THE BLOG

Adoption of Contactless Payment: It's Quicker by Tube

15/09/2014 14:10 BST | Updated 15/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Such is the power of Apple that, within 48 hours of not launching it, Google News already cited over 12 million returns for the term "iWatch." The product, of course, is simply Apple Watch (35 million returns on Google News).

Aside from which of the consumer tech journos won the battle to get onto the BBC as an industry commentator, the key takeaways from the Apple-fest are:

  • Apple is likely to stimulate a new market for health-centric wrist-based devices (the only real differentiator for technology that sits next to the skin)
  • These devices might support other functions such as listening to music and making phones calls, provided consumers don't mind looking like they work for Addison Lee
  • Digital thought leaders probably won't refer to a 'wrist-first infrastructure' because it sounds a little weird
  • People paying for things using their phone, or indeed watch, is likely to take place faster than most people ever imagined

Apple Pay is a milestone in the adoption of mobile payments, but that is all. Yet the media's sycophantic fawning around Apple last week suggested the company is ushering in a cashless society. Apple's sheer marvellousness means that, if we have any money left after buying a jolly expensive iPhone 6, we'll pay for things just by swiping the phone at the till. Hurrah for Apple, and its happy knack of completely revolutionising everything.

Only, in this case, it's not leading the revolution at all. Unlikely as it may seem, one of the main organisations that has driven the consumer adoption of contactless payments is Transport for London (TfL). Those filthy old tubes that rattle around in the real world with dirt and mice are a million miles away from Apple's smooth anti-bacterial curves and digital cuteness.

Yet when TfL introduced Oyster cards 11 years ago - yes, 11 years ago - the system was based on a technology called near field communication (NFC), which is exactly the same technology as the one that will be used by Apple Pay. By June 2012, over 43 million Oyster cards had been issued.

There are over 24 million journeys per day made using TfL. More than 80 per cent of them use Oyster cards. That level of familiarity meant that, in London, NFC and contactless payments have been quickly adopted in Pret, Nero, M+S and anywhere else that has plenty of things under £20 to purchase.

On Tuesday (16 September) TfL started accepting contactless payments (debit cards) through its Oyster terminals. Indeed TfL's buses have already gone cashless, only accepting Oyster and contactless payments.

In the US, there is no trailblazer for contactless. Apple Pay will probably be the first widespread NFC payment system. Yet there are plenty of other examples often, as with London, led by public transport organisations.

The Octopus card in Kong Kong, launched in 1997, began life in a similar way to Oyster and is now used by 95 per cent of the population of Hong Kong aged 16 to 65. Korea's UPASS is another example.

And let's not forget that Apple iPhones are high-end smartphones for, broadly, only, the financially comfortable (which includes the thousands of degree-holding middle class journos that write about it). Android-based phones range from high-end to entry level, and are actually the people's choice because they are a lot more affordable - sales of Android-based phones far exceed iPhones. So as far as universal adoption of mobile NFC payments goes, Android is way more important.

It may seem a little parochial to get so frustrated that Apple gets the credit for something it doesn't deserve. It is, after all, a stunning company that is perfectly capable of changing the way society operates. But innovation isn't exclusive to Cupertino. It's living and breathing in all parts of the world, and in all types of organisations. We should recognise smart thinking wherever it happens, not just when it's sporting a black rollneck.