The longer it takes for Near Field Communication-equipped mobile phones to become commonplace, the better it could be for one enterprising firm.
Watch Hill, R.I.-based Kena Kai Design on June 5 unveiled a low-tech doodad called the iRoo, designed to mimic contactless stickers by strapping contactless payment cards directly onto ordinary mobile phones.
NFC phones may not be widely available for another two to three years, but some 35 million contactless credit and debit cards already are circulating in the U.S., fueling pent-up consumer desire to tap to pay with a mobile phone, Geb Masterson, Kena Kai president, said in a press release.
"People love the idea of simply waving their phone and paying," Masterson said, noting the $10 iRoo can create that effect with most mobile handsets.
The iRoo consists of a payment card pocket that attaches to mobile handsets such as Apple Inc.’s iPhone with a special adhesive strip. Users can fit up to three contactless cards into the iRoo pocket and imitate a mobile payment by waving their phone near a payment terminal that accepts contactless payment.
"We wanted to offer the simplest [service] with all the benefits of the upcoming 'electronic-wallet' phones but without their flaws," Masterson said.
For example, when approaching terminals not equipped to accept contactless payments, customers can pull their contactless cards out of the iRoo pocket and swipe it the old-fashioned way using the traditional magnetic stripe on their cards, Masterson suggests.
Most days when Masterson leaves the house, he carries only an iPhone with an iRoo outfitted with a driver's license and two cards, which covers 80% of his needs, he noted in the release.
Consumers wanting true NFC functionality will have to wait, however. Only phones equipped with NFC chips can communicate with other NFC chips in payment terminals to upload data, such as coupons or reward points.
Kena Kai, which offers a variety of computer and travel accessories, also is covering another marketing opportunity contactless cards present: Protection for those who fear fraud linked to tap-and-pay cards.
The firm since 2008 has marketed the DataSafe RFID Blocking Security Wallet, which purports to prevent thieves from skimming card data from contactless cards. Copper and nickel in the wallet's fabric allegedly blocks contactless signals so thieves cannot intercept them.
Kena Kai sells versions of those wallets for $79.99 to $99.99 (deluxe model).
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