wallet
September 1, 2015

What is the future tech that will replace your wallet?

Do you get tired of carrying around a bulky wallet that spoils the line of your jeans or suit? Is it annoying having to sort through it to find that transport pass hidden at the bottom? Technology designers are aware of this and are constantly at work trying to find solutions. The good news is that most people in the industry now think we’ll see the end of traditional wallets within just a decade or two – but what will replace them and how practical will it be for you to use?

What do you have in your wallet?

You’d be surprised by some of the things people keep in their wallets. From keepsakes to Kleenex, a lot of junk can end up in there, but there are certain basics that almost everybody carries that way.

  • Credit and debit cards – most people have several of these and out of date ones often stay there for some time.
  • Cash – you probably carry a few notes just in case, and coins given in change can soon make your wallet bulky.
  • Identification – from your driving license to your workplace security pass, these are important documents you may not be able to leave home without.
  • Business cards – these are important if you need to network, providing your details and saying something about your style.
  • Service cards – everything from transport passes to the discount card you use for your local swimming pool.
  • Keys – though big bundles of keys usually live on a chain, many people keep their house keys in their wallets.

Packing plastic

Credit cards have been used by the public since 1950 and have been popular since the early 70’s. The modern chip and pin system, which provides much greater security than a signature, has only been used since 2003, but is already ubiquitous. It should come as no surprise, then, that some technology companies have been looking at packing more and more onto a card. Unfortunately for them, the public is growing less interested in cards. This has led to some designers considering applying the same technologies to wearable items like watches or rings.

Paying by phone

One of the most obvious places to embed payment technologies, since nobody in the modern world is going to leave it behind, is the phone. There have been two approaches to doing this. One, the bump system, was used between 2011 to 2014 before being discontinued when Google purchased the company that designed it. It worked by having people bump their phones together to transfer money, but some concerns were expressed about its security. The other system involves payments being made through text messages sent to the user’s bank. This has proven rather more popular and will likely become widespread in the future.

Identification

Alongside making payments, the most important facility that needs to be developed to replace the wallet is an effective form of ID that meets national – and perhaps even international – security standards. Although it’s simple to arrange things like online social security card replacement if you have access to the right support, wouldn’t it be great to have all the ID you needed in one place? A flexible form of ID, to which new applications could be added, might even allow you to add things like your store cards and any service cards you normally carry.

All this points, once again, towards phones or, potentially, smart wearables. But given that they could be stolen, how can such systems be made adequately secure? The answer, according to leading designers, lies in biometrics. There are several of these that are unique to individuals, such as iris scans, fingerprints and computer-based facial recognition. Various disabilities can interfere with these but if a device offers several options, almost everybody will have a way of using it to confirm who they are.

Doing business

When it comes to replacing the business card, texted or emailed versions of the traditional card are already popular. These can be exchanged quickly using phone apps and they have the advantage of being able to store more information than the traditional card, though keeping them simple is generally a good idea if you actually want people to use them.

Access

Replacing cards and notes is one thing, but what about your keys? That’s a problem that’s being solved partly by using the methods described above – some locks now recognize fingerprints or irises – and partly by using numeric codes. The latter method is more common in domestic spaces. It simply means that you can get in and out of your house by using a number like the one you use today when you want to get cash from a machine (to ensure security, make sure you don’t use one number for both). There are also some locks that recognize your phone, though many people have been put off these by the fear of what might happen if their phones are stolen. Some use a combination of a phone and a number to provide a better guarantee of security. If you get locked out, you can call your security company and supply a prearranged code in order to get the lock reset.

The traditionalists

As you might expect, not everybody is excited by these new technologies. Many people – especially older people – don’t feel confident about their ability to use them, or simply don’t trust them. This means there is pressure on businesses to keep using traditional systems for things like payment and identification in parallel with the new systems. This isn’t as laborious as it might sound because being able to move most people onto a new system still means there’s a significant increase in efficiency, but it does mean providing extra training to new employees and, in some cases, maintaining old equipment, so it’s not likely to remain economically viable forever. In time, getting by with the contents of a traditional wallet is likely to become impossible. The future is on its way.