Apple Wallet Is iPhone's New Secretly Sticky App

Apple Wallet
Some Apple Wallet features include (left to right): Apple Pay Later, driver's license verification and sharing digital keys. APPLE

Getting blue text bubbles in your Messages app, instead of green ones from non-iPhones, is supposedly Apple's method of device lock-in. But, even more so, Apple Wallet is suddenly becoming the reason to continue using an iPhone—it keeps the device sticky so existing owners don't jump ship. It's been a slow burn to creating this must-have app, but now with its hook in a few key areas, like Apple Pay, ID cards and event tickets, the Apple Wallet could become increasingly hard to live without.

Heading to a San Diego Padres baseball game recently, it struck me how prominent Apple Wallet is now for event tickets. Ticketmaster, for one, is quick to suggest using Apple Wallet at a venue in case connectivity is limited or unavailable. This was also the same messaging across sports for a Warriors NBA Finals game, too.

We're coming up on 10 years since Apple originally introduced Passbook, which turned into Apple Wallet in 2015. Android phones are capable of handling tickets and NFC payments just fine, but the number of users lag behind Apple's because the functionality is split across Google, Samsung and others providing wallet apps.

Now, with its foundation being laid over the last decade, Apple is putting its foot on the accelerator to make Apple Wallet inescapable, for better or worse. Apps will soon be able to get ID and age verification (enabled by the rollout of digital driver's licenses); flying and other governmental checkpoints should be faster; and a pay-later service will be available. These things are all being enabled to make Apple Wallet on iPhone a trusted and important part of daily life.

ID Cards

State ID cards and driver's licenses have finally gone digital. Arizona and Maryland are among the first states in the U.S. to allow residents to add these state-issued cards to Apple Wallet. There are more than a dozen other states currently working on the process to enable digitization, too, as of mid-2022. At first, this advancement feels a little scary, but so far Apple has shown it builds these experiences with solid security in mind.

Plus, the benefits of having a digital driver's license or state ID card can be tremendous. In June, at its developer's conference, Apple showed off how someone could buy alcohol using only an app with a government-sanctioned ID in Apple Wallet because the app would be able to verify a person is over 21 years old.

These new software hooks that developers can use to get Wallet-specific answers about someone will allow people to keep their birth date and address secret, but, as an example, could still confirm they are over a certain age. In this way, digital IDs are more secure than handing a card to a bartender in person. Theoretically, this future would mean a police officer, TSA agent or a random food service app could verify only the information they needed to, and nothing more.

Apple Pay

A new feature coming to Apple Wallet is Apple Pay Later. As the name suggests, people using Apple's contactless payment system won't need to pay the full amount for their purchase and could defer some money until later, over time.

Anecdotally, I've noticed most stores at which I shop support Apple Pay. It's not just nationwide chains like Target or CVS, either; it's all kinds of stores that have contactless NFC-supported terminals. With Apple Pay Later, you'll be able to split up any purchase into four equal payments without interest—using whatever card is linked through Apple Pay.

PayPal, Affirm and Afterpay already offer these types of payment plans, but with Apple adding the feature to Wallet, people might feel more compelled to stick with Apple Pay. Plus, this buy now, pay later feature is all managed through Apple Wallet as a single point of consolidation.

Tap to Pay

If one half of the equation is consumer demand for Apple Pay, the other half is merchant adoption and encouragement for consumer use. Announced in February and rolling out later in 2022, Tap to Pay allows approved merchants to use only an iPhone to accept Apple Pay payments. Instead of needing any additional hardware or payment dongles, people can pay from iPhone to iPhone.

While Tap to Pay is not really made to be a consumer-to-consumer feature, it enables home technicians, mom-and-pop stores and other retailers to interact directly with consumers in safe and modern ways. It's an extension of Apple Pay that keeps people using Apple Wallet more often.

Home Keys in Apple Wallet

Typing in a passcode for a smart home lock is simpler than carrying around a physical key, but Apple's home key is even easier, surprisingly. When I reviewed the Schlage Encode Plus smart home lock, I was pleasantly delighted by the home key feature. This digital key can be stored in Apple Wallet wherever its available, such as on an iPhone or Apple Watch. No summoning Siri or remembering a code. Simply double-click the side button on either product and hold the visible home key next to the lock.

Even if you're not ready to commit to using Apple Wallet for financial cards yet, using it for keys is convenient. It's not only house keys in Apple Wallet, however; soon it will be car keys, too. I can't comment on Apple's specific implementation of digital keys for cars, but I do know firsthand that having your car's key on your phone is amazing. Tesla uses its app as a key for its cars, and all you need to do is walk up to the vehicle with your phone and it unlocks and starts—no bulky key fob needed.

Apple Wallet Gaining Steam

Separately, each of these pieces of Apple Wallet are neat, but probably not life-changing. But as the benefits increase and all these modern conveniences become available in Apple Wallet, it could make the app feel hard to avoid.

I'm lucky enough not to need to carry keys for my house or car. My credit and debit cards are all available in Apple Wallet. Plus, my vaccination card, Starbucks card, health insurance, car insurance and loyalty cards are all digital. Now, I just need California to work with Apple to get its driver's license into Apple Wallet so I can get rid of my physical wallet altogether. And once I'm not carrying a wallet and my life is in Apple Wallet, it's going to be much harder to switch away from an iPhone.