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A Really Dumb Wall Street Journal Story on Apple Pay That Almost Makes a Good Point at the Very Beginning

Tripp Mickle, writing for The Wall Street Journal:

Apple Inc. is nagging iPhone users to enroll in its mobile-payment service with a persistent red circle badge. The strategy has worked with some, but is irritating others who say it is heavy-handed and exploits the tech giant’s clout in ways that could disadvantage rivals.

The tactic, part of the iPhone’s latest operating software launched last fall, is subtle. Users who opt not to input credit-card information for Apple Pay when setting up their phones now constantly see the red circle over their settings icon, indicating their setup is incomplete. Some users also periodically get notification reminders that go away only once they start the enrollment process.

Mickle has a point here. This does annoy people who, for whatever reason, don’t want to set up Apple Pay. There is a way to dismiss the red badge, but it’s not obvious how, because the button you have to tap says “Set Up Apple Pay”. (After that, you tap “Cancel” or “Set Up Later in Wallet”.) It is inscrutably counterintuitive to need to tap a button that says “Set Up Apple Pay” when your intention is to stop being nagged to set it up because you don’t want to set up Apple Pay.

But the Journal article never explains that you can turn off this red badge. As Mickle tells it, the only way to turn off the badge is to sign up for Apple Pay. That’s just wrong, and renders the remainder of his article moot.

In act 2, the article turns weird:

Though payment analysts say the service speeds up checkout times and is more secure than traditional cards, Apple Pay has struggled to earn broad adoption in the U.S. Many remain skeptical that it is more secure, including Jack Frederick, a 29-year-old professional comedian from Queens, N.Y., who prefers using his credit card directly.

“This is the most aggressive they’ve ever been,” said Mr. Frederick, who has had a red badge over his iPhone settings since updating his software in mid-January. He said the notification has made him consider trading his iPhone 6 for a Google Pixel. “All that from one dot,” he said.

Experts say using Apple Pay is faster and more secure than using a credit card, but here’s a 29-year-old comedian who thinks otherwise. Who wouldn’t take credit card security advice from a completely random guy on the street?

I do think Apple has a marketing problem with Apple Pay, though. I can tell from talking to family members that a lot of people just don’t see why they should try Apple Pay, because they have no idea how it works or why they’d want to use it. And I think they worry that because it’s new and sort of science-fiction-y it will make their credit card more likely to be hacked, when the truth is the opposite. I think Apple needs more ads that explain and demonstrate the convenience and indisputable security advantages of using Apple Pay instead of a credit card, and the extraordinary convenience of Apple Pay Cash. I can see how a lot of people think, “Eh, I’ll just keep using my credit card” when they’re paying for something in a retail store. But Apple Pay Cash could be enough to get these people to set up Apple Pay.

Anyway, in act three, Mickle takes things to the absurd:

“Everyone is doing essentially the same trick,” said Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates. “It’s really antitrust behavior.”

Mr. Kay compared Apple Pay setup badges and notifications to Microsoft Corp. bundling its Internet Explorer browser with Windows in the 1990s — a strategy the Justice Department successfully sued to stop on antitrust grounds saying it hurt rivals. “They used to have actual behavioral remedies and say you can’t do this,” Mr. Kay said.

This is a ridiculous comparison in several ways, but I’ll point out just one. With the benefit of 20 years of hindsight, it’s now clear that one aspect of Microsoft’s defense was correct: web browsers do belong built into operating systems at the system level. Good luck removing Safari from MacOS or iOS. I wish you even better luck removing Chrome from a Chromebook.

Netscape didn’t lose to IE because IE was built into Windows; it lost because IE was better. And when first Firefox and then Chrome came along, they thrived on Windows because they were better than IE.

Apple Pay, as conceived, has to be built into the OS. By Kay’s argument, most of the built-in features in any OS are anticompetitive. What new features could be added to iOS without hurting some sort of competitor?

Apple declined to comment on potential antitrust concerns.

Probably because they were stifling laughter.