You simply swipe through your credit cards, choose which one you want to use, and you can pay through the close proximity of an NFC chip. I’m not describing the iPhone 6 or Apple Watch. I’m talking about a new credit card called Plastc.
Plastc is basically a credit card that holds all of your other credit cards–or up to 20 of them, at least. It’s 0.8mm thick and features a magnetic strip that can become your Visa or Mastercard like a chameleon. The main interface takes place on an embedded e-ink touch screen like you’d find in a Kindle; you can thumb swipe through your cards and enter a PIN before any payment. Connecting to your phone via Bluetooth, you can receive a push notification if you forget your card at a bar.
If that idea sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’re remembering another startup with a similar idea called Coin. But Coin has delayed its release multiple times since being announced last year. And in the meantime, Plastc has addressed Coin’s biggest pain point. Namely, Plastc contains an EMV chip where Coin will not. That’s a security chip growing increasingly popular at point of sale terminals as laws more or less mandate it in 2015.
By all measures, Plastc appears to be a well-designed product. Like Coin, it’s a smarter version of an ancient and ubiquitous credit card technology that’s ready to plug into the legacy infrastructure whenever it’s released. But one has to ask the question, with Apple Pay and Google Wallet enabling phone-based credit card payments, will anyone need a smart credit card anymore?
Probably not. And here’s where we get to the problem with timing. Plastc is available for a preorder today for a release this summer. By summer, Apple Pay will have been out for roughly six months. But that’s actually not the timing problem I’m referring to. For at least the next five years, there will be a large market of people who either can’t or don’t want to pay for things with their phones.
Plastc costs $155 ($55 more than Coin). When you consider the materials and engineering inside, that’s not an absurd cost. But who will want to pay $155 for the privilege of paying for stuff? Just the sort of early adopter who will have bought the latest iPhone instead. Plastc and Coin are both excellent design solutions in search of a business model–and a market–that can sustain them.
But it would be interesting to see how inexpensively a Visa or Chase could manufacture these smarter cards at the million-customer scale, leaning on business models dependent on APRs rather than cutting profits through products. In other words, a product startup may be the wrong sort of company to launch a credit card because they need to both find scale and charge for the thing. Major banks and credit card companies already have scale, and they have revenue streams that mean they don’t need to cut a profit off of the card’s hardware itself.
Maybe then we could find out whether credit cards really were an intrinsically attractive design solution over watch and smartphone payments–whether it really does make sense to have some piece of your identity disconnected from your phone. Instead, it looks like the smartphone industry will take this one, if only because nobody had a better idea ready first.
[h/t: the Verge]
[Photos: via Plastc]