The new iPhones handle nicely, but Apple Pay is why you should actually buy one

Miniature Tim Cook not included.
Miniature Tim Cook not included.
Image: Reuters/Stephen Lam
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CUPERTINO, California—In addition to slipping on the new Apple Watch for a couple of minutes, I got to handle the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, with their new, larger screen sizes—4.7 inches and a gigantic 5.5 inches.

Their design is slick and sleek: Despite their size, both phones are slimmer than the iPhone 5s, and slide easily into a jeans pocket. And there are a host of improvements inside as well as out, including faster Wi-Fi, enhanced cameras, and software tweaks that make even the 6 Plus operable with one hand.

But after watching CEO Tim Cook’s keynote and playing with these new iPhones, I think the real reason to buy them is that they’re the only phones capable of using Apple Pay, the new mobile payment system the company unveiled today.

Others have tried to get mobile payments off the ground. Google Wallet, PayPal, Square and a bunch of others you’ve never heard of have all taken their shot. None has really caught on.

Essentially, the mobile-payment movement has just been standing around waiting for Apple to decide what it wants to do. Through iTunes and the App Store, the company already has hundreds of millions of credit cards on file. Now, it has struck deals with major credit-card companies and businesses to implement their tap-to-pay system, in the US to start. You’ll soon be able to use your phone to pay at the McDonald’s drive-thru window; you can’t get much more mainstream than that.

As for security, well, one of the chains participating in the Apple Pay rollout is Target, which has to be paranoid about such things after last year’s massive data breach. So if they’re comfortable with Apple’s approach, that’s probably a good sign.

The catch is that only the two new iPhones will include the technology, called NFC, that will make Apple Pay possible. So if you want to take advantage of the service, you’ll need the new hardware.

Who knows? Maybe the new health-and-fitness apps in iOS 8 will figure out a way to quantify the benefits of not having to sit on a two-inch-thick lump of a wallet all day.

Rich Jaroslovsky is vice president of SmartNews Inc., and a veteran technology journalist. Follow him on Twitter at @RichJaro.