Depending on your point of view, you may see the introduction of Apple Pay as another step along the way to our collective and wholesale addiction to our smartphones or as the welcome introduction of a quick and easy payment method.
There might, however, be another way of looking at Apple Pay and similar digital wallet services. Relatively recently, the engine room of this country’s economy was powered almost completely by cash. That situation, of course, was ruptured by the introduction of debit cards and the widespread use of credit cards in stores and online. Even so, the majority of transactions are still completed with cash. We are then, still a long way from being a cashless society like, for instance, Hong Kong or the United Kingdom, where the transformation towards touch and pay and digital wallets has been swift and comprehensive. But it is accurate to say that the days of paper money are probably numbered, particularly as the Government continues the push towards digital payments.
In 2015, we noted that the introduction of the Hafilat rechargeable card on Abu Dhabi's buses marked a significant point on the road to cashless transactions. As a paper, we worried at the time that the UAE's transformation away from paper money may result in our wallets bulging with recharge cards and debit and credit cards jostling for space in our pockets with our Emirates ID card, healthcare provider details and driving licence. We have also consistently called for the streamlining of more services into the ID card and certainly this appears to be happening. But most of us are still required to carry far too many pieces of plastic to go about our daily lives. Employees of this newspaper, for instance, need to carry more than one identity card just to come to work each day.
A cashless society is about streamlining and simplifying some of those processes - that is undoubtedly the biggest dividend delivered by digital wallet services. Cash is still king, for now, but its crown has been loosened.