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It’s nearly 2011! Why am I still carrying a wallet?!

In my last post I mentioned the idea of an “overseas wallet”, ie one that you take with you when travelling and that only holds the items that will be useful when on the move.

George Costanza holding a wallet he can barely close

(Sony Pictures/Television)

That means we need to have two wallets… but the technologist (and minimalist) in me asks, why are we still carrying around a wallet at all…?

This is becoming a step closer to reality with the spread of devices that contain near-field circuits (NFC), where you can swipe your phone to pay, and with the scramble for payment service providers to capture this emerging market.

I can’t wait! Having to carry a wallet around is annoying.

My wallet tends to grow bigger over time while I busily accumulate more cards, more receipts, more coins… until at some point, like when it reaches George Costanza size, my human garbage-collection process kicks in to sort out the mess.

A smart-phone wallet could mean that the following could all be stored electronically:

  • cards, whether they be credit cards, debit cards, travel cards, health care cards, even my driver’s license.
  • receipts… perhaps in a system that would allow me to retrieve them by date, by store. I could even tag work-related expenses which would make doing expenses a dream rather than a chore.

I would also need never worry about my cards ever expiring or wearing out!

So, what’s holding us back? Naturally, replacement of the traditional wallet would rely upon the ubiquitous availability of such payment systems. This still seems a long while away. After all, we still can’t use current credit/debit cards everywhere yet. We still need to carry some cash.

Other potential hiccup could be, what would happen when the phone’s battery goes flat when you really need to use the card…? Aha! The NFC designers might say: the specification also defines a card-emulation mode, so that the device could behaves like an existing contact-less device, such as RFID.

The ‘elephant in the room’ could be that losing your phone could mean that you could no longer purchase anything. That’s quite a problem! One can imagine the scenario: “I’ve lost my phone! Argh, now how can I purchase a new one… without a phone?”.

It seems my dream of giving up my leather wallet might be a while away yet, until we have universal availability of devices/terminals… and a solution to the problem of a lost phone!

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