Lunch with Apple Pay

SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. - It's lunchtime at Panera Bread here, where the fast casual chain has welcomed new technology by letting its customers swipe new iPhones in addition to the traditional credit card or cash options.

But despite the 'Now Accepting Apple Pay' sign that greets customers when they walk in there are few takers. Just one in our two-hour visit.

Using Apple Pay is easy. Add a credit card to the iPhone Passbook app, and when you're in a participating store, swipe the phone over the pinpad. Get a text receipt instead of being handed a paper one.

So why weren't people rushing to use Apple Pay during our visit? There are myriad reasons. The biggest is that you need to have the newest iPhone 6 to use Apple Pay and most of the customers we saw had older iPhones. Consider that some 500 million older iPhones are currently in use.

'I'm in a two-year contract and it will be another year before I can get a new phone,' said Panera customer Brian Boles. 'If I can't do it on my old phone, it's not going to happen at this point.'

Since Apple Pay launched on Oct. 20, there's been lots of hype. The new payment system kicked into high gear with big retailers like Whole Foods Market, McDonald's, Subway and Walgreens. Over 1 million new credit cards were added to Apple's Passbook app in just three days.

That's a huge acceptance rate.

Paying with Apple Pay at Panera Bread(Photo: Sean Fujiwara)

But then Big Retail hit back. A consortium of the biggest players - including Target, Wal-Mart, CVS, Best Buy and Rite-Aid - have a competing mobile payment system, CurrentC, that it is slated to launch in early 2015.

The drug chains disabled in-store pinpads that had been in use with Google's Wallet service when they discovered that iPhone users were using it with Apple Pay.

With mobile payments such a hot topic, we wanted to spend time at a retail establishment to see how it's faring. Many of the customers we approached at Panera weren't aware that mobile payments were even an option.

'Where are the signs?,' one asked us. In front of the store, when you walk in, we pointed out.

Fine, he said, but shouldn't Panera have put that same sign maybe....ahem, near the cash register?

Good point.

Educating the associates about Apple Pay wouldn't hurt either. When we finally found a customer who wanted to do it, it was a new experience for him and the associates as well.

The Panera pinpad is a little larger and clunkier than others we've tried. It took several tries to align the iPhone.

The lone Apple Pay customer, however, was very happy.

'I like the fact that it's secure, that you only have to touch your fingerprint to make the payment, and it's fast,' said Darrien James, of Los Angeles.

Others had doubts about trying it.

'People are more vulnerable of fraud, of being hacked,' said Tony Thomason

He didn't think a fingerprint was a strong enough hacking safeguard. 'Absolutely not,' he said. 'You can take somebody's fingerprint.'

James wasn't so sure about that.

'The fingerprint only exists on the phone,' he said. 'So yes, they can hack into it, but they'd have to steal your phone. But how do they get into your phone in the first place if they need a fingerprint to get in?'

James finished up by picking up his turkey sandwich and chips, and finding a table. And we picked up two cookies for the ride home, swiping the iPhone (several times) until we got it right.

Readers: Are you using Apple Pay? How's the experience going? Let us know. Look for me on Twitter, where I'm @jeffersongraham.

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