After unveiling its new credit-card reader at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco earlier this month, Square tested this newfangled contraption at a Blue Bottle coffee shop in Mint Plaza, just down the street.
The reader doesn’t accept ordinary credit cards. It takes a newer breed of card equipped with an EMV chip for greater security, and it accepts Apple Pay, that much-hyped means of making card payments via the iPhone or the fledgling Apple Watch. With so many Apple faithful descending on the nearby Moscone Center for WWDC—the centerpiece of Apple’s year—Blue Bottle provided an unusually ripe proving ground for the new reader and the larger push towards Apple Pay and other “contactless” payments systems.
According to Jesse Dorogusker, who oversaw the creation of the new reader as Square’s head of hardware, the tests revealed some “weird” behavior among those paying for some mighty good coffee with their personal Apple gadgets. Some people touched their wrists to the reader with their Apple Watches facing up, before realizing that the Watch doesn’t send a payment unless it’s facing down. “I’ve seen it,” Dorogusker says, shrugging his shoulders. “The new ritual is something we have to fine tune.” And sometimes, when they positioned their phones and Watches in the correct way and a payment went through flawlessly, they’re weren’t quite sure that it had. By the time they looked at their phone or watch display, he says, the notification saying they had paid successfully was already gone. “You have to adapt to the experience being too fast.”
The Blue Bottle trial run was hardly a widespread test—Square kept its reader in the shop for only a week—and it may say more about the Apple Watch than Apple Pay. But it provides a nice metaphor for contactless mobile payments as a whole. Apple Pay and its ilk will take some getting used to. As Dorogusker says: “Changing buyer behavior is hard.”
In fact, many question whether such services are any more desirable than physical credit and debit cards in the first place. “So few people use Apple Pay, and merchant availability isn’t necessarily the reason.” says Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, an analyst with Boston-based research firm Forrester. “It’s just not that much easier.”