For a terrifying five minutes last week, I thought I had lost my wallet. I was on the subway platform headed home from work, and I reached into my bag to put my metro card back into my wallet. It was late, and I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t pulled my metro card out of my wallet to enter the subway. Initial thought… panic! Everything is in my wallet! Second thought, oh wait… I remember leaving it at my desk, it’s safe.
Third thought… do I even need a wallet anymore?
I haven’t bothered to activate Apple Pay yet, because it never really seemed necessary. I always have my wallet! And I kind of hate the hype around Apple Pay. But “losing” my wallet made me to start to think about Apple Pay and how long I could last with just my phone. Which made me realize that so many apps I use already store my credit card information, and that I may not even need Apple Pay or my wallet.
So let’s pretend I lost my wallet (subway card included) for an entire day– what could I do (or not do) without cash, and without Apple Pay?
7:45 AM: Wake up only to realize I overslept. Scramble to get ready and check to see if Via or Uber has the shorter wait. Via wins today, but I need to top-off my ride credits. Swipe to add another $20, and run to meet my ride downstairs.
9:15 AM: Dropped off in front of Starbucks. Desperately need coffee, but realize my Starbucks balance is low. Add more money via PayPal so I can order a coconut milk latte and bagel.
9:30 AM: Try to get into work. Realize my office ID card is in my wallet. First fail of the day. Have to be buzzed in and mumble an excuse about leaving my ID on my desk to avoid the security guard’s glare.
12:00 PM: Lunch! This one’s almost too easy– it’s a busy day, so I turn to Seamless. Pull up my order history on my phone, and reorder my favorite salad from a nearby deli.
3:00 PM: Time for a snack. Convince my coworker to take a walk with me to Duane Reade, and explain that I don’t have any cash… and sheepishly admit I haven’t activated Apple Pay yet. She graciously agrees to pay for my snack, and I Venmo her back immediately (with emoji, obviously).
6:30 PM: Work day’s over, time for a workout. Uber wins over Via this round, and I’m on my way uptown. En route, a friend texts to see if I want to grab dinner tonight. I don’t want to admit to another friend that I’ve lost my wallet, so I open TabbedOut to see if there’s a convenient spot nearby. We’re in luck, and on for 8pm.
8:00 PM: Walk to dinner after a quick post-gym shower. Open a tab on TabbedOut, have a great dinner, and my friend is none the wiser that I don’t have my wallet.
10:00 PM: Time to call an Uber and get home. Decide to stop by the corner wine store, but my plans for a nightcap are thwarted when I’m asked for my ID. It’s in my wallet, not on my phone. I go home and call it a day.
In my hypothetical workday I only really had two needs: transportation and food. And although Apple Pay is more widely accepted, I would be fine without it (and my wallet) on a typical day given the plethora of apps that are also trying to crack mobile payments. But on a less typical day, I would need Apple Pay– if I were to go shopping at Bloomingdales, for example, I would be out of luck without my wallet or Apple Pay.
And there are still many industries that still only accept cash, credit, or (gasp) checks– the biggest of them being healthcare. You can’t have an emergency trip to the dentist if you’ve lost your wallet. (But to play devils advocate, you could possibly use an on-demand app healthcare app for a house call.) And then there’s the issue of an ID. Buying a bottle of wine, getting past the bouncer at a bar, or getting on a flight would be nearly impossible without a physical ID. And to my knowledge, there’s no alternative to the plastic, government issued ID you carry in your wallet yet. Iowa is working on smartphone drivers’ license, which could arguably be more disruptive than Apple Pay.
I see the potential with mobile wallets and payments, especially in-app transactions that Starbucks has pioneered, but I don’t think the transition from physical to digital wallets will be a quick one. For one, there’s the issue of “other” cards you carry in your wallet– like your ID and healthcare card. Then there’s the mental transition, which may actually be harder. I didn’t have my wallet for very long, but it felt weird… my bag felt empty, and out of habit I kept checking for a wallet that wasn’t there.
I also worry about how mobile wallets will increase mobile addiction. A few years ago, I tried to “ditch” my wallet in favor of a smartphone case with credit card holder. I found myself checking my phone constantly to make sure my cards were still in place, which led to more overall phone use. My phone was often the only thing I carried, which meant it was always physically on me… usually in my hand. Not good, right? A fully functional mobile wallet promises to do the same.
While I now see where and when Apple Pay would be convenient, I can’t really see myself choosing it over a credit card on a day-to-day basis. What I can see is my dependence on apps like Uber, Starbucks, and Seamless increasing, which makes me think we’re headed towards a battle similar to the native app vs. web app debate. When things like loyalty are in question, what makes more sense– a universal payment solution like Apple Pay, or an app-specific solution like Starbucks?