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Apple Pay launches in Australia with the help of American Express

American Express customers in Australia can now make payments from their iPhone or Apple Watch, with Apple Pay finally arriving on local shores.

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Apple Pay works on Apple Watch and iPhones.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Apple's mobile payment system is up and running in Australia, but you'll need to be an American Express customer to take advantage of the service.

Apple Pay, which allows you to pay for goods and services at the register with your iPhone, is available to American Express customers in Australia from today. The service has also just gone live in Canada and the company plans to expand into Spain, Singapore and Hong Kong next year.

The launch of Apple Pay has certainly been big news stateside, where magnetic stripe technology still maintains a legacy hold on the payments market and contactless technology has been slow to get off the ground. But Apple's payment technology arrives amidst a very different landscape in Australia.

A number of financial institutions and hardware providers are well established in the cashless payments space in Australia, with the likes of Commonwealth Bank, St. George and Westpac offering features such as mobile payments, cardless cash and banking apps for wearables.

Android users have also had the ability to make payments at contactless payment terminals in Australia, via NFC built into their smartphones.

However, iPhone users have previously required an additional tag or phone case in order to make cashless payments from their phone. This all changes now that Apple Pay has landed locally, giving American Express customers the power to pay direct from their Apple Watch or iPhone. American Express-issued cards will be eligible to use Apple Pay, but there's no word yet on whether Amex cards issued by other banks will get access to the new feature.

While banks have pushed hard into mobile payments in Australia, experts had previously warned that this could slow the the uptake of services such as Apple Pay. Foad Fadaghi, managing director of technology analyst group Telsyte, said the US and UK markets have been traditionally "fragmented" with room for a newcomer like Apple to disrupt the scene.

But he adds, "Australia has had the tap-and-go system for a while... from a consumer standpoint, there's little by way of advantage in having another payment approach other than tap-and-go, which seems to work for many people."

Apple's relationship with the major Australian banks could also provide some clues as to why the iPhone manufacturer chose to partner with the likes of Amex. According to early reports, negotiations with the big banks had stalled in Australia amidst claims that Apple was seeking a larger share of interchange fees -- the small amount that financial institutions earn on credit and debit card transactions.

Apple is understood to earn 15 cents per $100 for Apple Pay transactions in the US. But the company was reportedly looking to maintain this rate in Australia, despite Australian banks earning roughly half the typical US fee. Neither Apple nor American Express provided details on the fine print of the new partnership.

The partnership between Apple and American Express could speed the deployment of Apple Pay, which was initially only available in the US and UK. The Cupertino, California, company is just one of the major technology players trying to push the idea of your smartphone also serving as your wallet, with similar services offered by Google and Samsung.

Now that it's up and running, Apple Pay is sure to drive the uptake of mobile payments in Australia and generate broader awareness of the technology. With iOS users across the country now able to make payments from their phone (albeit with a linked Amex), we can expect to see more consumers whipping out their smartphone at the till, and more retailers starting to push the convenience of going wallet-free.