The Horrible, No Good Apple Pay War No One Signed Up For

The Horrible No Good Apple Pay War No One Signed Up For

Earlier this week, we walked you through the stridently awful Apple Pay alternative being cooked up by some US retailers. It is dumb and bad, but as a recent New York Times report indicates, it's also not going anywhere any time soon. But not because anyone necessarily wants it.

It's probably helpful to do a quick overview, both because the proceedings are slightly complicated and because sometimes you can end a great dumbness just by talking about it over and over again until everyone realises just how dumb it is. So! Let's keep talking.

In this corner you have wireless payments, powered by NFC technology, championed by Apple Pay because previous versions (helloooooo Google Wallet) never took off. These are Virtuous and Good and make your life easier. In the opposite corner, you have something called CurrentC, a meaningless (on multiple levels) name given to a horrific payments system developed by a consortium of major retailers like Walmart, Best Buy, Target, and CVS. It is Greedy and Dumb and relies on QR codes, which should tell you most of what you need to know.

Big corporate entities fighting! Boring, right? But here's where you come in.

So long, choice

The band of big box brothers pushing CurrentC is known as MCX, and has been around for years now. In fact, while CurrentC won't be implemented until next year, it's been a known quantity for at least the last few months. Nobody paid it any mind, though, because there was no need to, because there are sacks of potatoes with a more compelling narrative.

And then Apple Pay happened! Apple Pay, which put wireless payment powers in millions and millions of phones all at once. While Google Wallet and Softcard had given plenty of Android owners mobile wallets already, it was the critical mass of iPhone 6 and 6 Pluses marching into McDonald's that caused a minor panic among the MCX multitudes.

In the face of a widely adopted payment platform that would make it easier for their customers to give them money in exchange for goods and services, CVS and Rite Aid opted to pull the plug on NFC payments in their stores altogether. No more paying with your phone, at all, until CurrentC shows up sometime next year.

For the visual learners, that means that instead of this:

The Horrible No Good Apple Pay War No One Signed Up For

You will be stuck with this:

The Horrible No Good Apple Pay War No One Signed Up For

This would be bad enough if it were simply a matter of limiting your choices out of self-interest. But what makes it unconscionable is that CurrentC is objectively terrible. Don't believe me? Here are the steps you'll need to complete a CurrentC purchase:

  1. Download CurrentC.
  2. Give CurrentC your bank account information. (No seriously).
  3. Hand the cashier the items you want to purchase.
  4. Open up your CurrentC app.
  5. Open the QR code scanner on your CurrentC app
  6. Point your phone at the cashier's screen.
  7. Scan the QR code.
  8. If the QR code doesn't work, enter a numeric code by hand.
  9. Just pay with your credit card next time because honestly.

It would be easier to pay for everything by counting out nickels and lining them all on the counter face-up.

Hello, greed

So why, you might wonder, would a retailer like Target or Rite Aid or any of them opt for such an anti-consumer product? To make it more difficult for people to pay, instead of easier? Because money!

While CurrentC will be terrible for you — or much more likely, just another thing to ignore at the checkout counter, like Almond M&Ms or Modern Quilting magazine — it is in theory amazing for the stores behind it. Not only do they get direct access to your bank information, they get to push you towards using their own store cards, and away from the credit card companies that skim a few percentage points off of every transaction they're a part of. It's a chance for them to push "marketing communications" to you (opt-out only) and track your location (likewise).

CurrentC makes at least a little more sense when you remember that it's been in the works for years, before Apple Pay was even a glimmer in a rumour site's eye. At the time, Google Wallet was languishing. The mobile payments market was wide open. And the retailers themselves weren't yet associated with some of the biggest financial info breaches of all time.

But Apple Pay is here now. As is the rightful distrust of the MCX coalition's ability to keep your info safe (in fact, it just came out that CurrentC has already been hacked). If nothing else, at this point there's been enough backlash against CurrentC that you'd think at least some of the companies involved would have turned tail by now. But last night's NY Times report indicates why they're still standing strong in the face of ugh; if they leave MCX, they will face fines hefty enough that it's not worth just letting Apple Pay into their hearts. Not yet, anyway.

In a statement released this morning, MCX denied that fines were involved for leaving MCX. But stalwart NYT reporter Mike Isaac stands by his report. And there must be at least some disincentive that would make companies like CVS suffer though such a clusternut; possibly that if you stay with MCX and use Apple Pay anyway you'll take a hit? It's murky in the way that PR scrambling always is.

Either way, it's clear that this isn't a fight that MCX retailers signed up for so many years ago. And it's hard to imagine that many of them are excited to stay the course. The longer it takes for the retreat to start, though, the longer the future of payments will stay stalled out.

Or you could always just shop at Walgreens instead.

Illustration: Tara Jacoby



    Oh America, you're always so hilariously behind the times!

    Hey everyone, remember when Apple announced the revolution of WiFi facetime? I video called someone on my three year old nokia that day.

    Don't worry though, this is just a matter of time.

    Last edited 30/10/14 9:18 am

      And somehow you managed to turn an NFC payment article into Apple sledging.

      But facetime uses an internet connection instead of a cellular connection. While I agree that video calling is older than the iPhone I have to point out the costs of video calling are prohibitive

    CurrentC, hacked

      Oh wow, something else not mentioned: CurrentC requires drivers license number, date of birth, social security number and more. What? Are MCX going to be running credit reports for someone spending $100 or so on groceries

      Amazingly bad timing for them. They've already been getting a lot of negative press this week and the public and blogs don't seem to keen at all on their technology. Hopefully this causes at least some of the stores to reconsider their alliances.

    I'm looking forward to using ApplePay in Australia, primarily because the Visa/Mastercard PayWave is already so prevalent, it should be a no-brainer to get this going here.

      The banks and merchants might resist giving someone else a piece of the pie.

    I can't help but feel like they were being a bit dishonest about the comparision. Yeah, CurrentC sucks and it's a dumb way of doing things, but you can't say one option is just putting the phone in front of the scanner while listing steps like installing the app and handing the goods to the cashier on the alternative. I mean by that logic 'buying and charging a smartphone' should be a step too.
    It's not like you need to exaggerate here. You can strip out all the setup and basic cashier functions and CurrentC still comes out looking terrible. I mean it relies on your camera not being dirty and your screen not being cracked instead of just using NFC. The debate pretty much ends there considering the condition of most people's smart phones.

      Well no... Downloading CurrentC is a valid step in the process where as the other alternatives are baked in to the OS.

        Yes but the first two steps are done as a once off, not each time you want to make a transaction. Moreso, the article assumes that just because Apple Pay now exists that everyone should be using that. Not sure when all of America started owning an iPhone. MCX still is at least independant of mobile operating system and can work on a multitude of devices up to at least 3 years old. Worst case scenario - use your credit card. Australia has tap to pay for transactions up to $100. This solves 99% of my problems because I dont have to pull my phone out each time (something I know I'd hate doing more than getting my CC out).

        Last edited 30/10/14 1:48 pm

      It relies on you entering bank account details to a third party. While I do this only for pay pal, pay pal is actually a pretty damn stable platform that does not give those details over to third parties. CurrentC would be asking people to give their bank account details to a system that has not proven it how it will not give cashiers the ability to write open cheques.

        @theonlyway Oh yeah, I get that. I'm not defending the system itself I'm just pointing out that the article is exaggerating the steps involved in an average purchase. There's no need for that when the image of the steps involved explains it all.

        And to make matters worse, news is they have already been compromised as of today. Apparently it is email addresses only, but it really cast doubt on their ability to secure details, especially when one of the main motivations for this implementation appears to be farming and sharing users personal data and buying habits with retailers.

    Two can play at that game, Apple and Google could choose to not approve the app into their stores thus making currentc useless

      Now that would be hilarious.

        And probably determined as anti-competitive. Not that what MCX related retailers are doing isnt anti-competitive already though.

    Will Apple Pay work with any old PayWave / NFC terminal? I seem to recall that Apple Pay would need a piece of Apple hardware nearby to allow it to operate (thereby allowing Apple to take in money, like it does with the "Made for iPhone" nonsense) but I can't seem to find any mention of it now.

      Apple Pay works with most standard PayWave/PayPass terminals. I read on some forums that it worked on soda vending machines.

      Apple takes 0.15% of a sale (15c from $100) as part of a transaction fee. There's no special 'Apple' hardware required but. There's a lot of talk about NFC terminals rolling out to certain stores in the US in order for them to accept Apple Pay, but that's ultimately just the US being behind the times and the retailers in question are only now beginning to accept NFC based payments. In other markets such as AU the terminals are far more common and already in place.

      The service does require banks to opt in however due to the use of tokens to deliver the service in place of the iPhone storing the credit card credentials and transmitting those to retailers.

    What do you mean Google wallet never took off. Lots of countries all over the world including Australia use their NFC phones to make payments. The only fly in the ointment was Apple and the only reason they decided to join in was because they worked out a way to skim money off all transactions.
    Apple is always slowing down the progress of technology.

      Pepee63 just to clarify.... What he means is "Google wallet never took off"- because it didn't and it hasn't. Whereas Retailers literally have people asking when they can use Apple Pay... I have myself heard the question asked 3 times now while out shopping since iPhone6 launch.. " can I use my iphone to pay yet ?" or "how long until I can..."- however I never ever heard anyone ask about Google Wallet at a checkout - ever... or seen it used as a means to pay via a handset

      Last edited 30/10/14 3:03 pm

        My mistake. I thought Google wallet was the thing that let you pay with the phone.

      It never took off in the sense that not many consumers were buying things using their phones through NFC terminals. Yes, the technology has been there but it's been incredibly niche in terms of the number of users actually using it. If data I saw is accurate, Apple Pay in 3 days had more users using Apple Pay than any of the other mobile NFC solutions combined in the US ( The article was specifically saying Google Wallet never took off, not that NFC payments themselves haven't. It's just that most still happen through a credit card (and will continue to do so for some time).

      They may be late to the game, but the momentum is clearly in Apples court currently. That said, their momentum will only serve to boost usage of Google Wallet and other services since it's drawing both consumer attention to the technology as well as coming at a time where the US who is a late adopter of NFC is starting to see it gain some momentum.

        If the banks got off their arses and asked more manufacturers to put the security chip in, there'd be a lot more people using their phones to pay for things. The banks have been trialing this for years but the thing that stopped them from moving forward is waiting for apple to finally get NFC. Its so frustrating that only a select few phones are allowed to play the pay wave game. I don't get why the banks even cared what apple does. Leave them behind and open up all android phones to use the pay wave system. Then they will find that people will jump on it. What's holding them up (apart from the chip) . Other countries have got it working, why not us.

    I like being a cash based luddite and stories like this reinforce this view.

    I still find it very amusing when people claim that Google Wallet never took off, really shows how much attention they've actually been paying.

      I don't really know if Google Wallet took off or not, but the crap about this whole thing being about Apple VS corporate greed is extremely moronic. It's 100% pure greed on both sides.
      If Apple were good and virtuous they'd be working with all smartphone producers to make a universal system for all consumers... But no, corporate greed is all there is to the story and the author is just annoyed he won't be able to use his pet system to pay for things.

        @ozoneocean welcome to democratic economics. You are absolutely right ! Just like petroleum producers, pharmaceuticals, car manufacturers, credit card companies and (heaven forbid) Banks ! It is call competition. Survival of the economical fittest. So comsumers can grumble and make choice. I prefer that.....What you are describing is call socialism, no choice and one solution fits all, no innovation, no competition - but no product "fails" at least .... See it working in North Korea.....

          Sorry, that's not what I'm talking about at all. I was pointing out the flaw in the way Apple had been characterised in the article and showed a counter example that more properly matched the theme- which would be similar to the open standards/source model widely in use throughout the tech industry for many many applications.
          Not socialism and not North Korea

    Greed + Banks transposing their cards to NFC = Fail! Greed + retailers "inventing" their own payment system = Fail! Minimum costs & hassle for retailers + maximum freedom & security for consumers = SEQR!

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