Starting today, 6,100 ExxonMobil fuel stations will accept Apple Pay. The company expects that figure to reach 8,000 locations by mid-year, and that all of its U.S. Exxon and Mobil stations—there are nearly 10,000 of them—will be Apple Pay-ready by the end of 2016.
If that fact leaves you with visions of walking up to a gas pump and tapping your iPhone or Apple Watch against it to initiate payment—well, that's what popped into my mind when I first heard the news, too. But ExxonMobil is implementing Apple Pay by integrating support for it into its Speedpass+ iPhone app. While you're still in your car, the app will geolocate you to determine which station you're at. You'll then be able to select a pump and use your fingerprint to verify that it's you doing the paying. Your receipt will also show up in the app, and you'll be able to buy a car wash if the station offers them. (For now, you do all of this on an iPhone, but it's certainly possible it eventually being possible on an Apple Watch.) All you need to do at the pump is select a grade of gas, then fill your tank.
Unless you have an inexplicable fondness for loitering around gas pumps, using Apple Pay built into an app rather than a pump may be the most appealing way to do it: For one thing, it lets you pay without brandishing your wallet or phone outside your car. But this approach was also much, much easier for ExxonMobil to roll out than anything which involved using NFC technology built into the pumps would have been.
Instead of telling gas stations to replace or upgrade pumps—which would have involved $30,000-$40,000 of expenses and major disruption to operations—ExxonMobil is piggybacking on two years' worth of work it's already invested in its Speedpass+ app, which has been undergoing testing in five markets. Adding support for Apple Pay to the iPhone app, which also directly supports a variety of cards, was the easy part. All the stations have to do is install a software update on their payment system. "They've been kind of begging us for this program," says ExxonMobil's W. Bryant Russell, who demoed the app for me at an Exxon station in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The simplicity of this approach is why the company expects to bring Apple Pay support to so many Exxon and Mobil stations—which are owned and operated by 350 independent wholesalers—so quickly, in the first wide-scale deployment of Apple's payment system by a fuel company. (When Chevron announced a pay-at-the-pump Apple Pay pilot program last year, it launched at a grand total of two stations.)
"We heard from our consumers they want payment choice," Russell told me. "Apple Pay brings that to they mix." And for now, ExxonMobil has no announced plans to do anything similar for Android users via Google's Android Pay, though Russell says it's always exploring new options.