Friday 25 January 2013

Giving the Finger to Mobile Wallets

Fifth Dimension recently commissioned a report into the state of mobile payments across the US and Eurozone*. Three key facts stand out:

  1. Every 0.03 seconds a new mobile payment product/brand/start-up is announced
  2. Every hour, over a billion trillion gazillion dollars is invested into the mobile payments industry
  3. Every 72.4 days, somebody, somewhere, somehow, manages to successfully make a payment with a mobile wallet

Or something like that, anyway – I forget the actual figures. But the details aren’t important – what is important is that despite being touted as The Next Big Thing, mobile wallets might be the 21st Century payments equivalent of Betamax, and anyone jumping on the m-wallet bandwagon will soon realise it’s being pulled by a bunch of blind horses galloping towards a cliff edge… if New Jersey start-up PulseWallet have their way.

PulseWallet is bringing biometric payments to the Western masses. Their system’s simple: you stick your finger in a hole at the POS and a near-infrared LED scans the veins in your (registered) finger to establish your identity. And as a back up, just in case you forgot to bring your fingers out with you, their system also offers you the option to use a payment card.

Finger Vein Payments Authentication System
I know what you’re thinking: that’s not very secure; all I need to do is cut off some mug’s finger and I’m quids-in, right? Wrong. Firstly, additional security is provided by the entry of a 4-digit PIN (which you can enter with any finger by the way, not just your favourite pre-registered one). Secondly, the LED maps the blood flowing through the veins of the finger, so if there’s no warm blood flowing, there’s no sale. Thirdly, if you’re about to pay for your weekly shop at Asda** and you pull out an unattached withered finger, you’re gonna get looks, aren’t you?

Apparently, PulseWallet’s finger vein mapping is more secure and reliable than fingerprint scanning, as accurate as iris scanning, and generally perceived as less invasive than either. Although currently in beta, their f-wallet*** will store all your credit and debit cards, along with loyalty cards, coupons and vouchers. PulseWallet co-founder, Matt Saricicek, reckons it’ll be ready to go in the States by this summer, pretty much. No idea when it’ll be available in the UK yet, which is a shame, because most days I’m lucky if I've thought to put trousers on, let alone remembered to grab cash and/or cards and/or mobile phone on the way out.

*We excluded Asia Pacific from our research because they’re still using sea shells, glass beads and human skulls to pay with on many of the smaller atolls, and in Japan you can purchase used underwear from vending machines with an NFC chip directly implanted into the tongue; stuff like this would’ve really messed up our graphs.

**Notice I didn’t use Tesco in that example; they’re probably still a bit touchy about random mystery meat turning up in-store.

***I just made up that term, but feel free to use it if you like, PulseWallet people.

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