Apple Officially Announces ‘Tap to Pay on iPhone’ | Stripe and Shopify Are Already on Board

It’s the other side of Apple Pay.
Apple Tap to Pay iPhone to iPhone Credit: Apple
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Following a report last month that Apple was planning to turn the iPhone into a mobile payment terminal, the company has now officially announced plans to roll out the technology to the iPhone.

While it doesn’t look like it will arrive until sometime later this year, Apple has already laid out its plans for the new feature, noting that it’s going to be open to multiple payment platforms and app developers, with the technology delivered via third-party apps rather than something that will be integrated directly into iOS.

To be clear, Apple still needs to provide the underlying APIs to let those apps securely access the NFC hardware and other iPhone technologies; however, it doesn’t sound like Apple plans to provide any kind of user interface on the front-end. That part will be up to developers of apps that use various payment platforms, but it sounds like they’re already lining up.

As with most such Apple announcements, the company never debuts a new feature unless it has third parties ready to take advantage of it and show off what it can do. Whether it’s games that take advantage of the latest iPhone hardware or digital hotel room keys, Apple always makes sure it has a few partners on board for its initial launch of any major new technology.

For its new payment terminal feature, which it’s dubbing Tap to Pay on iPhone, that’s the Stripe payment platform and the Shopify Point of Sale app, although there will likely be many more to follow.

As Apple notes in its newsroom announcement, Stripe will ultimately be offering Tap to Pay on iPhone to all of its business customers. As one of the largest back-end digital payment providers on the planet, that’s going to be a pretty significant number of merchants.

Whether you’re a salesperson at an internet-first retailer or an individual entrepreneur, you can soon accept contactless payments on a device that’s already in your pocket: your iPhone. With Tap to Pay on iPhone, millions of businesses using Stripe can enhance their in-person commerce experience by offering their customers a fast and secure checkout.

Billy Alvarado, Stripe’s chief business officer

Shopify is merely the first in line, and it’s probably one of the best launch partners Apple could have found, as its technology powers millions of businesses. Granted, many of those are e-commerce sites that won’t have much use for a physical Tap to Pay solution; however, Shopify has designed its Point of Sale app to help small businesses seamlessly unify their online stores into in-person retail experiences, whether that’s at a county fair, a mall kiosk, or a traditional brick-and-mortar shop.

This makes it an ideal way for Apple to demonstrate how powerful Tap to Pay on iPhone will be in enabling small merchants. While Square has had that market mostly sewn up for years, the ability for any iPhone owner to do this without any additional hardware will be compelling.

It’s also a safe bet that Apple and Stripe have worked out a way to offer lower fees. Of course, Apple doesn’t say anything about this in its announcement, as that would be Stripe’s department. If it hopes to woo customers away from Square, however, it’s going to have to do more than just offer tighter iPhone integration.

As more and more consumers are tapping to pay with digital wallets and credit cards, Tap to Pay on iPhone will provide businesses with a secure, private, and easy way to accept contactless payments and unlock new checkout experiences using the power, security, and convenience of iPhone.

Jennifer Bailey, Apple’s vice president of Apple Pay and Apple Wallet

What You’ll Need for Tap to Pay

For customers, the experience should be the same as using any other mobile payment terminal. They’ll simply hold their payment method near the merchant’s iPhone instead. That can be a contactless payment card, their own iPhone or Apple Watch using Apple Pay, or even an Android device using Google Wallet or Samsung Pay.

Basically, any contactless NFC payment method should work with Tap to Pay on iPhone in just the same way that it does with a traditional contactless payment terminal.

Merchants will need to use “a supporting iOS app” to unlock contactless payment technology, since as we noted earlier, it’s not something that will be built directly into iOS. At the initial launch, this will include at least Shopify’s Point of Sale app, although we imagine there will be others too. Apple plans to release the Tap to Pay on iPhone APIs in an upcoming iOS software beta, so anyone who is interested can get to work on implementing it right away.

In collaboration with payment platforms, app developers, and payment networks, we’re making it easier than ever for businesses of all sizes — from solopreneurs to large retailers — to seamlessly accept contactless payments and continue to grow their business.

Jennifer Bailey, Apple’s vice president of Apple Pay and Apple Wallet

As for hardware, Tap to Pay on iPhone will require an iPhone XS or later device. Although Apple doesn’t mention it by name, this presumably includes the iPhone XR, since it has the same A12 Bionic chip, NFC hardware, and Secure Enclave as the iPhone XS. Similar limitations exist for other new NFC-related features like Digital Keys, so this probably shouldn’t come as a big surprise.

Apple also notes that Tap to Pay on iPhone will work with contactless credit and debit cards from all the leading payment networks, including American Express, Discover, Mastercard, and Visa. Keep in mind, however, that while Stripe naturally supports all these payment networks, other payment providers may not, so just like using a traditional payment terminal, your mileage will vary depending on which provider you’re signing up with.

What About the iPad?

Unfortunately, Apple hasn’t said anything about support for Tap to Pay on the iPad, which will be a disappointment for merchants who already use Apple’s tablets as point-of-sale terminals — an area clearly dominated by Square. In fact, Apple specifically calls the feature “Tap to Pay on iPhone” so it’s probably safe to say that’s where it’s going to remain, at least for the near future.

As things stand now, no iPad includes the NFC hardware technology that’s necessary to power the Tap to Pay feature. Apple could be planning to address that in a future iPad model, of course, but even if that’s the case, it’s not about to give anything away. We’ll just have to wait and see what Apple has to announce at its event next month, where we’ll likely see the iPad Air 5 make its first appearance. However, with nine new iPad models reportedly on deck, it’s hard to rule anything out at this point. 

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