This phone may look like a humble Nokia 6131. Hell, it may even taste like one – we’ve resisted the urge to lick it – but within its frankly uninspiring shell there lurks gadget genius – the O2 Wallet.
Basically an electronic payment system, the O2 Wallet is a service currently being trialled by 500 O2 customers – and Stuff’s news editor Mic Wright. It acts as both your travel pass and a way of making small electronic payments, without getting your wallet or the insides of your pockets out.
The handset uses the same near field communication technology (RFID tags) that lurks inside the Oystercard – the electronic money card for London’s public transport system.
O2, Nokia, AEG (which runs the O2 Arena), Barclaycard, Transport for London and Visa are the plucky bunch of suited superstars behind the project. The phone we were given comes loaded with a bit of spending money to be spent anywhere that has a contactless payment terminal, and a travel card for getting around London.
If you happen to lose your handset on the nightbus or get relieved of it by some of the bigger boys, O2 says you’ll not be out of pocket since your virtual cards will be as simple to stop as old-school plastic. They’ve obviously not tried speaking to a bank call centre, then.
Over 1000 shops, cafes, restaurants and, most importantly, public houses have contactless payment terminals. It’s limited to Canary Wharf, the City of London and Victoria and Paddington stations at the moment, though. The handsets are currently good for payments up to £10 but this should change when the scheme is opened to the public.
Oystercards are massively popular, with around 10m in circulation, and electronic wallets are used all over Japan and South Korea. The UK’s not been keen in the past: the Mondex electronic system had a limited trial in Swindon during the 1990s and flopped.
O2 says a commercial launch depends on the success of the trial but a little birdy (wearing an O2 shirt and a natty little lanyard) told Stuff it expects the service to launch in late 2008/early 2009. Readers of a Northern persuasion needn’t worry; contactless cards for Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham are in the works. Which means the phones shouldn’t be too far behind.
Keep your peepers pointed at Stuff.tv and the mag for Mic’s thoughts on whether this is the future of phones and monies as he jaunts about London with his new tech.
On sale: Late 2008/early 2009