This is part of a series of reviews and articles focusing on the mobile payments space. Last week's review looked at the Loop MobileWallet and fob.
My son picked up my phone the other day and commented that he liked the case I was using. It's not as bulky as some of the other ones, he told me. I agreed with him that the Incipio CashWrap on my iPhone 5 has a nice feel. But beyond being a nice case, it also allows me to make NFC-based payements using the ISIS mobile wallet, something that wouldn't be possible otherwise given Apple's deference to Bluetooth Low-Energy iBeacon technology for mobile payments.
And while the Incipio CashWrap is a successful execution of a technolgy from which iPhone users have been excluded, it also underscores the continued weaknesses of the mobile wallet concept in the first place.
The case is relatively easy to set up. Just slide your phone in and away you go. That said, removing the phone from the case is difficult to the extent that I was worried about cracking my screen.
The case features a mini-USB port on the side for charging, and features plastic that runs over the iPhone's volume rocker and power buttons. These were a little hard to push, especially the power button. The bottom part of the case extends about a half inch below the bottom of the phone, adding a little extra heft. Inlcuded with the case is an approximately two-inch headphone dongle that allows you a connection to that port. In all, it's about as "un-clunky" a solution as you're going to get if you're looking to add NFC payments to your iPhone.
All mobile wallet technologies, especially those that employ NFC, are limited by the number of places that accept that particular brand of contactless payments. I was able to pay at a couple of locations using my the Cashwrap and my ISIS mobile wallet app, but those locations are admittedly too few and far between. Surprisingly there are quite a few new vending machine models that accept ISIS payment, which was highlighted by the fact that Coke offers a loyalty card--as well as three free Cokes--through the app. You just have to use your ISIS mobile wallet to pay for them.
Partnerships and Incentives
It's these kinds of incentives that ISIS hopes will drive initial NFC-based payments. In fact, American Express is offering $50 when you add an American Express Serve card within your ISIS app. I did this and was surprised to realize there was no real catch. I opened the accont for free and there was my initial ISIS funding source, pre-loaded with a $50 credit. ISIS has already come out with a number of loyalty cards and promotions with its partners. For instance, the joint venture announced free beverages from Jamba Juice at last year's MobileCon conference.
In a previous review of Loop's mobile wallet, I mentioned that its solution was superior to ISIS, a conclusion that was mainly due to the fact that Loop uses existing Point-of-Sale (POS) terminals. That means it works a nearly any POS that accepts regular old plsatic credit cards with a magnetic strip (Loop says 90 percent of all merchants). However, Loop lacks the kinds of partnerships that ISIS has backing its approach to the mobile wallet. ISIS counts three of the major U.S. carriers as founding members, as well as Visa and Mastercard and host of multi-national retailers. That goes a long way when you're talking adoption of a particular brand of technology.
The Incipio CashWrap sells for about $69, which is a problem in itself, as a recent Yankee Group survey found that just 1 in 10 people say they’d be willing to pay to use mobile payment services. This is technology that's in the same position as wireless charging, especially when considering this work-around for the iPhone. It seems like any time you offer a case to enable some kind of functionality, the model is flawed in some way and relatively short-sighted. And let's be clear, this opinion doesn't necessarily reflect on all NFC-based payments. Remember, this is Apple, which proports to "think different." Whether the bet Tim Cook and company have made on iBeacon will pay off remains to be seen, but iPhone users trying this solution may eventually revert back to the tried and true, always reliable stack of plastic wrapped in a slab of rawhide.