Like all things apple, the tech giant’s Apple Pay promises to be a game changer. In this case, iPhone users are now able to securely and privately make swipe-free payments at, to begin with, some 220,000 stores in the U.S. using credit and debit card information stored on their devices. One of the seven men behind this bigger-and-better product is Pakistan’s Ahmer Ali Khan.
Khan, 38, hails from Rawalpindi, graduated from the Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology —where friends knew him as The Programmer—and moved to Silicon Valley in 2000. He worked a number of short tech gigs until landing his first full-time job at a startup. On his first day there, Khan was asked if he knew the Java computer language. He didn’t. But he was ambitious and determined. “‘I promise I will know it by tomorrow,’” Raza Shaukat Latif, a friend of Khan’s, recalls him as saying at the time. “Sure enough, he bought a book and crammed the entire night.” By morning, Khan knew the language. “That is just how brilliant he is,” Latif told Newsweek. “He has had the tech bug in him for a very long time.”
It was at the now-defunct ViVOtech, a company specializing in Near Field Communication software, that Khan first tried his hand at building a cell phone-based, contactless payment system. In 2011, Apple picked Khan to work on its “top secret” digital payment system aimed at revolutionizing shopping and, potentially, retail banking.
In February, Khan and six other co-inventors filed their patent for what Apple CEO Tim Cook would unveil to the world on Sept. 9 as Apple Pay. It “will forever change the way all of us buy things,” Cook said at the launch in Cupertino of the new technology, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch.
Khan lives in Milpitas, California, with his wife and two children. Citing Apple rules, he declined to comment for this piece.
Apple Pay allows a shopper to simply hold his Apple device, an iPhone or the Apple Watch, which comes out next year, to a contactless reader to make payments, which are confirmed as transmitted through a short vibration or beep. Credit and debit cards can be added to the device’s Passbook app using the phone camera. All transactions are entirely secure and private, says Apple.
“With Apple Pay, instead of using your actual credit and debit card numbers when you add your card, a unique Device Account Number is assigned, encrypted and securely stored in the Secure Element, a dedicated chip in iPhone and Apple Watch,” it says. “These numbers are never stored on Apple servers. And when you make a purchase, the Device Account Number alongside a transaction-specific dynamic security code is used to process your payment. So your actual credit or debit card numbers are never shared by Apple with merchants or transmitted with payment.”
In case the device is lost or stolen, banking and other information can be deleted remotely.
Google Wallet preceded Apple Pay but failed to take off and replace plastic. Apple’s recent past is a good indication that with Khan and team’s Apple Pay, it will hit pay dirt.
This post originally appeared in the October 5, 2014 edition of Newsweek Pakistan