With all the hype around how we are going to be using our mobile phones for making payments thanks to NFC (Near Field Communications) technology, it seems the obvious may have been slightly overlooked.
Sure it may be marginally more convenient using our phones to make payments on the tube or in a shop than a credit card. But not everyone wants to hold their phone to the barrier. And what if you lose your phone or have it stolen? Even with adequate password protection in place to prevent you having your bank account raided – as ApplePay has promised – it’s still a massive inconvenience.
Far better, it seems, is a wrist band that can be used to make small payments for, well, everything. While the idea isn’t exactly new, it seems blindingly obvious to me this could be the equivalent of a killer app for wearables. Health and wellbeing bands, which can marginally improve your fitness may appeal to the few. But a wrist band equipped with a smart chip and tiny radio antenna that you can hold up to make payment could really become a mainstream product.
Imagine, no more rummaging in your bag to find your purse or wallet, only to discover that you left your credit card in your other trousers. Simply hold up your wrist to the scanner and you’ve paid for tube fare or even your glass of wine in the pub. Of course there are possible risks too. Wearing a payment band on your arm could invite potential muggers, which is why there would have to be a maximum amount you could have on there at any one time. Say £20? It would also have to be attractive enough (and most probably waterproof) so you want to keep it on your wrist at all times.
Currently being trialled across London are 10,000 wrist bands from Barclaycard, which can be used for making payments on London’s transport system without the need for an Oyster card or contactless credit/debit card. Called the bPay, the bands are both rubberised and waterproof and have already been used at festivals such as the British Summer Time Music Festival and London Pride. There they were used to authorise entry to the festivals as well as for buying food and drink.
‘Just imagine a typical day in the future,’ says Barclaycard. ‘You leave the house, hop on the train and head to the gym. After your workout, you grab a coffee and go to the office. The money or information you need for every stage of that journey will be integrated into a single device like your bPay band’. OK we’re not there yet, but I can sort of imagine this scenario (without necessarily the going to the gym bit). The bPay band would be linked to your Visa or Mastercard debit or credit card so you don’t have to worry about getting your cards out for making payments.
For children who don’t have a debit or credit card the bPay bands could also be used to pay for things like bus fares and school lunches with the money coming straight out of the parents’ bank accounts. Of course there is the risk of kids getting their wrist bands stolen, but arguably less risk than them having to carry cash around as you would be able to stop the wrist band from being used to make payments almost straight away if it fell into the wrong hands.
Just one thing that needs to be addressed and that’s around personalisation. While the idea of a payment band is attractive, especially for those of us who seem to spend half our lives rummaging through bags or pockets trying to find the right card, it does have to look good on your wrist if you are going to have it there 24/7. The current grey design really doesn’t do it for me. Hopefully if and when the product is launched next year there will be a whole host of different colours so you can choose the one that best suits your mood. No doubt different banks will want to get in on the act too with different designs too.
Making payments with your wrist may not be the sexiest application for wearable technology ever, but it surely has the potential to be the most practical and useful.
Want to read more? Here’s our coverage of the recent Apple announcements, including everything you need to know about Apple’s ‘phablet’, the iPhone 6 Plus, and smartwatches buying guide, or if you’re sick of Apple completely, here’s our rundown of our 14 favourite dating apps, from Tinder to eHarmony.