David Zax

A View from David Zax

Geode, the iPhone E-Wallet

It’s even got a fingerprint reader. Will it catch on?

  • June 6, 2012

This week brings an interesting new entrant in the mobile payments space, with Geode, from iCache. Geode bills itself as “the world’s first secure digital wallet for the iPhone.” It caters especially to those squeamish about security: almost absurdly, Geode uses a fingerprint reader to lock down your e-wallet.

The idea behind Geode is a cool one. Geode is actually a mixture of hardware and software, with a number of components to it. Geode comes in the form of a special iPhone case, equipped with a fingerprint scanner, an E Ink screen, and a special card that can masquerade as your various credit or debit cards.

You remember that episode of “Seinfeld” where George had the wallet so thick he could barely close it? We are all George Costanza, to one degree or another, these days. I periodically have to make tough decisions about just which loyalty cards or credit cards I actually care enough about to include in my wallet. Geode obviates that choice. It lets you swipe your various credit cards and debit cards, creating profiles for each in your phone. Then, Geode’s own card (which tucks into the back of the Geode case) can be imprinted with the data from one card or another. As for your various loyalty cards, you can use your iPhone camera to scan and store their barcodes. You can then leave the cards at home, and summon up an image of the relevant barcode for scanning on the E Ink screen on the rear of your Geode.

This very unlikely spokesperson will gladly tell you more.

The Geode e-wallet runs $200, and works only with the iPhone 4 or 4S.

A lot of thought does seem to have gone into Geode. But that video touches on some of the technology’s flaws. Did you catch the moment at the end where the checkout guy asks if she has a loyalty card, and she replies a tad swiftly and insistently that yes, she does? Those who adopt this technology are bound to face the recalcitrance, confusion, or ridicule of checkout guys everywhere.

And is the fingerprint reader really necessary? The makers of Geode seem to have taken to heart the notion that a fear over security is what’s impeding the adoption of virtual wallet technologies. But as “the Busy iPhone Mom” in the video points out, not even your credit cards have fingerprint protection–nor do they really need them. Security concerns around digital wallets are real (real enough to be the subject of academic articles, anyway). But these concerns pale, probably, when measured next to other barriers to adoption: the bewildering array of options, a lack of education, and for certain technologies (like NFC), a deficient infrastructure.

A fingerprint reader, while fun, won’t leap any of these hurdles. Which is why iCache’s new technology, despite all the thought that appears to have gone in it, may wind up just another cumbersome iPhone add-on, as bulky and unnecessary as George Costanza’s bloated wallet.

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