put it on the card

Yeah, I put in for the Apple Card. It arrived instantly, so to speak, but took a few more days to deliver a physical card. Which has come in for all manner of roasting online, because the white titanium coating apparently scratches or discolors on contact with leather. Or denim. Or other cards. Or air. Or who knows what. It’s Jony Ive at his most recto-cranially inverted. But when you think about it, the actual physical card is an afterthought. It’s meant to be. It makes me wonder why you needed a physical card at all; if you can have the “courage” to dispose of the headphone jack you can have the courage to make a credit card without the physical card. But I digress.

The card itself, naturally, has nothing on it but your name, an Apple logo, a MasterCard logo and a Goldman Sachs logo. And a chip and a stripe. No number. No place for signature. No anything. This is basically a dongle, for those parts of the world where the physical talisman is still required. The point of this card is that it is almost entirely meant to be virtual; you pay via ApplePay whether on your phone or on the Apple Watch or through the Safari browser. And those transactions have an individual number; there’s no credit card number to be lost or copied. If you actually need the number for other websites, you can look it up in the Wallet app or paste it through the browser.

And if it gets compromised? Well, there’s no number on the card. If your number gets pinched somehow, you go to the Wallet app on the phone, select the Apple Card, select settings, and request a new number. Boom, it’s done. If you lose the physical card, it’s one touch to lock it out and another touch to order a replacement. Boom, it’s done. And the phone never stops working while you wait for the physical card. One of the biggest annoyances of credit card ownership is when the pizza place or the shaky online vendor or the multinational corporation gets your digits compromised through their inferior security practice and it takes a week or more to rotate the card out and replace it. Now, that’s virtually nonexistent.

The card itself is pretty good. I don’t mind saying that my credit score is better than my SAT subject results, so I have a pretty good APR (which I will never use) and a pretty good credit limit (which I would have misused to excess in college). In the Wallet app itself, the card’s spending is broken out by category so you can see exactly where your money is going, and the “bill” in the app is in the form of an Apple Watch exercise ring of a thing that you can swipe around to pick minimum payments or category payments or “pay off a third of it to make a dent” or just pay off the whole thing. And there’s a button to pay now, without waiting for the due date, which also surfaces on the app.

And the benefits, such as they are, are straightforward and simple. There are no fees. No annual fee, no late fee, no international transaction fee (I specifically asked, via iMessage, and was assured there is no fee for international transactions AND you can take it abroad without calling to clear first). No fees at all. If you pay it off every month, this card is gratis. It also has a basic cash back program: 2% on all transactions with ApplePay, 3% on all transactions with Apple or chosen promotional vendors (Uber, at present), 1% cash back on anything paid through the card – and the cash is deposited into your Apple Cash on the phone, daily. Not spectacular, but not awful, especially if (as has been rumored) Apple is pushing Goldman Sachs to be aggressive with approvals. Word on the street is that if you apply for the card, you’ll get it – maybe not with the most competitive interest rate or credit limit, but barring catastrophic credit you won’t be denied outright.

Add all this up – along with the fact that activating the physical card isn’t a phone call, isn’t a web lookup, it’s an NFC touch to the packaging – and it’s hard not to think that this is what all credit cards will act like in five years. This is a step toward more secure transactions, towards reduced fraud, toward ease of use with your smartphone. People dismissed the iMac as trendy colors, the iPod as trendy white headphones, the iPhone as an overpriced vanity device – but eventually they prove to be pathfinders for the industry. It’s entirely possible Apple has skated toward where the puck ought to be, even if it’s not necessarily where the puck is going to be. And for me – whose primary card is an American Express on which everything gets charged – having a MasterCard universal backup, free of charge, is more than enough incentive to see this experiment through.

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