Apple may not be betting the family silver on Apple Pay but it's clear the company have been and are pushing hard to get people to use their iPhone and Apple Watch to pay for stuff. From the industry perspective, mass adoption of NFC and wireless payment systems is a step forwards but from a personal point of view, I'm not so keen on everything being controlled by Apple. There are alternatives but many are just a little bit too reliant on new technologies to be adopted and this could lead to a chick and egg scenario: a retailer may not want to adopt a new wireless payment standard if few customers will use it, and customers won't adopt a new way of paying for things unless it's widely accepted. If only there was a middle ground, a way to combine new generation wireless payment methods with existing infrastructure? A way to use one device to pay for most things? And here's where Plastc drops into the game.
Plastc have announced their own smart card, which aims to combine up to twenty cards that currently reside in our wallets, purses and smartphone cases, bundling them into a high-tech multi-card device. The card incorporates a relatively large e-ink display that can be used to display similar information as to what you'll find on your proper card and has a programmable magnetic bar for scanning, or can produce an optically scannable barcode. To current retailer system, the Plastc works just like any other card you carry. You can use NFC or RFID and the unit includes Chip & PIN technology, which has yet to find widespread adoption in North America but is commonplace in Europe. The unit also includes thirty days of battery life plus wireless charging, over-the-air firmware upgrades, remote wiping functionality should you lose it (complete with a "return me" mode in case somebody finds it). It'll even warn you if it's too far away from your smartphone thanks to Bluetooth LE (Low Energy, the same wireless technology you'll find in fitness bands). The Plastc card isn't restricted to just credit and debit card, but can be used for loyalty and gift cards too. The restriction of twenty cards is just for the Plastc card unit itself; the companion app can handle as many as you need and with Bluetooth LE you can swap in and out cards between your smartphone and your card.
Plastc has a companion Android application and some great features, such as tap the card on your device for a balance or credit limit update. The application uses a PIN for security combined with facial authentication for additional security. The application also has built-in integration with banks and allows spending and transactional history to be shown; it'll be integrated with American Express, Bank of America, Chase, Charles Schwab, Citi, US Bank and Wells Fargo at lunch with more promised
The Plastc is an interesting concept, a bit like Coin but pumped up even more features. It's not all great, though. Plastc isn't expected to ship until next summer and is available for pre-order for $155, about £100. And whilst I like the idea of a smartcard, it's yet another product that will require recharging and needs to be carried around with me, a bit like my smartphone. The technology works by cloning your other cards, which I admit is clever (and slightly worrying at the same time). And sure, my smartphone will bleep at me if I leave the Pastc behind, but I'm missing the key benefit behind the physical Plastc unit when the real intellectual property is the application and the integration behind it. It makes me think that if a project such as Plastc proves to be viable, it may make a better purchase for Google than say PayPal. That infrastructure with an Android flavour could be epic.