A week with Apple Pay

After a week or so of using Apple Pay almost exclusively, I’m convinced it’s the future.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been carrying around some kind of payment or loyalty card on my phone. It started out with an unofficial app for my Tesco Clubcard and it’s only grown since.

I bet you’re the same, carrying around loyalty and payment cards for Starbucks, Subway, Costa, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Nectar, Cineworld and countless other one-time things like Airline tickets. It’s worked really well and, while I’ve said before that I’ve scrapped loyalty schemes, I’m guilty of carrying round more loyalty cards on my phone than I ever did in my wallet.

With success often there comes problems and the Passbook phenomenom is no exception. Without fail, almost every single time I’ve paid using my watch or phone since Apple Pay launched there has been some kind of untidiness about the transaction – and it’s Passbook’s fault.

Perhaps there’s an argument that retailers should have been preparing their staff better, perhaps card payment merchants should have contacted shops with contactless to let them know something new was coming that would work in their store, or perhaps it’s just something that needs time to bed in but I’ve been shocked by how confusing store staff have found the whole thing.

My first transaction, at 8am on the day Apple Pay launched in the UK, was confused – the Barista assumed I wanted to scan my Costa Card and turned on the scanner, not the card reader – but that’s not as bad as the Starbucks Store in Southampton this week who made the same assumption, only to find that cancelling it and clicking ‘card’ froze up the store’s tills.

A lady in McDonald’s just tried to make me insert my phone into the card slot. #ApplePay— Nic (@picnarkes) July 15, 2015

The staff member serving me at the coffee shop by work that I use on a regular basis had to call her manager when I paid with my watch, essentially accusing me of breaking their till or committing some kind of fraud because she didn’t think Apple Pay was allowed in her store. On the whole, I’ve just met massive problems with trying to communicate clearly how I’d like to pay.

“I’d like to pay with Apple Pay” is the obvious one, but that’ll only work in some places that have signed up or understand it’s just the same as contactless. Even in Nando’s (an official partner) asking that and presenting it to the chap serving was met with “what’s that?”, and that seems to be the theme.

I tried out asking “Can I pay by contactless?” and that worked in Hampshire, but trying it London was just met with someone looking confused. The same of “I’d like to pay by card” in shops I know support contactless, and of “Can I pay by Apple Pay? It’s just a contactless card.”

It seems the wrong way round, but I’ve actually found the language barrier with so many staff in retail in London means Apple Pay has a far better user experience than in our buzzing capital and I’m not sure how we fix that. Perhaps it’s just a case of waiting, and paying using Apple pay as much as possible.

I’m OK with charging graduates more

It seems to me that the dichotomy of being against cuts or for cuts is falling apart as the breadth of the changes the Government are making increases – and actually, for one thing, I’m OK with cutting free money for students.

I’m always pretty fast at coming to an opinion over things, and usually equally as quick at changing my mind but I’ve stuck with this one since the budget, and for once I’m actually informed on the issue as well.

You see I was the first person in my family to go to university, I didn’t come from a well-off background, I received a maintenance grant and a full student loan and I now earn more than average, and pay back some of my student loans each month, as a result of the fact I continued my education.

Frankly, I can’t see what’s wrong with the fact that there was a system in place that allowed me to do some more, very expensive education and then only pay for it when I was seeing the benefit in my pocket.

And I think that’s the problem: what everyone seems to forget is that student loans aren’t like other loans. They aren’t really strung ‘around your neck’, as much as that’s a convenient phrase to use in television interviews and in articles.

I was the first person in my family to go to university, I didn’t come from a well-off background,

Student loans are incredibly cheap debt, they don’t appear on your credit record so they don’t affect your ability §to get other loans, you only pay them back when you’re benefiting from the education you bought and they get written off when you hit 60 whether you’ve paid a penny or not.

That’s not to say that I think the system is faultless either: earning just above the threshold and never progressing means you’ll end up paying back more than someone who earns more and that probably needs fixing somehow and the total amount of funding available each year is laughable, but on the whole the student loan system seems pretty fair.

My argument rests on the assumption that higher education isn’t going to be free.

For what it’s worth, I think charging those people benefiting from the extra education is a far fairer way of paying for it than general taxation.

So far, actually, the main arguments I’ve seen against the changes are that they put poorer people at a disadvantage, saddle young people with too much debt and that tuition fees are wrong anyway and just another example of how the Tories don’t like the young.

None of those things are true without caveats, and I guess if I’m truthful this is where I struggle with so many of the campaigns against cutting (or changing) things that the Government does.

In trying to create a message that’s simple enough for their campaign to catch the wind, complicated facts get simplified or left out and like a bad comedy programme stereotypes are used instead to fill the gaps.

If the evil Mr Osborne has decided to make the change, then of course it must be bad – and of course, it’ll only be half the story too with further evil leaps of faith ‘as standard’.

I’m happy to be enlighted, but I don’t see how someone from a less-well-off background is going to be any less able to afford to go to University as a result of the change from a maintenance grant to more maintenance loan. The amount of money on offer will still be the same, and paying it back will only start when earnings increase as a result.

I’m happy to see the stats in three years and admit I was wrong, but the figures for the number of people applying to go to University don’t seem to be showing that it’s a less attractive offer than it was.

And I’ll happily eat a very small hat if I’m wrong, but I’m still not convinced we need more people to go to University anyway: don’t we have a graduate unemployment problem?

Not all cuts can be bad, you know.

It seems to me that the dichotomy of being against cuts or for cuts is falling apart as the breadth of the changes the Government are making increases – and actually, for one thing, I’m OK with cutting free money for students.

I’m always pretty fast at coming to an opinion over things, and usually equally as quick at changing my mind but I’ve stuck with this one since the budget, and for once I’m actually informed on the issue as well.

You see I was the first person in my family to go to university, I didn’t come from a well-off background, I received a maintenance grant and a full student loan and I now earn more than average, and pay back some of my student loans each month, as a result of the fact I continued my education.

Frankly, I can’t see what’s wrong with the fact that there was a system in place that allowed me to do some more, very expensive education and then only pay for it when I was seeing the benefit in my pocket.

And I think that’s the problem: what everyone seems to forget is that student loans aren’t like other loans. They aren’t really strung ‘around your neck’, as much as that’s a convenient phrase to use in television interviews and in articles.

I was the first person in my family to go to university, I didn’t come from a well-off background,

Student loans are incredibly cheap debt, they don’t appear on your credit record so they don’t affect your ability §to get other loans, you only pay them back when you’re benefiting from the education you bought and they get written off when you hit 60 whether you’ve paid a penny or not.

That’s not to say that I think the system is faultless either: earning just above the threshold and never progressing means you’ll end up paying back more than someone who earns more and that probably needs fixing somehow and the total amount of funding available each year is laughable, but on the whole the student loan system seems pretty fair.

My argument rests on the assumption that higher education isn’t going to be free.

For what it’s worth, I think charging those people benefiting from the extra education is a far fairer way of paying for it than general taxation.

So far, actually, the main arguments I’ve seen against the changes are that they put poorer people at a disadvantage, saddle young people with too much debt and that tuition fees are wrong anyway and just another example of how the Tories don’t like the young.

None of those things are true without caveats, and I guess if I’m truthful this is where I struggle with so many of the campaigns against cutting (or changing) things that the Government does.

In trying to create a message that’s simple enough for their campaign to catch the wind, complicated facts get simplified or left out and like a bad comedy programme stereotypes are used instead to fill the gaps.

If the evil Mr Osborne has decided to make the change, then of course it must be bad – and of course, it’ll only be half the story too with further evil leaps of faith ‘as standard’.

I’m happy to be enlighted, but I don’t see how someone from a less-well-off background is going to be any less able to afford to go to University as a result of the change from a maintenance grant to more maintenance loan. The amount of money on offer will still be the same, and paying it back will only start when earnings increase as a result.

I’m happy to see the stats in three years and admit I was wrong, but the figures for the number of people applying to go to University don’t seem to be showing that it’s a less attractive offer than it was.

And I’ll happily eat a very small hat if I’m wrong, but I’m still not convinced we need more people to go to University anyway: don’t we have a graduate unemployment problem?

Not all cuts can be bad, you know.

Are apps making us unhealthily thin?

I’m sure it’s nothing new that advances in our abilities get the blame for all of the ills of the day.

On almost a weekly basis someone approaches me asking for advice on how to stop people talking about them on a Facebook ‘rant site’, someone else asks me how we can turn off the Twitter and another approaches me for advice on getting some compliment or other off the Internet so that they can share it with people.

They might be upset at the former two and happy at the last, but if you asked them straight out what they thought of social media then you’d almost always hear something negative. The people posting complaints on social media are usually time wasters, need something better to do or should be headed out to the shops to get a life according to the people they have criticised. Some people even think they should be banned.

Now, perhaps that’s true. Perhaps most of the complaints on the Internet are being written by people sat in the dark wearing slightly off-white y-fronts and sipping from a fresh can of diet coke, but thinking that way makes it too easy to ignore the underlying problem that no-one complains unless you’ve given them a reason.

My day job is to convince businesses and people to  calm down their gut reactions enough to ignore where the comments came from and get on with solving the problem.

So I was interested to hear a feature on Weekend Women’s Hour yesterday (what?!) while I was driving back from experiencing Bicester Village for the first time, looking at the ‘hidden dangers’ of fitness apps. It got me thinking: do apps cause problems, or do apps simply reveal them?

This is probably something we should be discussing as monitoring equipment for everything from how active we are to our blood oxygen level is increasingly being monitored and recorded by the devices around us and even more so as companies like Apple bring out devices that make recording your blood oxygen level a mainstream activity.

The argument on the programme was that fitness apps ask users to specify a current weight, a target weight and a time limit and get given a number of calories per day to aim for regardless of how healthy that weight or the journey to get there might be.

To lay the blame for these problems at the door of the app developers is disingenuous, intentionally or not.

No doubt, displaying a simple number and using maths to solve a problem is just a logical way of doing things for the programmers behind the apps, but according to those opposed it’s a logic that can make a relationship with food less emotional than it should be and, experts say, that can lead to problems and obsessions. And there’s no doubt that they’re right, but I think it’s concerning to hear apps getting the blame.

I’ve had problems with my weight before – I spent a lot of my early teenage life hoping that I could just bloody gain some – but when I’ve played around with the most popular of the apps my fascination with hitting the magic calorie number has lasted for, at most, about three days.

My experience was more that I found it laborious to enter the details of what I’d eaten and disappointing to find that even without picking up anything remotely sweet I’d exceeded my RDA of sugar. I know my friends and a couple of people I’ve lived with had a similar experience too. At best entering my life into an app had a quick-wearing shine, but it’s easy to see how for someone with a pre-existing problem that might not be the case.

I think to lay the blame for these problems at the door of the app developers is disingenuous, intentionally or not, and ultimately just distracting from the real challenge that we have to fix perceptions of body image, to fix the problems we have with food advertising and to a certain extent to fix parenting too.

Like blaming social media and people ‘who need to get a life’ for complaints about your shop being too cold on Facebook it’s easy to look at social media, or an app, or the Internet and blame it for any ill that can be found, but wouldn’t it be more productive to find out how to change the thermostat?

Cineworld, you’re doing it wrong

I went to the cinema at the weekend, partially to indulge the old lady inside me and partially because I thought it might help me stave off the isolation and loneliness of a Saturday with no plans.

Sure, I had plenty to do this weekend but most of the things on the list weren’t all that inspiring and many of them involved staying in the flat, alone, staring at a computer and because that’s what I do every day for work I thought it was probably best to make a change.

So I went and sat in a dark room and stared at a screen I wasn’t in control of instead. The film was alright – The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, since you asked – although it lacked a plot, it was nice to check in on the old gals Judi and Maggie, and once again the film managed to convince me that I really do want to visit India again.

If you saw the first Best Exotic film and enjoyed it then you should almost certainly pop by for the second instalment because, although it is disappointing, you probably won’t leave feeling disappointed. Evyln’s (Judi Dench) indecision over a new job and her potential proposal and marriage to Douglas goes to show the immaturity of even the most mature adults, while Muriel (Maggie Smith) provides the reassuring guiding advice that we’ve all come to expect (or miss) from our grandparents.

It’s all just rather lovely, and rather than Popcorn it should most definitely be served with a homemade cornflake cake and a cup of tea from a proper china cup – but it’s not. I don’t know whether you’ve been to the cinema lately, but if my experience of a few of my locals is anything to go by then if you haven’t been for a while you may be in for a surprise.

Cinemas seem to have a rather odd feeling about them; a feeling not dissimilar to how Blockbuster felt towards the end and not perhaps unlike that cafe just down the road: the carpet isn’t quite as clean as it should be and there’s signs of what used to be just left; mothballed perhaps with the intention of future use, or perhaps because it would just be too expensive to do anything else.

In the past, a visit to the cinema was much like a visit to your own little bit of Hollywood. Just as films are renowned  for their glamour and glitz so was the local cinema – to a fashion, anyway. Right back to the wars and beyond, there was a special attraction about the houses of escapism but it seems as though in the age of the Internet, the downloadable film and the insatiable search for a profit from the ever-tightening wallets of fewer and fewer people.

IMG_0584

It’s tickets from the sweet counter and just one of the two ways you can get in to the cinema screens open today, I’m afraid. The carpet’s seen much, much better days and even the popcorn comes pre-made in bags now.  It’s not surprising really, since 2014 saw cinema box office sales drop by almost 3% – not much you might think, but this is an industry with high fixed costs and very low margins where a couple of percent can be the difference between an individual cinema being in the red or in the black.

So I was really shocked to see, when I booked my tickets using the Cineworld iPhone app, the rather backward experience of being charged to do all the booking myself. OK, it was only fifty pence but it worries me that the concept of charging for ‘remote booking’ is just the tip of a very big iceberg which, when you look closer, is actually quite easy to see.

A trip to the cinema is all about the experience, and it worries me that aside from the rundown buildings the closed-but-still-there ticket purchase point in the foyer and the abolition of the special card cinema tickets in favour of standard receipt roll ‘the special’ is getting lost.

There’s the charging extra for 3D films, then extra again for the glasses when you get there; the expensive food which suddenly becomes such a lot cheaper per item if you buy more of it and the extra-special seats that make up the 1st class cinema at the very back.

It seems to me that these guys are playing a short term game of profits now, but is it also a game of survival later?

Don’t talk to me about card clash

For what seems like forever now, London has been living in terror of card clash and the consequences it might bring. It’s actually only been since September, but the dreary announcements and faux-fear posters have made it seem much, much longer.

But have we been misled? It was at a ticket gate in London Waterloo’s underground station that I began to wonder whether there was something else we should all be worrying about instead.

Everyone, even people who don’t live in London, knows that in today’s real terms card clash is a very big issue and people up, and indeed down, the land live in fear of the day it strikes them or someone they love.

It’s not contagious and it almost certainly never ends in death, but the risk of accidentally paying TfL about fourteen quid for a journey that should have cost as little as two and a half is so great that many people in London, reports say up to 55%, have been forced to remove their Oyster card from their wallet this year just through fear; others have taken to walking or cycling and some have just stayed at home.

TfL’s fear campaign has been so effective that some have suggested sending the marketing executives behind it to help with the fight against Ebola – another proximity-based technology – in West Africa.

But I’m concerned that we’re missing something bigger.

The other day I almost dropped my debit card on the floor without noticing while I was using the Underground. Luckily, I didn’t drop it and I did notice but it got me thinking about what might have happened if I had’ve, and I hadn’t. It goes without saying that this would have been mildly inconvenient.

Figures I obtained because I could think of nothing better to do at the time show that, since September when contactless launched on the Underground, the number of cards found on London Underground stations has increased by an almost perceivable number. Terrifying.

Look at this:

Graph borrowed from the Mirror’s piece about my FOI

This almost imperceivable increase in the number of cards being found might just be chance, but it could also be the slippery slope: our minds distracted by the constant whinging about card clash.

Now, if I were a better blogger then I would probably be building up to some kind of big finish around about now. But I’m not.

I am a blogger who made an FOI request and then completely forgot why I was interested in the figures and relied purely on the things that came out of my fingers when I was staring at the data.