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Apple Pay vs. Google Wallet: hands-on experiences at McDonald's

Apple launched its new virtual wallet service with the iOS 8.1 update yesterday while Google has had its system running for a couple of years. ZDNet's Matt Miller took two devices to McDonald's and was able to pay without a real wallet.
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By Matthew Miller, Contributor on
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1 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Visiting McDonald's with an iPhone 6 Plus and Moto X

Apple Pay launched yesterday with the iOS 8.1 release. I updated my Apple iPhone 6 Plus, grabbed the new Moto X loaded with Google Wallet, and headed out to test these two virtual wallets at a local McDonald's restaurant.

I have been using Google Wallet on Nexus devices since late 2011, but this service has been held back by wireless carrier restrictions and a lack of promotion from Google. Thus, I have been looking forward to Apple's new Apple Pay system with hopes that its advertising and reality distortion field would get companies signed up so at least one of these systems could see success.

The new Apple Pay service has broad support with the potential to finally bring some attention to the capability that Android users have had for a couple of years while increasing usage among consumers.

Apple Pay experiences

Apple Pay setup: There is no Apple Pay application on your iPhone after you perform the update. It is integrated into Passbook and with Apple Pay integration I just might finally start using this application for more than Starbucks and AMC movies.

After launching Passbook, you can choose to add a credit or debit card to your iPhone. There are four fields to fill out on the card details page and Apple fills out your name automatically. If you have a credit card tied to your iTunes purchases then that should also appear automatically as a default payment card.

You can enter the card details manually or simply take a photo of your card. My card number and expiration date fields were then populated by the camera snapshot. The security code was required to be manually entered.

My Costco American Express was accepted in seconds and is my new default payment option. Unfortunately, my debit card from USAA bank was rejected since my bank is currently not yet set up to support Apple Pay. The following are eligible in the US:

  • American Express
  • Bank of America
  • Capital One Bank
  • Chase (Visa only)
  • Citi
  • Merrill Lynch (credit only)
  • US Trust
  • Wells Fargo
     

I understand that some banks have special authorization and verification steps such as text message PINs, dedicated application installs, and more. The Apple Pay system is new and there are still some things to work out.

Making a purchase with Apple Pay: After getting at least one funding source set up, purchases are quite easy. There is no NFC radio toggle to switch so NFC is always turned on. It may be off in airplane mode, but I have yet to try that out. Simply have the cashier ring up your purchase and then tap on or near the payment terminal.

You will see a prompt to activate your Touch ID if you haven't already placed your programmed finger on the Touch ID button. After that, the display will show that your transaction was successful and your receipt should then print out. You do not have to turn on your display or enter any kind of PIN; simply press the Touch ID button and place your iPhone close to the pay terminal.

I was successful with one of three attempts at McDonald's. I even tried using Apple Pay without a case and with a Griffin Survivor rugged case to see if a case impacted the ability to make a successful purchase. Honestly, I don't know why only one purchase worked since I had the iPhone Touch ID activated and it was touching the pay terminal sensor.

Update: I just heard from a representative from McDonald's corporate office and they stated that McDonald's has software set up in the register to block a second transaction and/or third without a manager password.  This is designed to stop an employee from swiping a credit card more than necessary to complete a transaction. Thus, when it failed the first time I should have had the manager clear the transaction to start over. The failure may have been my fault as I tried taking screenshots while making the purchase. In any case, it does work and I will continue to use Apple Pay where I can.

Google Wallet experiences

Google Wallet setup: Google Wallet setup is basically the same as Apple Pay with the ability to scan or capture a photo of your card. I have my debit card, American Express card, and bank account set up with Google Wallet.

Making a purchase with Google Wallet: There are hundreds of thousands of locations that accept Google Wallet payments. The McDonald's I went to had a pay terminal with no special logos or anything on it and it worked for both Google Wallet and Apple Pay.

First, make sure that your NFC radio is enabled on your Android device. You then have to unlock your device, if you have it secured, and tap it on the payment terminal. Google Wallet worked every single time without any hesitation at all, which matches all of my experiences over the last year when carriers stopped restricting things for the most part.

The transaction was quick and easy with a summary receipt appearing on the Android device after the purchase was made.

Google Wallet and Apple Pay also both support loyalty cards and gift cards with Google Wallet also tracking your online purchases.

Why are these virtual wallets better than a credit card?

A reader below asked a great question; Why use these instead of a credit card? Here are some of my thoughts on why I plan to use these methods and you should consider them too:

  • These payment systems are a bit quicker and easier than handing over a card, having it swiped, and then having to print and sign a receipt.
  • These virtual systems are more secure than credit cards. A virtual card number is used for these transactions, the vendor never gets access directly to your card or bank, there is no way for someone to copy down your card information to use later, and people seem to know if their phone is lost faster than if they misplace a card.
  • Also, no one else can use your phone to make payments. It is either secured with a PIN or fingerprint. With a card, someone can easily use it for online purchases and since few merchants even check the signature thieves can also use a card in stores.
     

Browse the gallery for a closer look at the transactions:

01-card details
02-card capture info
03-oops no support
04-making a purchase
05-touch id is integral

 

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2 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Adding cards to Apple Pay

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You can capture a photo to bring in card details

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Card verification takes a few seconds

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Oops, most banks are not yet ready to go with Apple Pay

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These banks are ready to support Apple Pay

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Making a purchase at McDonald's

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Successful purchase summarized on the lock screen

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Touch ID is an integral part of Apple Pay

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Past transactions also appear in Passbook

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More card details can be entered for online purchases

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Google Wallet has been around for a while

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Debit and credit cards can be added, as well as banks

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You can control your PIN security

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A virtual card is used to pay the vendor

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