#17: Debt, Delivery, and Databases

Apple Card

Yes, it’s a credit card.  Yes, it’s from Apple.  But let’s get past all of the marketing hype and talk about what this card really is.

In short, the Apple Card is like any other credit card.  You can make purchases with it, and if you pay it off on time, it’s basically a free short-term loan.  If you don’t pay it off on time, you incur interest charges (and the reported interest rates I’ve heard around the web vary wildly.) . Mine is 12%, but I have one of the highest possible credit scores, so your mileage may vary.  If you pay it off every month (or day), the interest rate won’t matter.

There’s a couple of features that are nice, but as someone that uses several credit cards for travel and work, I’m constantly evaluating whether or not they’re actually worth using.

1) Cash Back.  If I just use the physical card (it’s gorgeous, super heavy, and made of titanium), you get 1% cash back on purchases.  If you use Apple Pay with the card, you get 2% back.  If you buy something directly from Apple, you get 3%.  You receive your cash immediately, as soon as you pay some of all of your balance.  It’s a cool software feature to pay your card, and receive an alert that they just gave you $2.94.

2) Daily Payment. I can pay my card once or several times a day.  I tend to like to make payments that are the same amounts as the transactions, so that I’m treating each transaction as its own item that I’ve “paid off.”  I actually wish they would implement some features to make this possible, so that I could just pick an individual transaction, and “pay it.”  It would be nice to see a list of my transactions, and which ones have actually been paid off, rather than trying to reconcile payments with transactions.

3) Reporting.  There’s some good reporting built into the Apple Wallet software too.  It lets me easily see how much I’ve spent, where the money went, and how much cash back I earned, all on one screen.  I still think this could be better, but for the first version, this is pretty decent.  (I’ve been using this card on my Lyft account while I travel for work, which is why my transportation category is so high this month.)


So that’s the quick highlights.  Now, if you’re looking for my guidance on whether you should get one?  I’m not sure.  I think there are better options, even if the software is cool.  I’ve been using my card a bit since August 2019, and I haven’t earned $100 in cash back yet.

I spent $1815.73 in August, and got $22.50. (1.23%)
I spent $2831.14 in September, and got $49.26. (1.74%)
I spent $545.11 in October, and got $11.00. (2.02%)

Because I travel quite a bit for work, I am also using the Delta Reserve American Express card, and the Marriott Bonvoy Visa.  These boost the miles and points I earn quite a bit, and the value of those points seems to far exceed the cash back value that I get from the Apple Card.  (As an example, in the last 6 months, I’ve earned enough Skymiles from Delta to fly my entire family of 4 to New York City roundtrip, first class.  That would be nearly $1600.)  Now, part of that is because I’m already flying on Delta a bunch, and my Diamond status with them also contributes.  But the credit card is really the multiplier that makes it all happen.

The most interesting part of my Apple Card experiment has been how much it’s changed my behavior around using Apple Pay.  I mean, I get an extra 1% just for tapping my phone instead of swiping my card!  I’ve found myself asking folks in the drive thru window if I can pay with my phone, and I’m disappointed when someone doesn’t offer it.  (I’ve even had Wendy’s give me my meal for free when I asked, because they couldn’t accommodate!) . We’re still in the early days of mobile payments, but I’ve been surprised how many places are equipped to handle it.  I’m definitely looking forward to the future!

Delivery

As I sit here waiting for my Echo Buds to arrive today, I’m really in awe of where we are today with our deliveries.  This isn’t a long section, but you might learn something new along the way.

1) Amazon now offers ONE-day delivery.  ONE DAY!  I’m sure I don’t need everything delivered the next day, but what an awesome option when I do.  I’m looking forward to enjoying my Alexa-enabled earbuds later today.

2) You can see your mail every day.  If you haven’t heard of USPS Informed Delivery, you should really check it out.  I get an email every morning with photos of all of the mail that will be delivered that day to my house.  This includes a list of packages and tracking numbers, too!  This is especially cool when someone mails you something you weren’t expecting (and weren’t told about), so that you can make sure to get home and grab it when it arrives.

3) UPS My Choice is also awesome.  UPS My Choice is similar to Informed Delivery, but with more data.  You can get a notification every time your package moves in the UPS network, and once it’s out for delivery, they even let you track the location of the truck it’s on.  Super awesome when you’re expecting something exciting.

Databases

For the last entry in this letter, I wanted to briefly talk about a database service that I’ve been using to build many of my Alexa skills.  It’s called AirTable, and it’s awesome, but maybe not for the reasons you think.

First, it’s mostly free.  At least at the volume that I’m using it for.

Second, I tend to collaborate with others on my software.  It’s really difficult to write the entire application, and gather and curate all of the necessary data to make the app work.  Airtable makes that kind of collaboration incredibly simple, and it does it with an interface that is friendly even to those that don’t regularly build software or work with technical tools.  It basically looks and acts like a spreadsheet!

The reason I, as a developer, like it so much, however, is because of what it provides that makes writing software easier.  I can use their API to make calls directly against my data, and retrieve what I need in a JSON format.  And it’s fast.  There’s also an SDK if I want to make targeted calls to update records, for example.  I tend to use the SDK for insert and update operations, but for read operations, I find it easier to make direct HTTPS calls thanks to some helper functions I wrote for myself.

Their technical documentation gives you actual code samples, using your data and structures, that you can copy and paste directly into your code, and it works!

There are lots of cloud database options out there, but I have yet to find one as user friendly, inexpensive, and powerful as Airtable.  I wish the other folks in this industry would take notice, because they’ve really figured it out.

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