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Opinion: Why your next phone will be a wallet

Anything that's data could be carried on a phone, and everything in my wallet is just data

April 2, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - I carry only the essentials in my wallet: a Starbucks debit card, California driver's license, a few credit cards, two ATM cards, a Costco card, business cards, a AAA card and some cash.

I try to avoid George Wallet Syndrome. But it seems that every electronics superstore, bookstore, grocery store and department store I shop in wants me to carry yet another card (either as a credit card or some kind of "membership" card that gives me a discount). If I accepted every offer, the stack of cards I carried would probably be three inches high. So I always say "no" to these cards.

I work hard at minimizing the stuff I carry in my pockets. I have the smallest smart phone in the world. I'm constantly removing receipts and other junk from my pockets. I avoid coin change like the plague.

I try to move everything I can from my wallet to my phone, namely photos of my wife and my kids. In fact, anything that's data could be carried on my phone, and everything in my wallet is just data.

So why am I carrying that data in a stack of obsolete and insecure data storage technologies, all wrapped in dead cow skin? How weird is that?

What's wrong with your wallet

Each credit card, ATM card and store "membership" card represents a huge quantity of useless plastic with a very thin magnetic strip on it. The magnetic medium stores a tiny amount of information -- so little you could write it all out on a single piece of paper. (By contrast, you could fit the Encyclopaedia Britannica on a MicroSD card the size of a thumbnail.)

Your wallet contains the keys to your life's savings and other vital information, but are "protected" by laughably feeble authentication schemes, such as your signature, or a three-digit number on the back. My Costco card sports an alarming, black-and-white photo of my face that nobody at Costco ever checks. These schemes are easily overcome: All you need at most is possession of the plastic to gain access to a card's purchasing power (and at a minimum, the number pressed into the plastic).

The absurdity of wallets, and what's inside them, goes largely unexamined by the general public. Most of us happily carry around growing quantities of these stupid plastic cards, completely unaware that software innovators in Silicon Valley, financial giants in New York and cell phone handset makers in California, Finland and Asia are conspiring behind the scenes to kill our wallets and everything in them.

These companies are working to move all that data in our wallets into our cell phones, then using the processing power, screens, Internet connections and keypads of those phones to dramatically improve our lives.



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