Cardless payments explained: how Apple and Android pay work

Apple Pay has been big news, and other brands such as Android and Barclays are coming up with their own ways to pay without cash or cards. This Be Clever Basics guide gives you the lowdown on going cardless.

This article was originally written in July 2015 and has been updated to include the UK launch of Android Pay.

I was pretty excited about the launch of Apple Pay. I’ve been keen on going cashless for a while now, and this would be a great way to jettison a few cards from my wallet.

The plan was to write a blog called “A week of going cardless”, but things didn’t go to plan.

First, my iPhone case blocked Apple Pay working at the tube. Later in Tesco I just couldn’t get it to read the phone, then my final shop of that first day didn’t take contactless payments.

So it was a resounding failure! But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing to put in the mix. I’m confident it’ll get better!

Here’s what you need to know:

1. What is a cardless payment?

Is actually not complicated – think of it as a digital way you can buy without the need for a debit or credit card (or cash).

The most common way is through a special NFC (near field communication) chip – the same thing that makes contactless cards work.

There are a few ways to get the chip.The main ones are a phone, SIM card, keyring, wristband or a sticker.

Depending on which you choose, it can be either loaded with money or linked to your bank account.

PayPal and a few other have apps which work differently and don’t require chips. Instead, you log into a participating shop or restaurant and are given a code that identifies you.

2. How do cardless payments work?

If you’ve got a contactless bank card, you’ll already be familiar with the tap and pay method.

Shops that accept it will have a card reader, usually the same chip and pin device you slide your card into. You simply place your item with a chip on the reader. It’s exactly the same as using a contactless card.

You don’t need a pin or to sign anything, and you can – depending on the bank card you’re using – spend more than the standard £30 contactless limit.

3. Where can cardless devices be used?

Anywhere that takes contactless cards. We’re one of the most developed countries for this so that’s a lot of places. Here’s a list of the big shop that do – though it doesn’t mean a place not listed there won’t.

However at the moment, you’ll still need cards and cash for the places which don’t, something I wrote about recently.

4. How do I go cardless?

As long as you have the chip, you can sign up to one of the providers.

The highest profile is Apple Pay, which works on iPhone 6, 6+ and SE and links to stored debit or credit cards. You can use Visa, Mastercard and American Express cards, and most banks have signed up to it.

Android Pay launched in May 2016 for Android phones or tablets with a chip running Android KitKat 4.4 or higher. You can only use Android Pay with Visa or Mastercard cards, and currently has less banks signed up than Apple.

Vodafone and Barclays are options if you don’t have a NFC chip in your phone. They also both let you upload money to devices, even if you aren’t a customer with them.


>> Apple Pay
>> Android Pay (formally Google Wallet)
>> Barclays bPay – chips in stickers, wristbands and keyfobs
>> Vodafone Smartpass (iOS and Android phones) – uses a sticker

5. Are cardless payments safe?

Well, it’s no different to using a contactless card.

Both Apple and Android say say no card details are stored on the phone itself.

Apple Pay has added security as you need to use the thumbprint sensor to authorise a payment.

Android doesn’t require a fingerprint scan or for you to unlock you phone for payments under £30.

Vodafone and bPay are top up only, so if you lose the chip you can only lose the amount of money you have put on the there.

It possible you could accidentally swipe against a reader with one of these – so keep an eye on your account.


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