The last few months have seen an enormous amount of activity around mobile payments. This has mostly stemmed from the launch of Apple's new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus models, both featuring NFC (near field communication), a wireless contact mechanism for interacting and executing payments with retail hardware. And, of course, the payment service (for which that NFC technology is integral) they've dubbed Apple Pay.
As one of many early adopters, I was excited to try this out. Sure, while the hardware and feature has been around for a few years -- primarily employed by Google Wallet and Android devices -- I've never seen one actually used (except very embarrassingly in an episode of Fringe), and I haven't owned an Android device. So it was high time I gave it a whirl with my new iPhone. Besides, after having read enough to feel informed about the technology behind Apple Pay, it appears that it is the most secure way available to normal users to make transactions either online or in-store. So there was really nothing stopping me from heading downstairs in my office building to the frighteningly close McDonald's to buy myself an afternoon coffee.
My experience was delightful. Aside from having to waft in the microwave airs of the fast food kitchen, the whole thing went without a hitch. I ordered my coffee, watched as the payment terminal on the counter in front of me glowed blue, and simply held my iPhone within an inch or so of it. I didn't even push the home button to initiate it; rather, I instictively had my thumb resting on its surface (e.g., the TouchID surface), and the terminal communicated immediately with the iPhone. The screen lights up, shows your credit card on file with Apple Pay, and a small TouchID logo with a fingerprint is visbile, promptly capturing your finger's unique signature. Once it's done (and if you have a new iPhone, you know how quickly this actually happens), a little check mark animates and that's it. Payment complete.
It took me a paragraph to write that, but the whole experience takes less than a couple seconds. My experience at McDonald's has been the fastest -- there aren't any PINs to punch in or signatures to be etched; just hold the phone up with your finger on the home button. My experience at Walgreens has been similarly quick, but they do prompt you with a donation option on the payment terminal's screen. Not a huge deal since I've been used to this (having shopped there a number of times before), but Apple Pay makes the process much faster. (I recall before there were about three to four screens you had get through to completely check out.)
Overall, Apple Pay has been a wonderful feature of the new iPhones. While it's nowhere near ready to replace a wallet, it does make the experience of shopping in the few stores that support NFC terminals better than anything before it (shame on retailers like CVS who actively shut off their NFC terminals because of the MCX/CurrentC kerfluffle, screwing over both Apple Pay and Google Wallet users). With pending Apple Watch support for early 2015, the process of paying for things while out on a run or a quick jaunt down the street will be exceptionally secure and enjoyable moving into the future.
On a last note, it seems that there isn't a very good canonical source for all the retailers who can support (or who will support) Apple Pay and Google Wallet. As such, I've compiled a separate page -- Apple Pay Retailer List -- for your reference. I'll try to update it moving forward until, hopefully, enough stores support it that it won't be an issue. If you're looking for a terrific overview of Apple Pay, MacRumors has an extensive reference guide.