Wearable Payments Come of Age with 3 Launches

  • JJ Hornblass
  • June 17, 2014
  • 2

Take a look at your watch. It might be changing soon.

Three important smartwatch launches over the last week or so appear to have changed the dynamic for wearable payments. They are:

  1. Glance launched Kickstarter;
  2. Pebble released an important upgrade; and
  3. Token, a concept smart watch, was released by Artefact, a Seattle design how.

And at least two more smartwatches are due this summer, one from Microsoft and another called Moment, which begins a Kickstarter campaign on June 24.

Glance is not exactly a “smartwatch.” It is actually a smart tab that a user fits in under his watch band. The tab is, in truth, remarkable. It can facilitate all sorts of functionality, including controlling a smart TV or locating a lost iPhone. But, most importantly, it makes a watch “smart,” without requiring a user to actually buy a smartwatch. The tab just slides under a watch band — even that old watch your grandfather gave to you. The upshot is simple: Glance does not require you to watch a smartwatch and ditch your existing watch. (See video below.)

Pebble, meanwhile, upgraded its firmware just last week, adding some cool features. Most crucially, the new app uses Apple’s iBeacon specification to know when the Pebble watch and iPhone are within close proximity of each other. The payments implications are clear.

Finally, there is Token, perhaps the most radical new smartwatch to come out to date. In its basic form — and it should be noted that the watch is still a concept — Token is a Bluetooth- enabled payments watch. Think of it as the Nike FuelBand for payments. Here’s how Wired describes it:

A Token wearer starts by tapping one of four activity portals: “pay” (purchase items from vendors), “give” (transfer funds to another user), “ask” (request money from another user), and “peek” (check bank statements). If you choose, for example, the “pay” button while at a store, Token would quickly add up the total, calculate sales tax, and then prompt you with a blue “pay” button. Tap it, and you’re done. Under “peek,” each Visa or American Express account gets its own bar graph that fluctuates as you incur expenses, or get funds from other Token users.

Watch-3upToken is also flat-out beautiful.

But that’s not the whole of it. What Token is really aiming to do is create an alternative Bluetooth protocol for payments. In other words, Token aims to sit on top of all payments providers, much as Coin sits on top of all credit cards.

The problem with using a smartphone instead of a traditional wallet, as [Token Design Director Craig] Erickson sees it, is efficiency. Each payment app exists in a vacuum, and there’s no way to sync them with your bank statement for the purpose of keeping a budget, while on the go. Token would amass all of that activity in one place—similar to the promise of Coin, which Erickson says is “still anchored down the credit card form factor”—making it possible to buy a cup of coffee, transfer allowance money to your kid, see what’s left in your checking account, and then go buy a meal—all in a few minutes.

This ability to supersede other payments providers is the Holy Grail for a payments startup, and the entry through Bluetooth seems at the least plausible, if not — brace yourself — brilliant.

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JJ started the first iteration of Bank Innovation back in 2007, and has been working on it ever since. He also serves as President & Chief Executive Officer of Royal Media, Bank Innovation’s parent. He founded Royal in 1995 and oversees all aspects of the New York-based diversified media company. Prior to forming Royal, JJ was on the editorial staff of American Banker, the daily newspaper, and worked as an editor of a business magazine in Hong Kong. As a reporter and editor, he has won journalism awards from the National Press Foundation, Newsletter & Electronic Publishers Foundation, and the Reader’s Digest Foundation. He has a BS in Economics from Yeshiva University and a Master’s from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was also a Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate School of Banking. He lives in New York City with his wife, two daughters, and son. He counts among his accomplishments one New York City Marathon, two New York City Triathlons and the 2010 Father’s Day 5K, the first race he ever ran with his daughters. He can be reached at hornblass@gmail.com or 212-564-8972.

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2 thoughts on “Wearable Payments Come of Age with 3 Launches

  1. More wearables news from Apple about the forthcoming iWatch, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal:

    Apple Inc. is planning multiple versions of its smartwatch, likely to be launched in the fall, people familiar with the matter said, as the company tries to counter wearable devices from rivals such as Google Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co.

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