At some point in the past year, my phone went from ‘useful communications tool that I mainly use for email and Twitter’ to ‘truly viable wallet replacement.’
For years we’ve been promised a ‘mobile-first’ future of payments, where just about any transaction you need to do can be done most easily on a mobile phone. For me, it feels like that future has arrived.
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Here’s how a typical Saturday might play out for me. These are all things I’ve done in the past few weeks, but could have done them all in one day if I’d liked:
- I booked train travel to London using the Virgin Trains app. My card details were saved so I simply picked my journeys, selected the tickets I wanted and the job was done.
- I booked a hotel for my trip using the Hotel Tonight app. I picked a low-cost hotel near the rail station, and paid in a couple of seconds using Apple Pay and my fingerprint for authentication. It felt almost too quick and easy.
- I wanted to travel from my house into Manchester city center, and so I bought a day pass for the Metrolink tram network via its Get Me There app. Again, I paid with Apple Pay in the app. It was done in seconds, versus wrestling with the unwieldy ticket machines that often can’t read my card or spit banknotes back out at me because of a tiny folded corner or a crease.
- I stopped by Starbucks to get a coffee. I’d already loaded my Starbucks account up with some money (via Apple Pay again), so I opened the company’s app, scanned the on-screen barcode when asked by the barista and the coffee was mine.
- While drinking my coffee, I got my Christmas shopping started using the Amazon app and one-click ordering, meaning I never entered payment details, my address or had to specify delivery details.
- I stopped by the mall and picked up some wrapping paper and cards. I paid with Apple Pay, using my phone for a contactless payment. Quick, easy and cashless.
- I dropped into the Apple Store to buy a new laptop, as mine was getting a bit long in the tooth. Two taps of the button on my Apple Watch and I’d bought a freaking laptop with my freaking watch. Another customer in the store was astounded when I did this a few weeks ago.
- It was getting late in the afternoon and I needed to get home. I booked an Uber from my phone using my saved payment details. Half an hour later, I was home and the only effort I’d exerted was choosing whether to score the driver four or five stars for the journey.
- Back home, I ordered a meal to be delivered. I opened the Hungryhouse app, selected my order, using Apple Pay again, and 25 minutes later, there was food at my door.
At no point here did I open my wallet to pull out cash or a card (although I really should have given a tip to the food delivery guy). I’m getting to the point where I really can use my phone for at least 50 percent of my day-to-day transactions, and my phone suddenly feels 100 percent more useful.
Of course, the future isn’t evenly distributed. A lot of these transactions relied on me having a recent iOS device and living in the UK, where payments tech is pretty well advanced (even if there’s no Android Pay here yet). There are plenty of places where I couldn’t have done a lot of these things, but we’re slowly getting there in developed countries around the world.
Local shops near my house still require me to get my wallet out, as do a lot of independent stores, like the café in which I’m typing out this article.
Still, for me at least, the mobile-first future is (largely) finally here… and it’s brilliant.