Easy setup. Clear interface. Works in Messages so it doesn't require an extra app. Secured by two-factor authentication.
Only works with Apple devices. No attaching notes for payment description. Setup more involved than for some competitors.
- Bottom Line
Apple joins the peer-to-peer payment fray, giving iOS and Mac users easy access to virtual cash. Just don't expect to use it to send money to your Android-using friends.
Getting in a bit late on Facebook Messenger, Google Wallet, and PayPal's action, Apple Pay Cash is the latest peer-to-peer payment system from a tech giant. Apple's mobile operating system has long had a tie-in with your credit card, thanks to the Apple Wallet app. Starting with iOS 11.2, however, the new Apple Pay Cash service lets the company play an even greater role in your finances. For those who are passionately dedicated to the Apple ecosystem, it has an appeal. But if you want to pay someone who doesn't have an Apple device, you're better off with a competitor, like Venmo, that offers cross-platform options, as well as more advanced payment features.
What Is Apple Pay Cash?
Since iOS 8.1, Apple Wallet has let you pay participating stores and websites from your iPhone, touch-free, using a credit card that you connect with the service. It hasn't, however, been able to let you pay friends directly, as you can with Facebook Messenger, Google Wallet, PayPal, Venmo, and some bank apps. Unlike the previous Apple Wallet functionality, with Apple Pay Cash, you can actually store money in an Apple account, rather than just using Apple Pay as a conduit for a credit or bank card.
Getting Started With Apple Pay Cash
If you haven't already done so, you first need to download and install iOS 11, specifically 11.2. You can force the update by visiting Settings > General > Software Update. If not, a slider switch in the Wallet & Apple Pay section of Settings lets you enable Apple Pay Cash. Once you slide this switch, you have to enter your Apple ID and password and accept a legal agreement stating that the services are provided through Green Dot Bank. The terms point out that Apple Pay Cash comprises two services: a virtual payment card and the funds transfer service.
Pay Cash works with every Apple phone back to the iPhone 6, and on iPads starting with the Air 2 model. If you have a MacBook with Touch ID, you can use Apple Pay Cash, or you can connect an older Mac to your iPhone and pay that way. The service also works with all versions of the Apple Watch. Androids and other non-Apple devices are not supported.
Note that you'll only be able to send money to other iOS users who have accepted the agreement, and you both have to have two-factor authentication set up for your Apple ID. Two-factor authentication provides additional security, but it's stricter than the other payment services' setup requirements. Note that setup also requires re-entering your credit card digits.
After I completed these steps, I was asked to add a debit card so that money could be transferred to my new bank account. You don't have to do this to use the service, though—I didn't. In all, however, the setup isn't more involved than it is with Venmo, though Facebook Payments is easier than either.
Using Apple Pay Cash
As with Facebook Messenger's Payments app, you send money via the Apple Messages app; the option is in the app tray at the bottom of the Messages' screen. Just tap the A icon to open it. You then see a dollar amount that you can increase or decrease, and you can switch between paying and requesting. Venmo and Google Wallet require you to open their separate apps to make payments; so that's a plus for Facebook and Apple, in that you access payments from an app you're probably using regularly already.
When I tapped Pay to send $1 to a colleague and then hit the Send up arrow, I had to approve the transaction with a Touch ID finger press (of course, iPhone X users will use Face ID). For sending this dollar, I paid a 3 percent fee (the same as with Venmo and other services), but that's because the payment was via credit card. If you use a bank debit card, however, you can avoid that fee. The chat entry says Pending until the recipient receives the funds.
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You can also use Siri to pay someone, but that's something also offered by Venmo. Apple Pay Cash, thankfully, doesn't by default share your every transaction with a special-purpose social network, as Venmo does. With Venmo, unless you change privacy settings, any of your contacts can see exactly who you paid in a feed of transactions. Some may like like this, but it seems like an invasion of privacy to me. However, Venmo offers a couple of important advantages over Apple's system: You can scan a QR code to verify your payee, and you can attach notes along with a payment. Venmo also lets you pay amounts smaller than $1, Apple's minimum. Google Wallet, also available for iOS, adds the ability to split payments among multiple recipients.
If you receive money from a contact, it goes into your Apple Pay Cash virtual cash card. You can use that balance either by dumping it back into a connected bank account or to pay for something else via Apple Pay or Apple Pay Cash.
Apple Pay Cash, Venmo, and PayPal can all be used to shop at online retailers; PayPal (which also owns Venmo) may have the upper hand here, as the leading internet payment service. The biggest advantage of Venmo, PayPal, and Facebook Payments, however, is that they're platform-independent—with any of them, you can send money to anyone, regardless of the operating system they use. And with any of them, you can make and receive payments from a web browser—not so with Apple Pay Cash. If you're using Apple's system and want to pay an Android user, you're going to have to hand over dirty old dollar bills, for now.
Should You Pay the Apple Way?
Apple Pay Cash offers a relatively easy and secure way for iOS users to make peer-to-peer payments. But the tech giant is a bit late to the party, and, as with many things in Apple's history, the service lives in too closed of an ecosystem. In addition to that, Venmo, our Editors' Choice payment app, offers a richer slate of payment options. If and when Apple adds the ability to pay Android users, we'll update this review.
Michael Muchmore is PC Magazine’s lead analyst for software and Web applications. A native New Yorker, he has at various times headed up PC Magazine’s coverage of Web development, enterprise software, and display technologies. Michael cowrote one of the first overviews of Web Services for a general audience. Before that he worked on PC Magazine’s Solutions section, which covered programming techniques as well as tips on using popular office software. Most recently he covered services and software for ExtremeTech.com. More »
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