STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Today, Apple is rolling out a new way to pay for purchases - a digital wallet called Apple Pay. We've talked about this a bit on the program. People with iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will be able to tap their phones instead of swipe their cards at the register. The phone, in a sense, becomes your credit card, possibly a major change in how we shop. We're going to talk about this with Aarti Shahani of NPR's team covering technology. Hi, Aarti.
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Hi.
INSKEEP: So digital wallet - does this mean that I would not have a wallet in the future if this thing catches on?
SHAHANI: Well, if Apple is successful, you won't have credit cards in your wallet. It'll just be an accessory, kind of like a watch is these days. Apple preloaded the payment app onto the new iPhone 6 and 6 Pluses. And the company's making a big and very public push to partner with retailers. So dozens of chains have already signed on, like McDonald's and Walgreens are going to accept Apple Pay. But there are other chains, like Target and Starbucks, that don't have the tapping technology at their registers yet. It's called the near field communication chip. So they'll just accept the payment method through their mobile apps.
Also, it is going to be hard to convert the masses, and in part, that's because it is really easy to swipe a credit card. I mean, I swipe multiple times a day. You probably do, too. And Apple knows that conversion to a mobile wallet it is not a given, and that's why they're doing this all-out campaign. Years and years of other failed attempts to do this have shown that, really, it's going to take a push to make the mobile wallet replace the credit card.
INSKEEP: Well, given what you've just said, what makes Apple think this is a good time to try?
SHAHANI: You know, they're not just banking on the ease-of-use. They're really banking on security and all of the concern, the mass concern, about credit card hacking. So Apple Pay uses Touch ID for one - the biometric identification - to verify that you are the iPhone owner and not some thief that's tapping to pay.
And then secondly, there's a chip inside the phone, which they call the secure element, that generates a digital series of numbers, like a credit card number, only a one-time use string of numbers. So if hackers get it, it doesn't really matter. It's a kind of technology called tokenization that leading engineers and companies have been working to design for years.
INSKEEP: And your colleague, and our colleague, Steve Henn has reminded us in recent weeks that this is a moment when a lot of companies are under pressure to upgrade their technology anyway. So it may cause some of them to ask, why not just try this? And I suppose we should also mention that Apple is not the only company that is rolling out this product - a digital wallet.
SHAHANI: Yeah, it's not the only one, and it's certainly not the first one. I mean, one comparison that really comes to mind for me is Apple and Google, in terms of their mobile wallets - really different rollouts that tell you a lot both about the companies and about the moment we're in. You know, Google rolled out its mobile wallet back in 2011, and its launch was pretty limited. I mean, to use Google Wallet, you had to sign up for a MasterCard account with Citibank or get a Google Prepaid Card.
And now with Apple Pay, you're seeing the launch looks like an all-out, you know, fiesta with Visa, MasterCard, American Express on board, and then Citibank and Chase and Wells Fargo and Bank of America. And Apple says its alliance represents about 83 percent of credit card purchase volume in the U.S. So really, they are going for scale here in a way that Google simply hadn't before.
Now, this marketing push, you know - and also putting pressure on retailers and banks to come along - that could really tip the scales to make mobile payment the new normal. And if it does that, then Google and other mobile wallet providers might be able to ride along the wave.
INSKEEP: Aarti, thanks very much.
SHAHANI: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That NPR's Aarti Shahani who covers technology and is telling us about Apple Pay - the digital wallet that's being released today. This is NPR News.
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