Ever since Gaston Schwabacher patented the first mobile electronic payment system in 1995, technology pundits have heralded the end of the wallet. But somehow we can’t seem to part with that deformed mound of worn-out, overstuffed leather. But with some exciting new technology on the horizon, will 2014 finally be the beginning of the end for the cash-and-credit-card vessel?
What is it? Instead of carrying several piece of plastic (credit cards, debit cards, gift cards, etc), what if you only had to carry one? That’s the idea behind this San Francisco start-up, which lit up the blogosphere after announcing itself via a sharp-looking video in November. Just choose the appropriate account and swipe Coin like a regular credit card.
Will it kill the wallet? Probably not. As more details have been revealed about how the still-mysterious Coin will work, it’s looking more and more like the device will keep you wallet light, but not actually kill it. See, it won’t work unless your phone is on and nearby (a security measure). Should it die, you’ll still need the old plastic to pay. And the device’s non-rechargeable battery will only last two years, meaning you’ll have to buy a new Coin to replace it. Not only that, but Coin hasn’t confirmed that any card-issuing banks will work with them. To add insult to injury, this leaked video of a prototype doesn’t bode well for the final product. onlycoin.com
What is it? A new standard of Bluetooth technology—Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)—is revolutionizing location-based services. Yes, that same Bluetooth that powers those annoying earpieces can now show your mobile phone where tomatoes are located in the grocery store, send you coupons for items in the aisle you’re standing in, and allow you to pay without opening your wallet. Apple’s iBeacon is now live at their retail stores and is already being used in products like Estimote. And look for secure payments with the iPhone 5S’s fingerprint scanner is the near future.
Will it kill the wallet? Just maybe. The key here is the technology’s ubiquity. Every new mobile phone features BLE, and the low-energy advances mean no more device pairing is required. Barring security concerns, Beacon’s ease of use could pave the way for mass adoption, killing the very idea of “checkout” as we know it.
What is it? Unlike all other existing currencies, the digital bread known as BitCoin is not issued by and/or regulated by a government body—yet. There are no digital notes or tokens to exchange. This has made the cashless money—created in 2009 by developer Satoshi Nakamoto—suddenly very exciting, driving up the price of the futuristic payment overnight.
Will it kill the wallet? No. While the future of BitCoin remains to be seen—though growing, its usage as a method of real-world payment rather than volatile investment remains slim—it is unlikely it will replace existing currencies like the dollar or pound. And even if BitCoins suddenly became the payment of choice, merchants would need an as-yet-unseen method by which to safely register transactions.
Digital Insurance Cards
What is it? Forms of payment aren’t the only things keeping you attached to your wallet. Insurance cards—health, car, home, and otherwise—are still mostly a paper-or-plastic product. But that too is changing. Companies like Geico and Allstate have developed mobile apps that stand in for your car insurance card. Meanwhile, new companies that have sprung out of the Affordable Care Act are using technology to separate themselves from the competition. One such start-up, Medlio, is a digital-only insurance company with an app that does everything from act as your health-insurance card to provide doctors with a copy of your medical records.
Will it kill the wallet? Not exactly. However, digital replacements for non-money wallet staples are essential to its death. Otherwise, our wallets will transition from a receptacle for money to one of just ID cards.
What is it? The much-buzzed-about innovation from Google is a wearable piece of tech that allows for a mostly handsfree computing experience. By bringing the power of your mobile phone up to your eyes, Google and its developers are discovering new ways to read, process and interpret visual data. Although the full implications of Glass remain to be seen, payment—from scanning credit cards with a blink to visual ID confirmations at checkout—will likely be one of the biggest benefactors.
Will it kill the wallet? Probably not. Google Glass is less of a threat to the wallet than it is to the mobile phone. That is, if it’s ever fully released—and embraced—by the public. (So far, no mass release date has been announced.) But as a reinventor of the payment process, Glass will likely be an important factor in the slow demise of the wallet.
What is it? One of the more popular disruptors to cash culture, Venmo is an app that allows users to seamlessly transfer money from their bank account to another’s with a few clicks—and without a fee. It has inspired several imitators; many card-issuing banks like Chase have created similar payment services, and Square recently got in on the game with an impressively (scarily?) simplistic email version. And then there’s the grandfather of digital transactions, PayPal, who recently acquired Venmo but seemingly remains hands-off for now.
Will it kill the wallet? Only partly. Venmo and its contemporaries’ ease of use will only boost their popularity. Still, Venmo is only designed for sending money between friends and family and is mostly useless for business transactions. venmo.com
What is it? The tech giant’s mobile app has evolved since it was first created in the 90s as a payment device. It’s current version has proved to be most interesting as a way to consolidate all those loyalty cards that are bulking up your wallet.
Will it kill the wallet? Only partly. It’s another piece of the larger puzzle. Sure, no one app or piece of tech on this list will replace the way we use our wallet. But several different advances, when used together, might help us shed the unsightly bulge in our jeans for good.