The Apple Card, Apple's new digital and physical credit card, is a bold, brilliant move that reimagines credit card payments on the iPhone. What makes the move so gutsy has nothing to do with the service itself and everything to do with drawing you deeper into Apple's ecosystem.
The Apple Card's benefits sound immediately appealing: Apple promises security measures designed to avoid common avenues of credit card fraud. It gives you up to 3 percent cash back and a visual financial tracker that helps you stay on top of your payments. And there are no fees for going over your limit, using the card internationally or even paying off the card late -- things that other cards are happy to charge for. You will, however, accrue interest on top of your balance.
The world of payments isn't new to Apple, which launched Apple Pay, its mobile payment system, in 2014. But a full-fledged credit card, backed by Mastercard's payment network and Goldman Sachs, represents Apple's cannonball dive into banking in a way that will have ripple effects for Visa, Google Pay, Samsung Pay and every other digital payment player.
The competitors should pay attention. Apple has an uncanny ability to leverage its cult status to create hype around products and services in a way that compels others to follow, even if they got there first. But it's Apple's rival phone brands that should be most concerned -- Samsung, Huawei and Google's Pixel -- not because they may want to create their own credit cards (they probably won't), but because anyone who signs up for an Apple Card is essentially binding themselves to the iPhone for as long as they have the card.
Many owners of Apple products are already locked into the ecosystem by virtue of their Macs, iPads, iTunes and App Store purchases. Staying in the Apple family is more convenient. iMessages and Notes on the iPhone also sync with the Mac, for example, and AirDrop is a wonderful way to seamlessly transfer files between devices. But it's still possible to coexist with a Macbook Air and an Android phone. I do this at least 50 percent of the time.
But a credit card that works on the iPhone alone will only make you more dependent on your iPhone.
Apple Card = iPhone 4 lyfe
The iPhone is fundamental to the inner workings of the Apple Card itself.
Most of the Apple Card's functionality lives in the digital Wallet app on your iPhone. This involves more than tracking your balance and paying off your card online. The Apple Card relies on the Secure Element chip in your iPhone to process transactions with each purchase, which means you have to have one if you want to use the credit card.
You also need the Wallet app to monitor your account -- remember, this data is calculated on your device, not online, so you can't just look up your account details from a browser window on your desktop or in a separate app like you would with your usual bank. Apple thinks this will safeguard you from hacks because the details of your digital transactions are computed on your phone. No iPhone, no Apple Card.
The physical card is meaningless on its own
How does the physical Apple Card fit in? Great question. Apple also gives you a physical card with your name engraved on a titanium rectangle and that's it -- no numbers, no expiration date, no CVV (those three numbers on the back that verify your card), no other identifying details that would allow someone to commit fraud against you if they see your card or take it from you.
You'll use the physical Apple Card like any other payment card that has a magnetic stripe and a chip. If you need to access those details like the expiration date and CVV digits, you'll fire up the iPhone's Wallet app to take a peek. Another reason not to lose your iPhone.
The titanium card isn't meant to be used as your primary way to pay. It's a fallback that exists because not all point-of-sale terminals accept Apple Pay. Contrast that with Samsung Pay, which can also work like your credit card's magnetic stripe. However, in making the card look so iconically Apple, the company geniusly turned a negative -- Apple Pay doesn't work at every payment terminal -- into a coveted status symbol by creating a product that people will instantly recognize. A titanium card is the Apple Card. But it won't work without your iPhone.
Apple Card perks make iPhone payments easier
Apple wants to manage all aspects of your credit card through the iPhone, from issuing a line of credit in "minutes" (you must have a high enough credit rating to qualify) to paying for things in any online or brick-and-mortar store and transferring payments to others through the app.
You won't have to load a new card into Apple Pay, you can use the card across your Apple devices and you can authenticate with Face ID or Touch ID. The iPhone's Wallet app will also help you track your finances and estimate how much you'll have to pay if you can't clear your monthly balance at once.
Plus, you'll accrue Daily Cash -- between 1 and 3 percent cash back -- which can go toward any purchase or even paying down your monthly bill. Those cash back rates aren't top of the scale, but the convenience factor will be high, especially if you use some of that cash back to buy next year's iPhone.
What happens if you quit Apple Card?
We've walked through the Apple Card's perks, but there's still one more reason why Apple's credit card locks you to an iPhone: What happens if you cancel?
People open or cancel lines of credit every day, but they can have repercussions that impact your credit score. Common wisdom suggests that frequently opening and closing cards can make you appear less reliable, so deciding to get the Apple Card means you'll want to hold onto it for a while -- and, by extension, an iPhone.
Credit card advice sites such as Credit Karma and Nerd Wallet warn against closing your oldest account, which has the effect of lowering the average age of your credit history. That, in turn, makes it look like you have a shorter history paying down debt than you might actually have, and history is good when you apply for a loan, rent an apartment or put a down payment on a house.
Apple didn't publicly say it won't support Android, which would make it available to families or individuals with both iOS and Android devices. But its security setup and home in the Wallet means that it's iPhone or bust.
If you want to use an Apple Card, you're using an iPhone. And if your iPhone is tied to your credit card, why would you ever own anything else?
It's showtime for Apple's streaming serviceSee all photos
This story originally published March 27 at 4:30 a.m. PT and updates frequently. It was last updated April 3.