The Apple Credit Card is a Test of Brand Loyalty
Among all the backwards things that the world's most valuable company is doing – building a streaming service, a new news app, and a gaming platform – the Apple credit card (inventively branded 'Apple Card') seemed to be an underwhelming product announcement in theory. In a year when Samsung announced a phone that can fold in half and Google showed they can now translate conversations still in progress, a reimagined credit card doesn't feel like it's pushing the envelope.
But this card has to be something really special right? I mean, a company like Apple prides itself on both its software and hardware, to the point where they've branded themselves as a status symbol even though almost half the country owns an iPhone. Like maybe it's so sharp it can cut through Kevlar, so you can use it to threaten a slow-scanning cashier. Or maybe it's so potent that you only have to insert it twice for the stupid chip to work! Again, this is Apple we're talking about here! You know, the people who pioneered the idea of… making everything super expensive for no reason. Perhaps it's physically tethered to your iPhone so you can summon it at a moment's notice, as if it were subject to the whims of a stray Accio charm. It's actually better than all of those! Check it out – its features include being made of titanium, and, uh, having your name etched by a laser. It's all evocative of Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland's first major business venture: the Magnises (presumably a portmanteau of 'magnetic' and 'penis') card. Magnises wasn't even a real card (it copied the information of another card), but it was a metal card and a black card, and that was cool enough.
You'd think, 'surely there must be more', a sentiment which is the correct reaction to a product that offers no existing improvements to a system that has been around for over a half-century, but your pleas would be left unanswered. It has a very meh rewards package – see if you can spot the theme – 3% back on Apple purchases, 2% back when using Apple Pay, and 1% back when using the Apple card. Not only is this unimpressive, but it pales in comparison to its tech peers when juxtaposed with the likes of Amazon's 5% back on Amazon or Whole Foods purchases. They do boast that you can visualize all your purchases with an in-app map to track potential fraudulent purchases and a series of bar graphs to categorize your spending, but these are far from new ideas. It also has no numbers, probably because they ran out of money for the laser etcher, but there's still a virtual card number in your wallet app so you can worry about one more thing when you eventually lose your phone.
The craziest part about all of this is that services like Apple Pay (a rip-off of KakaoPay) were created specifically so that credit cards would be rendered obsolete. You didn't need to carry a wallet on your person, you just had to have your phone and a sliver of battery power, and a simple touch would process the payment. Even if utilizing near-field communications for in-store payments wasn't Apple's own idea, it was clearly a winning one, and one that should have been incorporated into the larger Apple ecosystem (Google Pay would launch a year later, and Microsoft Pay a year after that). And while only about one in ten iPhone users actually utilize Apple Pay, it's an example of good high-level innovation and solid engineering. All of this makes the introduction of a physical card – which again, is the mortal enemy of a digital wallet – even more baffling. In 2019, you could get a credit card, load it into your favorite digital wallet, and then destroy the physical card because you literally didn't need it anymore (of course keeping one default card for places that don't accept electronic payment).
The folding phone, the instant translation – who needs all that when you can just reinvent the wheel by making it all white? Apple Card is simple, but on purpose, because they're geniuses or something. You know, credit cards. The things that that we have five of in our wallets, and are already as simple as can be. Apple has (true to form) copied technology that several others created before and pitted it as something revolutionary that only they could accomplish, shamelessly (and inaccurately) boasting on their website that "Apple Card completely rethinks everything about the credit card."
It makes you think about the times, very very long ago, when Apple did actually rethink things. Apple's greatest creation wasn't the iPhone, or the Apple Watch, or any hardware. It was actually iMessage. Not only does it seamlessly combine text messaging and instant messaging – an impressive foresight as the world gravitated towards non-paid services like Facebook's Messenger and the then-separate WhatsApp, among others. The ability to integrate such a core functionality without requiring the use of a strange new app or the creation of additional account credentials demonstrated a base-level understanding of user behavior. iPhones have become so commonplace that it isn't necessarily impressive to see someone flaunting a thousand-dollar phone, to the point that those without iPhones are looked at with some measure of derision, a sentiment captured in the 'green messages' of Android users as they appear in iMessage. Alas, having blue messages is the true status symbol.
Sidenote: Android inexplicably made this feature look even better by refusing to build a native messaging application that could be accessed from other devices, uncharacteristically failing multiple times at the same endeavor – see Google Talk (abandoned in favor of Hangouts), Google Hangouts chat (which was always more video-focused), Google Buzz (their integrated social network which was abandoned in favor of Google Plus), Google Plus messenger (which would have required people to use Google Plus), Google Spaces (more forum-based), and Allo (???). Launched last year, Android Messages features full Google Assistant integration, although it still clings to weird relics from the past like a QR code-based login and the need for your phone to have an internet connection. Tenth time's the charm, I guess.
The frequent criticism of Apple is that they overcharge for products, and that superior electronics are available at a much lower price point. But at least with most of their products, you actually get something, like a phone or a computer. With Apple Card, you don't actually get anything that's useful. Nothing. But it's Nothing by Apple, and that just might be enough.