Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is no stranger to redefining a product by packaging it in a new, sleek, and shiny design. The iPhone and the iPod before it were not the first in their respective consumer electronics categories. However, both devices pushed the limits of what was possible from a smartphone and music player, and their popularity has made Apple into arguably the most successful electronics hardware provider ever.

In recent years, Apple has pivoted to a more service-oriented business. The App Store, a healthcare segment tied to the Watch, Apple TV (as well as the soon-to-be-launched Apple TV+ streaming service), and Apple Pay are leading the charge for the double-digit growth segment. A new product extension of Apple Pay, Apple Card, is getting a lot of attention, including the typical Apple treatment as a game-changing product entry just like the iPhone was. However, the new credit card probably won't be the same kind of game changer.

A smartphone with the Apple Card service and titanium credit card next to it

Image source: Apple

Trolling its e-payment competitors

During the company's fiscal 2019 third-quarter report, CEO Tim Cook cited electronic payments giant PayPal (NASDAQ:PYPL) when touting the growth of Apple Pay. Cook said:

Apple Pay is now completing nearly one billion transactions per month, more than twice the volume of the year-ago. Apple Pay launched in 17 countries in the June quarter, completing our coverage in the European Union and bringing us to a total of 47 markets currently. Based on June quarter performance, Apple Pay is now adding more new users than PayPal, and monthly transaction volume is growing four times as fast. In the United States, in addition to a successful integration into Portland's transit system in May, we're beginning the rollout of New York City Transit, and we'll launch in Chicago later this year.  

Just to review, Apple Pay allows iPhone and Watch users to carry their credit card info in their device, enabling one-touch payments with the device at participating retailers and service providers. Ride hailing and public transit has been a key area of growth for Pay, but the service is reportedly accepted at about two-thirds of retailers in the U.S.  

Apple Pay would thus be a big stand-alone business but still far smaller than PayPal. During its last reported quarter, PayPal processed $172 billion in payments, a 24% year-over-year increase, and net new active accounts grew by nine million. PayPal is no slouch, but Apple Pay is just younger and smaller, and therefore growing faster.

Nevertheless, CEO Tim Cook has made it a habit of touting his company's superiority over the competition. During Apple's 2018 developer conference, Cook and friends put Facebook on notice, introducing a slew of new privacy settings aimed at limiting data collection practices from social media and internet search apps. While not exactly throwing the world of finance under the bus this latest go-around, Apple is trying its hand at the disruption game again.

Promoting a wallet-less world with ... a wallet

With Apple Pay a key ingredient in the service segment's success, the new Apple Card looks to double down on the cashless and wallet-less payment software. And, true to form, the Apple Card is a bit different than what's currently out there.

First, though accepted applicants (currently an invitation-only process for iPhone users) will receive a sleek and minimalist physical credit card made of titanium, Apple Card is tethered to the iPhone and the Apple Pay wallet. The card itself is so consumers can complete transactions where Apple Pay isn't accepted. Security is also a top feature as the card has no numbers on it; all of that is housed in the Pay wallet, locked down behind the iPhone's security features.

Second, the credit card and digital wallet integration will also show users how much to pay each month in order to minimize interest charges, and there are no account holder fees of any kind. As the partner issuing bank, that will keep Goldman Sachs' profits in check. Cash back rewards will accrue daily rather than monthly, the typical credit card industry standard. Spending will also be tracked and visually categorized on the app for account holder's convenience.  

The Apple Card certainly looks and behaves a bit differently than the typical credit card, but it's likely to be a simple extension of Apple Pay rather than a category-redefining product. For one thing, the Card is only going to be available to Apple product users, at least at this point. Plus, though it's an Apple credit card, it isn't exactly a completely new invention -- Goldman Sachs, as mentioned above, is the issuing bank, and Mastercard is providing the electronic payments network.  

If it were up to Apple, though, the company would have you believe this is a new product introduction, like how the iPhone tackled the telecom world and how the iPod changed the music industry before that. It won't be, but the digital payments industry is a fast-growing one. According to McKinsey Research, global cashless payments are expected to go from about $2 trillion a year now to $3 trillion a year in five years' time.

Apple Card thus looks more like a way for Apple to further embed itself into the lives of its users rather than a new product category. However, with Apple Pay playing in a fast-growing section of the fintech sandbox, the Card could help move the needle for Apple's services segment over the next decade if it encourages more iPhone users to ditch their wallets and purses.