Everybody, from Apple to Google, has a digital wallet these days that takes the credit cards, loyalty cards, and other cards out of our pockets and moves them onto our mobile phones.
But to Qvivr, the startup behind Swyp, the latest “smart” digital wallet system to hit the market, there’s no way millions of merchants around the country are ready to abandon their legacy credit card readers. Apple and Google may want think it’s time we all paid wirelessly, but Qvivr begs to differ.
That’s why the $99 Swyp, on sale today, with a limited number of $49 preorder units, and which is expected to ship this fall, looks and feels like a credit card. It’s thin, metal, and has a small digital display. It can hold up to 25 cards, and unlike purely wireless digital wallets, Swyp can be read by traditional credit card readers. Even better, Qvivr says, the card is secure and learns users’ behaviors, anticipating the card they want to use, based on time of day or location.
According to Qvivr, the average American man has 16 cards in his wallet, of which 1.7 are credit cards, and 2 are debit cards, while the average American woman carries 18 cards. All told, there were 334 million credit cards and 283 million debit cards in use in the United States in 2012, according to the Financial Services Policy Committee.
Today, Qvivr says, there are between 12 million and 14 million magnetic-stripe-reading credit card terminals in the United States. Swyp is meant to take credit cards into the purely digital world, yet support that massive credit card terminal infrastructure.
According to Dhodapkar, the “secret sauce” behind the device is an encodable dynamic magnetic stripe that all credit card readers recognize, and that can represent most of the cards a user has loaded onto their Swyp. Changing between cards is as easy as clicking a button on the Swyp, he explained, until the desired card comes up on the display.
Swyp, of course, comes with a mobile app (iOS or Android), and a dongle that’s used to load cards into the system. Most credit cards will then be readable by traditional point-of-sale systems.
Qvivr is aware of the security concerns surrounding a physical device that stores users’ financial data and access to their cards. The Swyp is designed to work seamlessly within six feet of its owner’s mobile device, via Bluetooth LE. If the Swyp is further away, it locks, and unlocking means entering a PIN on the card’s small buttons. Enter the wrong code three times, and “it bricks the card,” Dhodapkar told VentureBeat. Unbricking it requires bringing it back within range of the phone.
Swyp also offers a restaurant mode, which locks the stripe to a single credit card, making it possible for a server to take the card away to settle up.
Beyond giants like Google and Apple, others have famously tried to transition credit cards onto a physical device like the Swyp. But Dhodapkar argued that companies like Coin and Plastc can’t match Swyp on features like security and durability.
Swyp is also meant to distinguish itself with a two-year battery and the same dimensions as a normal credit card.
But while Qvivr and its competitors think they are sitting on a gold mine by enabling consumers to replace the many cards in their pockets or purses with a single device (and a mobile phone, of course) not everyone agrees. “The challenge is asking people to pay $100 or $150,” Reticle Research principal analyst Ross Rubin said, “for essentially replicating much of the functionality that they have today in their wallets.”
Although Rubin recognizes the convenience factor Swyp promises, he thinks that the market is a “relatively small percentage of the population.”
Rubin does think Swyp’s system of intelligently predicting which card a user wants in given situations could help it overcome the complexity of navigating between many cards on a single device. But he also notes that the device can take time to learn users’ behaviors. That could, he seemed to suggest, be a problem.
Over time, retailers are likely to switch to near field communication (NFC) point-of-sale systems that enable mobile payment technology like Apple Pay. But while that could shorten the window of opportunity for products like Swyp, Rubin said there’s also an upside. “If they can acquire a customer base, maybe they can do something with it when mobile payments really take off.”