Identity Wars: Why Apple Pay Is About More Than Payments

Editor’s Note: Patrick Salyer is the chief executive officer of Gigya, a customer identity management company.

There’s been no shortage of attention paid to the launch of the new iPhones, with their array of shiny new features, bigger screens and better hardware. Early reviews seem to indicate that the company has, yet again, come through with another massive success.

Many of those who stood in around-the-block lines or refreshed their Internet browsers incessantly just for the pleasure of pre-ordering probably were thinking about the differences between the two new phones: Do I get the model with the 4.7-inch screen or the 5.5-inch screen? Do I go with the space gray, gold or silver finish? Do I really need the 1920-by-1080-pixel camera resolution?

All perfectly fair questions to ask when buying a new phone but not as important as this: When you buy the new iPhone, you’re not just purchasing your next phone; you’re making a decision about the future of your digital identity.

Back in June when Apple announced the release of Touch ID for developers at WWDC, the company shrewdly made its entrance into the consumer identity market. And with good cause. Apple is one of the world’s most trusted and revered brands (even after the infamous iCloud celebrity photo leaks), has over 200 million credit cards on file from iTunes accounts and a bevy of devices that users need to authenticate their identities on.

Yet for the longest time, ­Apple was, in my opinion, missing a huge opportunity by not offering Apple ID as an identity provider on apps and websites and gaining a share of a market hotly contested by the likes of Facebook and Google.

Now, with the release of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple finally has the pieces together by combining NFC, seamless authentication and relationships with leading financial institutions. With this combination, it seems Apple has set its sights on ensuring that Apple ID is the identity of choice – not just for payments but for everything.

Consumers have been longing to get rid of passwords for years. Ad nauseam, we’ve heard the clamors for the end of passwords because of the deluge of usernames and passwords we have amassed and the inherent security issues and frustration they create. Imagine never needing to create another user name or password again for any site or app by using your Apple ID. That’s what Touch ID promises.

Ultimately, Touch ID and Apple Pay are proxies for Apple ID, which is becoming paramount to what is sure to be a strategy to overtake other identity providers.

Consumers will love using Apple ID for authentication on sites and apps because of the seamless experience – imagine being able to authenticate quickly not only at point-of-sale systems and mobile apps using your thumbprint but also on third-party sites just by having your phone in close proximity to your computer.

Businesses, or relying parties, will love it because they’ll get more registrations, identify more customers across devices, and have lower shopping cart abandonment. Apple, in turn, will establish more permanence with users, further entrenching them into the Apple ecosystem.

Furthermore, Apple will gain more complete customer understanding by seeing how Apple users interact online. That’s potentially valuable if Apple ever wants to move into advertising to compete with Facebook and Google. All this while providing high security and a “non-social” option for authentication that ties hardware and software together – a critical combination that today’s leading identity provider, Facebook, doesn’t have.

While this may not be the death knell for Facebook’s short-term dominance in identity, all one has to do is look around the industry to see where authentication is heading and see that Facebook is missing a piece of the puzzle.

Google/Google+ ID has gained steady momentum over the last few years and the fact that it has tied identity to its own set of phones (Android) will be important in continuing that growth. Similarly, Amazon, which became an identity provider with the release of Login and Pay with Amazon in 2013, has also taken on the hardware + software identity strategy with the launch of Fire Phone handsets.

And while rumors have swirled for years, Facebook doesn’t seem to be interested in launching a handset, instead opting to produce a layer for Android via Facebook Home, which has seen relatively paltry adoption thus far.

Digital identity is evolving quickly, and as consumers are presented with a greater variety of authentication methods, the competition to become the de facto identity provider among some of the world’s biggest companies is heating up. Apple’s entrance, with Apple Pay/Touch ID as its Trojan horse will put pressure on many of these other providers to offer features like payments or even mobile phones, with features like biometric authentication.

Facebook and Google might have a foothold on identity right now, but it won’t be long before people start logging into sites and apps with their Apple IDs, and when they do, I believe Apple will start to seriously challenge these players. Identity is a fascinating space right now and I can’t wait to see how Apple pushes the other players to get even better.