A new update coming to the iPhone will turn the device into an always-on contactless payment terminal, Apple announced Tuesday.
Coming later this year to the U.S., the new Tap to Pay will work exactly the way it sounds: Instead of asking people to bump a smartphone or credit card to a special terminal, sellers will be able to take payments using only their iPhones and an app.
Notably, the feature won’t be limited to just Apple Pay and other iPhones.
“The new capability will empower millions of merchants across the U.S., from small businesses to large retailers, to use their iPhone to seamlessly and securely accept Apple Pay, contactless credit and debit cards, and other digital wallets through a simple tap to their iPhone — no additional hardware or payment terminal needed,” Apple said in the announcement.
To make it work, the tech company partnered with payment platforms like Stripe, and third-party developers will have access to tools, so app makers and other payment systems can support Tap to Pay. Stripe’s support will launch this spring and extend to its Shopify Point of Sale app as well.
The update marks a change in Apple’s typically closed and guarded treatment of NFC (near field communication) hardware, which has come built into every iPhone since 2014. The system, which allows shoppers to pay with phones and smartwatches, has been cordoned off from other apps, secured strictly under the company’s control.
The pivot now may not be a change of heart, as much as a show of confidence in the Apple Pay system — and likely recognition of a deeper opportunity by opening things up. While bopping smartphones to transact goes back at least a decade or more, it took the pandemic to turn contactless payments into a retail essential. Now more people are accustomed to paying this way.
Now, Apple is banking on more people wanting to accept payments this way, too. That’s an opening to push forward and grow the Apple Pay footprint. As it is, more than 90 percent of retailers in the U.S. already accept its payments system, according to the company. Who else is left, but indie sellers or perhaps hobbyists? Business requirements might dictate eligibility to open accounts and accept payments, but that’s not clear right now.
As for established retailers, the tech might finally put an end to dreaded traffic jams at the register. Employees would be able to check out shoppers anywhere on the premises, whether in lines, on the sales floor or at curbside pickup, without a large investment.
The company believes it will “unlock new checkout experiences using the power, security and convenience of iPhone,” said Jennifer Bailey, vice president of Apple Pay and Apple Wallet. “In collaboration with payment platforms, app developers and payment networks, we’re making it easier than ever for businesses of all sizes — from solopreneurs to large retailers — to seamlessly accept contactless payments and continue to grow their business.”
Naturally, when Tap to Pay rolls out later this year, Apple Stores will be the first to welcome the tech.