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Shopping with Apple Pay is seamless in stores, quirky online

After I used Apple Pay for a day of shopping in stores, a few things became clear: The new payment system is convenient, problem-free and even fun.

The same can’t be said for using Apple Pay to shop via apps on my phone or tablet. That system has lots of room for improvement. It’s limited, still buggy and seemed to result in multiple charges for some purchases – at least on Day One.

Apple Pay, which was released last Monday, lets owners of the new iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus store credit card information on their phones and then pay in stores using tap-to-pay wireless terminals. People also can buy items on their phone through some apps.

Any store that has a contactless terminal installed – usually a small screen where you can also swipe your credit card or enter PINs – should be able to accept a payment from an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. Apple says more than 200,000 merchants, including Wegmans, now support contactless payments. A select few of those will actually be labeled with an “Apple Pay” sticker or other branding – you’ll notice them at Whole Foods and Macy’s, for example.

When you’re ready to pay at a store with a contactless terminal, you hold your iPhone close to the device. The Apple Pay interface opens and shows the credit card you have set as the default. You can then change cards or just put your finger on the fingerprint reader to complete the purchase.

It’s wildly simple, although the process might be slightly different depending on what store you’re in.

At Whole Foods, where I spent under $100 on groceries, I simply held up the phone, gave it my thumbprint, got my receipt and left.

Some older store terminals still require a signature if a purchase is over a certain amount (usually $25 or $50). I bought a dress at Bloomingdale’s, an early Apple Pay partner, and had to sign for it after tapping to pay.

The same happened at the clothing retailer Zara, which isn’t an official Apple Pay partner, but which accepts contactless payments. In that case, I still had to choose debit or credit and then sign – but my wallet stayed in my purse.

The setup is a breeze, too. You turn it on by going to Settings, selecting Passbook, and then Apple Pay. Or you can open the Passbook app and turn it on from there. You’ll have to have a credit card stored in your iTunes account (Apple Pay doesn’t support PayPal) and you can store multiple cards in the Passbook app.

Adding cards is easy; you can use the phone’s camera to enter the numbers and expiration date or enter them manually. Most credit cards from major banks will work, although some smaller credit union cards or store-specific cards may not.

When you are ready to pay, you don’t have to turn on the phone or unlock it. If you are near a terminal and have an app open, like Facebook, the phone turns automatically to the Pay interface. And in most cases, once you press the fingerprint reader, the transaction is over.

Apple says the system is more secure than a traditional credit card payment, because Apple Pay doesn’t send an actual credit card number to the merchant. Instead, it sends a onetime code that allows the purchase to be completed. And Apple says it doesn’t see or keep a record of purchases.

Paying for items through apps turned out to be far more problematic.

In apps that support Apple Pay, you choose items and then, when you’re ready to pay, you tap the Apple Pay option and put your thumb or finger on the fingerprint reader to complete the purchase. This works on the new iPhones and also with the new iPads Apple unveiled earlier this month. The iPads can’t be used to buy things in physical stores.

With apps, Apple must rely on developers to include the payment system, and then to include it properly. So far, not many apps support the feature – fewer than 20 now, with some more coming in the spring. The apps now working with Apple Pay include Target, Panera Bread, the Disney Store and Uber, the car-sharing service.