Apple Pay lands in the UK, some major banks missing

Apple's mobile payments service, available in the US since October, has expanded across the pond -- but some of the announced partners aren't on board.

applepayuk.jpg
Apple Pay is now live in the UK. Luke Westaway/CNET

Apple Pay has finally arrived in the UK, but some of the banks Apple had announced as partners are conspicuous by their absence.

The service went live on Tuesday, about nine months after Apple first launched Apple Pay in the US. Check out our hands-on with the Apple Pay app to see how it works in British shops.

Apple during its developer conference in June said Apple Pay would arrive in the UK in July, though it didn't give a precise date at that time. Jennifer Bailey, vice president of the Apple Pay business, said the service -- which allows users to pay for items in stores using their smartphones and Apple Watches or quickly purchase items in apps -- would be available at more than 250,000 locations in the UK.

Apple Pay was supposed to launch with eight of the UK's most popular banks to be followed by more this autumn. Credit and debit cards from MBNA, Nationwide, NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland, Santander and Ulster Bank are all aboard, with American Express, Mastercard and Visa cards from those banks all supported.

HSBC and Lloyds were supposed to be included, but at launch are not supported by the app. HSBC told us that it will be included later this month, along with its online spin-off FirstDirect. The Lloyds Banking Group told us that Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland will be supported in the autumn.

"Apple Pay's launch is certainly good news for the UK," says Pinar Ozcan, Assistant Professor of Strategic Management at Warwick Business School. "What has always been a struggle is for Apple Pay and the competitors to build a large enough ecosystem of merchants and bank partners in order to enable immediate adoption.

"While it is not clear why HSBC has decided not to support Apple Pay's UK launch," says Ozcan, "it rings alarm bells as consumers often have a 'now or never' approach to new technologies, easily deciding not to adopt for a long time if it is cumbersome to do so at the beginning."

Barclays was not announced as being a partner, instead banking on its own bPay mobile payment system of contactless wearables. But today Barclays announced it would bring its debit and Barclaycard credit cards to Apple Pay "in future."

At Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference last month, Bailey said the system would support more than 70 percent of credit and debit cards in the UK. Major retailers including Boots, the Co-op, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose were announced as planning to use the debit and credit card payment system, as well as London's public transport system, which already uses contactless payment.

At first, Apple Pay will match the £20 limit per transaction set by contactless cards to prevent criminals from nabbing your card or phone and emptying your account. From September, users will be able to spend £30 at a time on their contactless cards, and Apple Pay may also increase around the same time.

Apple Pay launched in the US in October as Apple's first venture into contactless mobile payments. Using an iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus or Apple Watch, people can pay for items on the go at supported retailers via near-field communication (NFC) technology. Other Touch ID-enabled devices, such as the iPad Air 2 and Mini 3 , can pay for in-app transactions too, thanks to the feature being added in the iOS 8.1 update. With the forthcoming iOS 9 update , you'll also be able to consolidate loyalty and rewards cards.

"For now, this new payment method is reserved for the lucky few who have newer Apple handsets or an Apple Watch," points out Ernest Doku, industry observer at uSwitch. "September's expected new iPhone may be the watershed device that brings Apple Pay to many, but it could be several years of new iPhone cycles before the fledgling payment method can become genuinely widespread."

Apple has been drumming up support for Apple Pay among more banks and retailers in the US, but to truly gain a foothold on the market, the service needs to expand globally, especially as rivals' services such as Samsung Pay and Google's Android Pay start to ramp up.

Ironically, given that HSBC isn't included today, news that Apple Pay would hit the UK leaked on Sunday from HSBC's Twitter account. The bank took a break from commenting on the Wimbledon tennis final to reply to a British customer that Apple Pay would launch this week. "It's due to launch this Tuesday! We're excited too!" the HSBC_UK Twitter account is reported to have told Twitter user Andy Thursby. The tweet has since been deleted.

With contribution from Luke Westaway.

Featured Video