The ‘Smart Wallet’ is still a fantasy | Nathaniel Read

The 'Smart Wallet' is still a fantasy

Passbook was released with iOS 6 in 2012, promising to be a more convenient way to store vouchers, loyalty cards, coupons and event tickets. With the release of the iPhone 6 in 2014, Apple Pay came too (first to the US, then UK and other select countries) and introduced a new way to pay. In the UK, NFC has been a standard in the UK since 2007 with merchants rolling out support at differing speeds.

Apple’s launch of Apple Pay in the UK in July 2015 was something I thought was going to be truly market changing, but it wasn’t. That was due to two reasons; lack of supporting banks and the facts that wallets (or purses) aren’t just home to credit and debit cards, they also home a ton of loyalty cards (usually a Booths card if you’re northern and like free coffee), ID and membership cards.



There isn’t a loyalty card platform either, with Apple introducing loyalty in 2015, it wasn’t really adopted widely which is likely because of how much of a pain it is for merchants to introduce them. If you make a digital reward card for iOS, you’re also going to have to make one for your Android customers too, which is just an inconvenience.

I think that if there was an open standard in place for id cards, like the .pkpass files used previously for passbook barcodes and flights, it would mean that more stores would be more likely to implement this for their own loyalty systems, currently passbook’s standard is proprietary and requires a developer account to sign the pass (although this makes Apple some money, it’s likely prohibitive to some stores).

A format that could have a loyalty number passed over NFC, requested by the POS machine would be ideal. So in addition to the card info being passed the loyalty number could also be given. This could be provided from a file that contains store info could be in a similar format to the one below, and could work on any platform:

Store loyalty card  
Store name Booths
Store logo Store logo image
Store header image Large image of side of card
Customer name John Smith
Background #444C3F
Foreground #FFFFFF
Loyalty number 003602
URL of customer system siteurl/loyalty/003602

The system could then respond at the url a response with the number of points, which could be then displayed in app. The problem is with this, it’s unlikely to be ever implemented by Apple or Google as they have far too much interest in retaining userbase, an easily movable wallet would break that ecosystem.


Realistically, we are not going to lose a wallet any time soon, especially for those who look under 25 as they’re likely to be ID’d whether going to a club or just buying alcohol from the supermarket. In May this year, the DVLA’s CEO posted the tweet on the right, showing the future of an ID which would be much better. Most people born in at least the last 20 years carry a phone constantly so being able to carry the driving licence would be incredibly useful.

The flip side of this issue is that it would be incredibly easy to commit fraud so it would require another system like the one above, with a one time use code where a number is displayed beneath the ID (and in QR form) and can be queried by pasting into a government service which would return the information shown on the card with an image (this could then be implemented within an app for bouncers and the police and allow data to be validated).

The one-time use code changing would prevent those who look up from returning to the ID after validating and would stop fake IDs being produced with the same value, if accepted instead of plastic ID too this would entirely prevent fake ID as you can’t spoof a domain and valid HTTPS certificate (well, not without significant difficulty, changing their local DNS and becoming a trusted intermediate CA).

Membership cards

Membership cards and access cards are also struggling to get with the times. They could do with a system like the one I mentioned for a supermarket but use the devices build in NFC card to pass the loyalty number, replacing the current magnetic strip system used at many gym clubs for cards. Allowing membership cards to use NFC could also work for work ID systems which would be more secure than just possessing a card as it requires the fingerprint.

Membership card  
Membership name Gym Limited
Membership logo Membership logo image
Membership header image Large image of side of card
Customer name John Smith
Background #FEFEFE
Foreground #B30098
Loyalty number 00354322
URL of customer system siteurl/member/00354322


Overall, I think that virtual wallets still have a lot more potential for the future than what they’ve shown so far and I’m excited for that, however I’m a strong believer that open is better when it comes to standards and if technology companies would just share there would be far better offerings for the community.

  Apple Wallet Logo is a mark of Apple Inc.