There have been a handful of technologies touted over the past few years that would remove (or dramatically reduce) the need to carry our credit/debit cards, loyalty cards, and even cash. For the past couple of years, NFC has been the technology of choice for turning our phones into digital wallets. Google and RIM have built NFC support into their respective mobile OSes and a handful of manufacturers have built NFC phones, but the technology hasn’t lived up to the hype.
A big part of the problem is getting a range of companies with very different focuses to agree on several key variables. At the very least, it requires mobile OS and hardware manufacturers, banks and/or credit card companies, and mobile carriers to pull together. Even then, getting NFC in wide scale use requires users to purchase phones with NFC built into them. In other words, even if the stars align to create an NFC payment system, it might not see mass adoption for at least a couple of years as users renew mobile contracts and begin buying appropriate mobile phones.
Then there’s the nasty little fact that Apple has always been mum on the subject of NFC iPhones (or other devices). Any NFC solution today would miss a sizable segment of the market because Apple hasn’t put the technology out there.
One way around that is to offer NFC devices that aren’t built into a device itself. This is the move that Barclaycard, the card issuing arm of UK-based financial institution Barclays, is aiming to try. The company announced a partnership with European carrier Orange last year to bring its Quick Tap NFC system to its customers. The initial deployment focused on pairing a mobile app and NFC-enabled devices with a customer’s bank account.
Now the company is expanding that initiative in two ways. First, it’s now offering the ability to integrate external bank and credit card accounts, which will make the service much more broadly available. Second, the company is creating a external tag called a PayTag for users with non-NFC handsets. The PayTag is essentially an NFC chip about the one third the size of a credit card with an adhesive side that can be attached to a phone or case.
The solution isn’t perfect. It doesn’t currently offer any mobile functionality beyond that for being a contact-less card. But it is a start. If this and similar programs show enough interest, it could drive companies like Apple to embrace NFC and the digital wallet model.
In the meantime, there’s always my personal low-tech iPhone/mobile wallet approach and its newer cousin that even accommodates cash.