Business

At first impression, Apple Pay is lovable but limited

COMMERCIAL IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR DISNEY STORE - The magic of Apple Pay comes to Disney Store. A guest makes a purchase at a Disney Store in Glendale, CA using the new Apple Pay technology, which brings an easy, secure and private way to make payments. The new technology rolled out to Disney Store locations nationwide on Monday, October 20, with the launch of Apple’s iOS 8.1 software update. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for Disney Store/AP Images)
AP
A customer uses the new Apple Pay mobile payment system at a Disney Store in Glendale, Calif.

My iPhone 6 just turned into a credit card. Today’s the day Apple Inc. launched the new Apple Pay service. That means that owners of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus smartphones can now make purchases at thousands of retail outlets, simply by tapping their phones against a payment terminal.

I spent an hour and a few bucks with Apple Pay on Monday afternoon, enough time to conclude that Apple fans are going to be thrilled. Apple Pay is in the finest tradition of the company’s technology: simple, efficient, delightful.

Apple Pay works only with the newest iPhones, because it uses a special chip that’s found only in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. This chip transmits encrypted financial data to the retail store’s checkout system. It’s not even remotely new; Google Inc. introduced a similar system years ago on many Android smartphones, but it’s never caught on. Then again, Google Wallet has never been quite this seamless.

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Setting up the service requires downloading a software update for the iPhone. Then the user must load his credit card information into Passbook, the iPhone’s digital wallet.

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I made my first test in a CVS drugstore in downtown Boston. To pay for a candy bar, I simply touched the phone to the payment terminal at a self-checkout kiosk. The Apple Pay app launched itself and asked to read my thumbprint, using the phone’s built-in fingerprint scanner. Less than two seconds later, I was the proud owner of a Snickers bar.

I went on a rather pathetic spending spree -- French fries at McDonald’s, another candy bar at the Star Market on Morrissey Boulevard. Always, the experience was instantaneous, and painless.

Apple just announced a massive surge in iPhone sales; Apple Pay will keep the good times rolling. But the new feature has one major drawback; you can’t use it at most retailers. About 220,000 American retail stores are compatible with Apple Pay, out of 3.8 million retail establishments in the US. Framingham office supply chain Staples on Monday said it’ll introduce Apple Pay in “a few weeks.” But it’s already up and running at Whole Foods, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Subway and McDonald’s. And I wouldn’t be surprised if these early adopters got a little boost in sales, from iPhone owners eager to try out their cool new toy.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.