With Instant-Pay Apps, Wallets Can Stay Home

Smartphone online payment apps could soon make wallets, and plastic credit cards, obsolete. (denharsh, Flickr Creative Commons)
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Smartphone online payment apps could soon make wallets, and plastic credit cards, obsolete. (denharsh, Flickr Creative Commons)

BY Ted Landphair – A lot of people gave up carrying much cash a long time ago, since they knew “plastic” – a credit or debit card, or a store or public transit “smart card” – would be accepted just about everywhere.

But to hear tech companies tell it, plastic cards will be museum pieces as well before long.

It’s all because young people, in particular, love their mobile devices so much – and despise the time-wasting process of digging out a credit card, presenting it to a clerk or swiping it on a card reader, waiting for the sale to be approved, then writing their signatures on a paper receipt or the reader.

It’s all so 20th Century.


So companies such as Google developed technology that allows customers to simply wave their phones against a reader. It instantly picks up the product and your account information, confirms the sale, and sends a receipt to your phone.

The idea has come so far that technology inside some stores – or even on the street near one – can detect that your handheld phone or other device is in the area and send you quick messages, telling you about sales or special discounts.

And all that’s getting a run from an even newer application, called “Card Case,” devised by the payments company Square. With it, you walk into a store, or pass a vendor on the street who has the right technology, and see something you’d like to buy.

You simply give the salesperson your name, and he or she calls it up on a small screen. If the picture there matches you, the device instantly checks your balance and approves the sale, and the item is yours. No swiping. No signing. No receipt. The details of the transaction show up on your phone.

“In one case, I walked into Pinkie’s Bakery [in San Francisco] and asked for a cupcake,” tech writer Farhad Manjoo wrote in the online magazine Slate.

“The cashier told me my total, and I said, ‘Put it on Farhad’s tab.’  She saw my name and photo on her iPad, tapped it, and I was done.  The experience was magical – almost creepy.”

“Bye-bye, Wallets,” wrote Time magazine when reviewing this trend last month. Its technology writer, Harry McCracken, went a whole week without carrying one.

Or almost a whole week. At a baseball game, his “Google Wallet” payment app wouldn’t work. Since he had no physical wallet he was, he wrote, “reduced to begging [my] wife for beer.”