Let’s revisit that product and see how it stacks up against Coin, especially given all of the recent hype around alternative payment schemes such as Apple Pay.
Coin raised some serious concerns for me when it was first revealed – from the original post. Since that post, additional information is available from the Coin site and FAQ. Here are the concerns I had with updates from Coin:
- Acceptance – Retailers and their staff may have some qualms about scanning a relatively unknown black electronic device across their pinpads. Education will be needed for store staff to be confident that this is a valid technology to use for payment. If this is not achieved, everyone that spent $100 will be out of luck when they go to pay with their single card.
[UPDATE: The FAQ indicates that card branding and details will be visible on the screen of the card. This should help with this challenge. In the intervening year since Coin has been under consideration there have been so many new payment schemes that have popped up in the media that as long as a card scans, store staff will probably not question it too deeply depending on the transaction value and type.]
- Fraud – What stops a Coin user from stealing cards and putting a number of them onto the Coin card to complete fraudulent transactions? Hopefully there are some measures to verify that the person scanning the card is the rightful owner of the card.
[UPDATE: The FAQ indicates that the card owner must have a card in hand in order to enter it into the database. A mobile app takes an image of front and back and matches it to an MSR swipe. The system also requests a temporary authorization on the card in an amount that must be validated by the user by looking at the account online. That's a clever move and reduces the potential of this card becoming a tool for fraud.]
- Dishonest Store Staff – If one can easily flip through all my cards with the touch of a button, there better be a PIN lock on it to do that, otherwise you just gave a cashier in a restaurant ALL of your cards. Hit the button and swipe to capture all of the numbers. If they’re not dishonest, they may accidentally select the wrong card by selecting a button.
[UPDATE: There are no details I could find on the FAQ that indicate that there is a PIN lock to stop someone from sorting through all of the cards on the device, though there is reference to tap code that may serve this purpose. As the device is swiped as an MSR, this would indicate that if you hand that card to a server in a restaurant and they take it to a POS to scan, they could theoretically scan all of the cards on the Coin device to capture all of the account numbers if they are familiar with it. While the device avoids the concern of being a fraud tool, it doesn't really protect the user in the restaurant scenario any further than current 40 year old MSR technology. As a consumer I would want to know if the tap code locks a particular card for use on the device.]
- User Validation – How do stores validate that the user is who they say they are? Is there a signature on the back of Coin? Does it show the card number and expiry date on the screen? Is a Drivers license needed for verification every time?
[UPDATE: There are no details on the site other than the fact that the Coin will display the card details. One can only assume that a cashier or server would ask to see your drivers license or alternative ID to see a signature for validation. Probably necessary to carry ID anyway, but it really negates the point of having a cool device for payment when users scratch a line onto paper to prove who they are.]
- EMV – Consumers in many parts of the world outside of the US no longer use MSR cards, and we can expect the same in the US over coming months and years. I see no chip option available but perhaps that is a future consideration.
[UPDATE: Coin it its current iteration - not released yet by the way - will not support EMV. This is a serious shortcoming that becomes more crucial over time. As a consumer I see little benefit to purchasing a tool like this that will only be usable in some places when EMV takes hold. Also: International markets can't use this solution - that's disappointing for us.]
- Contactless – I like using the contactless feature of my cards to make my purchases quick and simple. No indication that coin has NFC capability
[UPDATE: No indication of NFC or other contactless capability.]
Some other interesting points that came available after the original post about Coin:
- Coin uses low energy bluetooth connectivity is used to remind users that have left cards behind via their mobile device.
- The device is supported via an app for both apple and android mobile devices.
- The device uses a non-rechargeable battery targeted for 2 years of usage. Mileage will vary.
As a Canadian, Coin in it’s current iteration won’t work for me – it’s not targeted at international markets. A US consumer may find it useful, though I have concerns about security and the real benefits. Also in the currently prescribed video of an affable dude with a beard showing us the solution, Coin should really scrap the big wallet. Do people who want a single card really carry a George Costanza wallet after they get this sleek new device? I think not, but that’s just one voice. All kidding aside, the Coin solution is intriguing. Bringing something new like this to market is very difficult and they deserve full credit for pushing the idea; it’s certainly a credible concept.
P L A S T C
Let’s consider the same real world concerns for the newly unveiled – and yet also unreleased – Plastc.
- Acceptance – Plastc has an e-ink screen that covers the bottom third of the front of the card. This allows for graphics and details to be shown on the card that should lend it credibility when it’s used for payment. That same e-ink screen is scannable with a barcode to allow the use of loyalty cards with it as well. Another point of consideration is EMV. With future EMV capability, store staff have no reason to look at cards. In fact, once consumers and staff are accustomed to staff NOT having to check signatures, the need for the laughable security measure of checking signatures becomes aggravating to staff and shoppers alike. (Ask Canadians about visiting Gap Brand stores – a rare holdout that checks signatures – it annoys all.)
- Fraud – Details are less specific, but the Plastc Wallet mentions the requirement of a facial scan and authentication. Details of how cards are added are not provided at present. The card shows an image of the cardholder, which should also be useful in minimizing fraudulent transactions.
- Dishonest Store Staff - There is a PIN on the card, but the site does not provide details on whether the card is locked when cards are passed to staff. That said, the card supports NFC and ships with a chip that will enable Chip and Pin / EMV in future, so there is less need to leave a card with a server or cashier, reducing the potential for card number capture.
- User Validation – At release, signatures would be used. Signatures could theoretically be stored on the e-ink screen, but there is no indication of signatures shown on screen. Once again, with NFC and EMV options, the necessity of a signature is avoided, and the use of a PIN or just the NFC itself simplifies the validation.
- EMV – The card has a chip to be activated later via a software update. This is key for future proofing with EMV coming on the scene in the US in 2015, and opportunity for international usage.
- Contactless – The card has contactless capability. This avoids the need for signatures, enables small value purchases and reduces fraud compared to MSR options.
- Like Coin, Plastc uses Low Energy Bluetooth to alert users to cards left behind. The card automatically locks if left behind.
- An app is used to manage account information stored on the app.
- Barcodes can be put on the screen and shown for scanning. This means that the Starbucks app could be enabled to work with it.
- The NFC function could also be used for access doors to add additional card functionality
- The Plastc card is rechargeable on a wireless charging pad. Entire lifetime is not indicated.
Both the Plastc and Coin cards aim to eliminate all of the cards we carry in our wallets, and both appear to have created the miraculous with such tiny hardware. Both certainly represent viable options, but given the need for a chip in particular and contactless to a lesser degree, the edge goes to Plastc. While some pundits may suggest that mobile programs like Apple Pay would supersede card hardware like this, but the complexity of payments is such that cards will not go away quickly and card solutions definitely fulfill a need for an interim solution to move us all to the mobile wallet. It’s hard to say if consumers will shell out $100 or $150 for the convenience of cards like these, but one must wonder if the card companies may not eventually decide to fund such things.