Last week, Apple announced with their unique brand of confidently breathless fervor two new products - the Apple Watch and the iPhone 6 -- that will solve, in Apple's worldview, the pesky problem of removing a credit card from one's wallet and paying for goods with a swipe. These devices, embedded with the marginally innovative new service Apple Pay and an NFC chip, will replace that laborious swipe with a sophisticated tap - tap the Watch against the POS -- and voila!, stuff is automatically paid for. The New York Times economy writer Neil Irwin suggested through his piece "Apple Tries To Solve A Problem That Really Isn't A Problem" that the jury's still out (Apple Pay does not launch until October) on whether Apple can convince the buying public that tapping trump swiping.
But why does Apple Pay really exist? Is this simply an altruistic "making life more convenient" mission from the world's most valuable company that's hoarding $130 billion in cash? Well consider this: The U.S. credit card purchases market is a $4 trillion opportunity for processors to make billions upon billions in processing fees, pennies at a time. But each penny also allows (Apple Pay partner) companies like Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo to peer into our lives with each transaction in data collection ways Google can only fantasize about. Where, how and how much we spend helps define and frame who we are, where we are and what we do. So we can be marketed to, databased and perhaps judged (remember the NSA scandal?). So when we use Apple Pay -- tucked inside a shiny, happy, whiz bang, deeply personal product we carry everywhere -- we have actually opted in to Apple learning more about us in ways far deeper than we imagine. More than we have ever granted them before. And what about the bungled bundling U2"s latest album, given away for free to the 500 million iTunes account holders worldwide, or anyone willing to create a new account? iTunes signup mandates being linked to a credit card.
So under the cloak of powerful buzzwords like "convenient" and "free", Apple both convinces us that Google's "Don't Be Evil" corporate motto applies to them, too, while spell-binding us into states of diminished privacy in licenses and rights we grant them in 56-page Terms and Conditions . How much privacy are we willing to give up? Is it worth it?
Apple's customers are in uncharted territory now. Apple Pay, in the beginning may make us look cool at Whole Foods, checking out in a jiffy with the latest iThing strapped to our wrist. But as time passes, as the novelty wears off, and Apple Pay becomes a jaded norm (to the top end of the marketplace Apple occupies, with the highest income earners), the billions of iTransactions we make daily will have unexpected trade-offs. What are they? How evil or intrusive will they be? How much will they track us? Is all this convenience worth our liberty?
The alternative is, of course, not using Apple products or Apple Pay and utilizing an Android-powered smartphone. Which is Google technology. The other company tracking everything we do.