Google Wallet, watch out? DeviceFidelity, a company now in multiple NFC field trials with big US banks and mobile carriers, plans to be ready with the iCaisse4X just a couple of weeks from now, said a company exec during a sneak peek of the new device designed to add both NFC and extended battery life to Apple’s iPhone.
As I saw during hands-on demos at Pepcom’s Digital Experience press event, the iCaisse4X (a “sleeve” for iPhones) integrates an extra 3.7V 1200mAh battery pack plus an NFC SIM card aimed at letting shoppers pay at retail cash registers simply by tapping their phones to an NFC checkout scanner.
DeviceFidelity, a MasterCard partner, has already been testing similar NFC-enabled cases for both iPhones and Android OS phones. But those devices haven’t been outfitted with battery packs, said Youri Bebic, general manager for prepaid NFC services at DeviceFidelity, in an interview with Brighthand.
Specifically, DeviceFidelity is participating in separate trials of its “moneto” mobile wallet technology sponsored by the likes of Chase Manhattan, Citi, Bank of America, and other banks, in addition to Isis, a mobile payments venture founded by AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.
“Android OS phones don’t generally need extra battery packs, but iPhones are well known for their short battery life,” Bebic told me. “Moreover, Apple hasn’t yet built any NFC capabilities into its iPhone, although rumors are out there that the next generation will include them”.
Bebic views moneto as a competitor of sorts to Google Wallet, except that he perceives strong cross-platform potential for moneto.
He doesn’t believe that iOS will ever give direct support to Google Wallet, due to the long-time acrimonious relationship between Google and Apple. The moneto technology, on the other hand, can allow Google Wallet to be used on an iPhone, he contended.
If you have the right device, you can already use Google Wallet with check-out scanners in over 100,00 locations, including branches of Walgreens, Office Max, and the Gap.
Meanwhile, though, Google Wallet is only available on a smattering of Android OS smartphones, all of them from Sprint, a mobile carrier that isn’t an Isis partner.
For his part, Bebic doesn’t think NFC will “really gain traction” in the US until next fall, after Isis begins its planned commercial rollout. That’s because “the carriers are behind Isis.” Last month, Isis announced plans to be available for use in retail stores some time this summer in Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City, Utah, with a nationwide launch slated for later this year.
DeviceFidelity’s moneto is provided through an In2Pay microSD chip, together with a a mobile software app. The card fits into a microSD card in the sleeve.
DeviceFidelity uses MasterCard’s PayPass Tap-and-Go technology for mobile payments and they’ve also teamed up with the American Banking Association to let shoppers set up pre-paid accounts for making NFC-enabled payments in stores.
Doing a bit of hands-on with an NFC case for Android OS phones, I used DeviceFidelity’s moneto app to search for NFC-enabled retail stores nearby the site of the Pepcom event, the Metropolian Pavilion in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. I then did a search by zip code, using 10022, a zip code on the Upper East Side.
Each time, the app came up with a list of stores in something like ten seconds. The list for the 10022 area code included CVS, Radio Shack, and Health King, for instance.
Bebic explained that increasing numbers of retail point-of-sale (POS) systems in stores are now NFC-ready. However, DevideFidelity will also issue ordinary-looking, physical MasterCard debit cards to shoppers, he said. In the event that tapping a phone on the NFC reader in a store doesn’t work, customers will be able to use the garden variety debit card to make payment.
As I also saw during the moneto demos, DeviceFidelity’s smartphone sleeves leave the screen free for viewing and manipulating apps because the sleeve fits around the back and the front edges of the smartphone. Later, when I picked up an iPhone encased in the iCaisse4X sleeve, the battery pack didn’t seem to add appreciable weight.
The iCaisse4X will be priced at about $89.95, including all of its components. The non-battery-pack-enabled sleeves for iPhones and Android OS phones are priced at $69.95, Bebic said.
Customers will also be charged a $4.95 monthly service fee, but they’ll be able to earn loyalty rewards for using the NFC system to pay for the items they buy.