Coin bets that the future of payments can be found by improving credit cards, not replacing them
It's 2013. By now we should be able to pay for anything we want with untraceable digital currencies transferred through our smartphones or faces. But the trouble with many of those tools is that they're rarely easier to use than credit cards and aren't nearly as popular, making them novelties instead of viable alternatives to the plastic rectangles we're already using.
This doesn't mean that credit cards can't be improved, however. For all of their strengths, credit cards are easily lost and (in the case of their retailer-specific counterparts, gift cards) often forgotten. Coin, a new company today announcing that its first product is available for pre-order, intends to solve those problems while preserving everything that makes credit cards so popular.
That product is an augmented credit card that can store multiple cards' information, notify its owner when it's been left behind, and disable itself when it's far enough away from its owner's smartphone. It's basically an entire wallet condensed into a single card that complements smartphones without relying on them beyond its initial setup. Merchants won't notice the difference, and consumers won't have to struggle as they try to use their smartphones to pay for goods.
“What we’re doing at Coin is taking the incredible habit and trust that people have put into cards and upgrading it," says Coin CEO Kanishk Parashar. "This will allow users to experience the technologies of tomorrow while allowing merchants to continue using today's infrastructure."
Other companies have tried and failed to make tools capable of combining multiple cards into one. Perhaps the most notable example is the iCache Geode, an iPhone case that allowed users to upload their cards to the cloud and then add them to a proprietary card on a per-swipe basis. The device raised $350,000 on Kickstarter and seriously excited former PandoDaily reporter Greg Kumparak, but it had some serious technical issues and led to several lawsuits that culminated in what ZDNet describes as a "spectacular crash and burn."
Coin attempts to sidestep many of the issues that plagued Geode. It's expected to cost $100, about half of what iCache was charging for the Geode. (Those who pre-order the device can get it for $50.) It doesn't rely on an iPhone case that requires constant fiddling to select new cards, instead allowing users to select which card they would like to use for each purchase with a small button on its face. And it offers security features -- notifying users when they've left it behind, automatically preventing purchases if it's too far from its owner's smartphone -- that the Geode didn't.
Parashar says that Coin will start shipping next summer; the device still has to go through at least two new prototypes before the company can begin manufacturing. The pre-orders available today are part of an attempt to crowdfund $50,000 to cover the costs of designing and building those prototypes, which will ultimately be manufactured in the US. The crowdfunding aspect might worry potential buyers who have seen how hype can affect hardware projects like the Pebble or Ouya, and the iCache Geode's failure might give them further pause.
Despite all of those potential issues, it's hard for me to not be excited by Coin. I'm constantly forgetting my credit card around the house or in my fiancée's car, and receiving a notification every time I do so would be well worth the $100 on its own. And it would be nice to be able to use the many gift cards I receive during the holidays or my birthday instead of forgetting them at home and only realizing that they might've come in handy when I'm already shopping. Coin was practically made for absent-minded numbskulls like me.
The future of payments will probably look an awful lot like the present. Credit cards aren't going anywhere any time soon, and it's unlikely that they'll ever be completely obviated -- we're still buying things with slips of paper and bits of metal, after all. But that doesn't mean that credit cards can't be improved by the technologies many of us use every day, and the experimentation done by companies like Coin could at least make the plastic rectangles on which we've come to rely a bit smarter.
[Image via Coin]