Beyond Apple Card: 5 unusual payment cards

The Apple Card is an oddity. As a credit card it's little different from the many other co-branded cards on the market. But as a technology, the Apple Card bundles together several features that are much rarer.

Among the Apple Card's differentiators: It is applied for and managed within an app, has a rewards structure that is deeply tied into Apple's content ecosystem, provides color-coded personal financial management, and has an optional titanium version that activates via an NFC envelope.

But Apple is far from the first to apply a high-tech spin to the ordinary payment card. Several other companies before it have experimented with technology and materials in the hopes of providing a unique form of payment.

This story was compiled from reporting by PaymentsSource writers including John Adams, Kate Fitzgerald, David Heun, Michael Moeser and Daniel Wolfe.

Colored Cores
Although the full design of the payment card matters, the most important part is the sliver that customers see when staring top-down into their wallets, said Adam S. Wahler, creative director for A to A Studios, in a presentation at Card Forum in 2018.

“I’m a huge fan of these colored cores,” Wahler said. “When you’re looking in your wallet, it stands out.”

The core is visible only along the thin edge of the card, but that tiny splash of color is enough to tell a PayPal credit card (blue) from a Discover card (orange) or Capital One 360 (red). The color of a black card or a gold card signifies prestige, even when the card itself doesn’t offer the perks to back it up.
The five senses
Cards aren't just sold based on their looks. Some use the body's other senses to set themselves apart.

India’s IndusInd bank uses a textured pattern near the card’s top edge, so it can be easily identified and pulled from the wallet without looking. Japan’s JCB offers a scented card, which it markets to women.

Still other cards are built to appeal to cardholders' religious faith. Al Hilal Bank’s Shariah-compliant card has an embedded digital compass to point to Mecca for prayers. The account also has features that align with its users’ faith, such as not charging interest and devoting part of its fee-based revenue to charity.

“They’re respecting the faith and assisting in the rituals of their customer,” Wahler said. “They’re truly working with them from payments to their actual beliefs.”
It's a concept that predates Apple Pay: Why carry a wallet full of cards when you can carry just one device? Several startups took this idea and turned it into a high-tech, all-in-one card that could rewrite its magstripe to store multiple accounts.

There were many problems with this idea. It was quickly outdated when the U.S. moved to EMV, and the multi-account cards themselves typically cost the consumer around $100.

The graveyard of defunct all-in-one startups includes companies like Coin, Swyp, Stratos and Plastc. But whenever one of these companies failed, its technology simply moved on to a new owner. Coin's technology became the foundation of Fitbit Pay, and Plastc's platform became part of Edge Mobile Payments LLC.
A card with a phone connection built in
One proponent of the all-in-one card, Dynamics, evolved its model to address competition from smartphone-based mobile wallets.

Much like the Apple Card would eventually allow people to open a new account over a cellular connection, the Dynamics Wallet card enabled the account to change even if the card itself never had to.

It was designed with a Sprint cellular connection to let banks communicate with cardholders through a built-in screen. This meant the bank could ask security questions, send coupons and offers, and even reissue a stolen card without having to mail new plastic.
Square's scribbles
When Square launched a debit card for users of its Square Cash app, it chose to offer extreme levels of personalization.

The Square Cash Card is black with white print, enabling cardholders to customize the front with either their own signature or a sketch of their choosing. Square seems to have a fairly high degree of leniency when it comes to designs, but does monitor for unsuitable content.