In early 2014 Paypal will launch Beacon, a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmitter which will enable some users of Paypal’s mobile application to make contactless payments in participating stores. Coin, a new payment start-up, is also making use of BLE technology, but to a very different end. Coin encodes the information from up to eight magnetic strip cards, including credit, debit, membership, and loyalty cards, onto a single BLE-enabled one, which syncs with the user’s smartphone to manage the cards on file and issue notifications. Coin’s developers have built a smarter credit card, rather than a product aimed at replacing cards entirely.
While seemingly more modest in ambition than payment technologies like Paypal Beacon, Coin’s limitations may turn out to be advantages in encouraging wide-scale adoption. Coin will swipe like a standard credit card in existing point-of-sale infrastructure, without any adaptions to its hardware. This aligns it with technologies previously discussed on this blog like WiSee and SoundWave, which also utilize existing environmental instrumentation in new ways. By leveraging current infrastructure and adopting a familiar, accessible form factor, Coin may side-step some of the issues which have plagued new payment technologies such as NFC and various mobile wallet solutions. Instead of challenging its users to learn a new way to make payments, Coin enables them to make transactions as they are accustomed to, but on more secure terms, and with some enhanced features.
Coin’s creators’ approach to reinventing credit card payments offers an interesting perspective from which to consider out-of-home media. Out-of-home media, like retail point-of-sale, is saddled with a great deal of existing infrastructure. As out-of-home stakeholders look forward to consider the future of the sector, they must also make choices about what becomes of the infrastructure currently in use. Coin prompts us to consider how such infrastructure could be used in new ways, rather than discarded altogether.