Friday, March 29, 2019

Thoughts on Apple Card

On Monday Apple announced Apple Card. It's a physical credit card tied to Apple Pay/Cash. Here are the features:
  • Pretty receipts that provide information, such as the location, about your purchase. They'll also categorize the type of spending for you.
  • You get 3% cash back on Apple purchases. 2% back on purchases made using Apple Pay. 1% on purchases made using the physical card.
  • You get the cash back to your Apple Cash account each day.
  • No fees. No annual, cash‑advance, over-the-limit, or late fees.
  • Interest rates that are comparable to the lowest in the industry.
  • It shows how much interest you pay if you do the minimum, pay off the balance, and in between.
  • The card itself is made of titanium and is a clean white. Doesn't show a card number, just your name at the Apple Logo. The number is stored on your iPhone in case you need to look it up.
  • It uses the same security as Apple Pay with dynamic security codes for each purchase and authentication via Face/Touch ID.
  • Customer Service happens via iMessage.
  • Goldman Sachs is the issuing bank of the card.
Wow! That seems like a lot.

The Good

From what I can gather, each of those individual features is available, in parts, from other services. Want pretty spending reports with categories? Mint has you covered. What cash back? CapitalOne is one of hundred examples, also with no fees. Want a titanium card? Mastercard offers one, and I bet there's more.

For the record, I'm not a credit rewards points hacker. I don't spend hours on nerdwallet trying to optimize my points so my family can fly for free. Maybe once my kids are old enough to appreciate a trip I'll change my mind... Once I see the price of four seats! For now, I have a "regular" credit card that I pay off each month. In this regard, I consider myself average.

To me, the compelling case for the card is all the features coming together. This is especially true if security is important to you. Again, no feature alone is enough to make me ditch my current go-to card, but putting them all together starts to make the case.

I do wonder if the card will eventually bend to the shape of my body since 99% of the time I'll be sitting on it.

The Perception Problem

When I read reviews, most of them are "meh."

This confused me for a while. Sure, there's no killer feature, and it's a non-starter for credit hackers/optimizers, but for the average person, it's fine. Why all the hate?

I think it's because Apple continues to use over-the-top superlatives to describe their products: "The most significant change to the credit card experience in 50 years." was Tim Cook's final statement about Apple Card.

That's quite the statement. It's probably true, but they didn't show me any distinctive feature that proves it.

Post Jobs era, Apple chooses to focus on checking all the required boxes instead of figuring out, and focusing on, what could indeed set it apart. For example, when iPhone launched there wasn't copy and paste. BUT, when you scrolled there was a rubber band bounce effect that made it seem like the content on the screen had "weight," which matched your feeling of friction on the phone. It felt different and significant even if technically it was a UI trick that didn't depend on the touch screen.

Apple Card includes the equivalent of copy and paste but doesn't have any fun scrolling effects, so it feels boring despite actually being more functional and complete out the gate.

Hence the scoffing at "the most significant change to the credit card experience in 50 years."


BTW, Apple Watch appears to struggle from the same perception issue. It's a great watch! But they hyped it up so much, it couldn't live up to those expectations, especially when the 3rd app thing didn't really work out. Here's an idea: Scrap 3rd party apps and make them complications only. Then open up an API to create and sell watch faces via an app store with all the same reviews as the current App Store. It seems so obvious. What am I missing?


Back to Apple Card.

One option to solve the perception problem is to under promise and over deliver, but underpromising isn't in Apple's DNA.

The other option is to keep iterating on the product until you find that "significant" feature. Here are two ideas, for free.

Show Me Colors

Just one color? Why not 6 like the iPhone XR? White, black (or space gray for you Pro users out there), blue, yellow, coral, and (PRODUCT)RED. Like the iPhone and Apple Watch, the card is personal and letting me make a color choice makes it feel personal. I suspect this will be a future option if the card sells well.

Psychology is weird. People want to feel in control; that they're in charge and making the decision. So when you offer one product option, only one choice, people take control by deciding if they're going to get it or not. However, and this is where it's weird, if you offer them 2 or 3 product offerings, they're willing to take control by choosing which one they want. Notice, they were happy to give up the power on whether or not to purchase as long as they got to decide something.

This works great for kids. Don't tell them to put on their shoes, ask them which pair they want to put on. This works for adults too. I use this technique when working with tenants. This is one reason why offering different colors, payment plans, memory sizes, and product bundles work so well.

Dynamic Numbers

If you've used Apple Pay, you know that there's a default card, but you can change cards on the fly right before paying.

Why not offer the same option with the physical card? Apple Card could be a dumb piece of titanium that can stand in for any card held in the Apple Wallet. Now, this would be a game changer! You have to authenticate the transaction no matter what, so give me the option to change cards on the fly.

Clearly, there's a lot of caveats, and the exact way it would need to work is likely different than I just described, but the general idea is sound: let one physical card stand in for all your credit cards.

I'm sure there's some sort of technical and fraud hurdles to overcome, but that's the hallmark of Apple: figuring out how to bring software and hardware (and services apparently) together in ways previously thought impossible.

Had Apple come out with this, and forgone the pretty reports, daily cash back or any cash back (!), this card would be the talk of the industry solely for its ability to consolidate.

I think Apple was hoping that the slick looking titanium would be enough, but it's not. It doesn't make my life appreciably better. Instead, it feels like Apple figured out a way to make money via credit card interest fees and choose to hype it up a little too much.

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