even your Apple Watch. It works in a similar way to contactless card payments: In a shop all you have to do is wave your phone in front of chip & pin machine (assuming it supports contactless) whilst holding your finger on the fingerprint scanner - and payment will be made.

The service will also be available for online/in-app payments - with apps prompting you for a simple fingerprint to pay for your goods.

What's the Point?

Apple's stated intention is to eliminate the wallet, so that all you have to carry around is your iPhone. Payments are a key part of that, as carrying cards and cash are the main reasons we have wallets.

To be perfectly honest, at the moment Apple Pay is probably a bigger deal for America than it is over here. While we have had chip & pin and contactless payments for many years, many places in the States are still using only magnetic stripe card readers. But even for Brits, there are arguably security benefits to using Apple Pay.

When Does It Launch?

The ground work for Apple Pay landed with the iOS 8.4 roll out, which Apple released earlier this month. So simply download the software update to your phone, and fingers crossed you'll be good to go when the roll-out proper begins. According to a rogue HSBC tweet, that UK launch was set for Tuesday July 14th, confirmed as the service went live.

Which Banks Will Support It?

Apple has announced that launch partners include American Express, Nationwide, Natwest, RBS, Santander, Ulster Bank and MBNA.

Despite earlier reports that HSBC and First Direct (which is owned by HSBC) will support Apple Pay at launch, this now doesn't appear to be the case. Apparently the bank and its subsidiary will be added to Apple Pay later this month. So not too long to wait, hopefully.

Bank of Scotland, Halifax, Lloyds, TSB, M&S Bank, and MBNA** will all be joining Apple Pay later in the year – likely in the autumn.

There are a couple of notable hold-outs: The Co-Op bank and Barclays. The latter's reason is more interesting. Rather than go down the Apple Pay route, it appears to be trying to launch its own payment system called bPay, which embeds a contactless-style chip in your choice of a key-fob, wristband or sticker which can be stuck on anything you like (such as a phone).

Which shops will support it?

Most of the big chains will be supporting Apple Pay including McDonalds, Costa, Starbucks, Subway, KFC, Pret, Boots, Post Office, Marks & Spencers, Lidl, Spar, Wagamama, New Look, Waitrose, BP Petrol Stations, and JD Sports.

Oh, and don't worry, you'll also be able to use Apple Pay for a cheeky Nandos.

You'll also be able to use Apple Pay in place of an Oyster card on the London Underground and bus network.

We also expect broadly speaking for Apple Pay to work wherever there are contactless payments available, but this is likely to be less consistent.

Which devices do I need to use it?

To use Apple Pay in shops, you'll need one of Apple's newer devices: An iPhone 6, 6 Plus or an Apple Watch.

To use Apple Pay to buy things in apps, you can use either an iPhone 6, 6 Plus, iPad Air 2, or iPad Mini 3. You can't buy things in apps using the Apple Watch. Presumably Apple did this to stop you accidentally spending money when swiping at the screen with your fat fingers.

Older devices appear to be out of luck at the moment, as they don't feature the required Secure Element chip which generates a code to transmit your credit or debit card number securely. More on that "SE" chip coming up...

How much can I spend using it?

Payments will initially be capped at £20 - the same as contactless payments. This is due to rise to £30 later this year in line with contactless too. We've no doubt that Apple will be lobbying banks to lift this restriction - which makes sense when all you have to do is wave a card that could be stolen, but is a bit odd when Apple is promising the security of a finger print. So expect this to rise again at some point.

Is it secure?

Apple reckons that Apple Pay is more secure the traditional card payments. With regular card payments, your card number and other details are transmitted to merchants, which could conceivably be vulnerable. With Apple Pay, your phone generates a unique "Device Account Number", which is what the merchant sees, as well as a transaction-specific ID code. This means that if someone wanted to break into your bank account, even if they could access a shop's most recent transactions to get your data, it would be useless.

Your Device Account Number is apparently stored encrypted on a "Secure Element", a completely separate chip inside your phone, so there's no way for hackers to get at it.

Apple Pay could turn out to be especially useful for peace of mind when dealing with smaller companies that may prove easier targets for fraudsters than mega-corporations who are paranoid about security, like the banks and Apple itself. In essence, it means less organisations will know your card numbers, and will mean less annoying calls to the bank to block your card if it gets stolen.

Will Apple know what I buy?

No! Apple says that details of what you buy is between you and the merchant. Apparently your Passbook will show you your most recent purchases - but this isn't uploaded to Apple, and can be deleted. So feel free to head to the Microsoft store and buy as many Windows devices as you like - your iPhone won't start to shame you about it.

How do I set it up?

Simply head into Settings and go to the "Passbook & Apple Pay" section (Passbook will soon be renamed Wallet, so it could be called "Wallet & Apple Pay", depending on which version of iOS you're running). There you can setup your debit or credit card to use with Apple Pay. Easy!

** An earlier version of the article stated that MBNA was not part of the first wave of banks to work with Apple Pay. This was incorrect and the article has been amended to reflect that.