Apple Pay is now available in Canada for people with American Express cards using the latest iPhone models.
The mobile payments app allows users to upload their credit card data into their phone and use it for tap-to-pay systems at supermarkets, corner stores, and big retailers.
The tech company, however, requires the co-operation of the banks and card issuers in order to make the system work, and Canada's large financial institutions have so far been silent on working with Apple.
Jennifer Bailey, Apple's vice-president for Apple Pay, said the company is starting with American Express in Canada and Australia because it's both the card issuer and the payment-network operator, so co-ordination is easier. With Visa and MasterCard, individual banks issue the cards, and each bank has its own way of verifying a customer's identity when setting up Apple Pay, for instance.
Only American Express cards issued by Amex Bank of Canada can be activated for use with Apple Pay in Canada.
The contactless payment service is only compatible with Apple devices with built-in wireless technology known as near-field communication, or NFC: the iPhone 6 and 6S models as well as the Apple Watch.
Apple Pay can also be used for in-app purchases.
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It is compatible with 85 per cent of the payment terminals from Canada's largest payment processor, Moneris Solutions, including those at Indigo bookstores and London Drugs. Moneris says it services 350,000 merchant locations across Canada.
American Express accounted for just five per cent of Canadian credit and debit card spending in 2014, according to the Nilson Report, a publication that covers payments systems worldwide. That put it far behind Visa (41 per cent), Interac (32 per cent) and MasterCard (22 per cent).
In the U.S., where Apple Pay started in October 2014, the service will expand Tuesday to more than 100 additional card issuers — mostly smaller banks and credit unions. Apple Pay already accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover cards from most major banks. In the U.K., Tesco and TSB banks will join Apple Pay on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Apple is working with makers of various payment machines to bring tapping capabilities to additional merchants, small and large. When Apple Pay launched, the U.S. had 200,000 tap-capable machines. That's expected to surpass 1.5 million this year. The growth includes about 100,000 small to medium-sized merchants each month, Apple said.
Apple said Tuesday that Cinnabon will add Apple Pay to all its U.S. locations next year, while Domino's company-owned pizza stores will get it by year's end. Earlier, Apple said Starbucks will conduct a pilot this year, with a broader rollout next year, while KFC will launch next spring.
Despite the momentum, several million more U.S. retailers still have older machines that lack the right technology.
Paying at restaurants
Even if a merchant has the equipment, it's often located behind a counter, out of arm's reach. At sit-down restaurants, a customer needs to get up to make the tap, as opposed to leaving a card with a waiter, at least in the U.S. (In Canada and many European countries, it's common for staff to bring a portable card machine to your table.)
Addressing that will require a combination of approaches, Bailey said. She said Chili's is installing tablets at tables so people can order and pay right there, starting in the spring. The restaurant-reservation service OpenTable already lets diners use its app to pay at some restaurants. Other U.S. restaurants, she said, will embrace portable card machines.
"You'll see restaurants really look to innovate," Bailey said, adding that restaurants can squeeze in more customers with faster payments, and customers are happier if they don't have to wait for the check.