George Costanza would love the Loop: it's a tiny device that stores all of your credit card information, lets you pay at any terminal, and guarantees you'll never live with the threat of your wallet exploding again. And you can buy it right now.
If Loop sounds familiar, you might be thinking of Coin, the slim programmable card that made a splash late last year. There are a couple of key differences though. Whereas Coin requires swiping, Loop works by generating a magnetic field that registers as a swipe at credit card terminals.
Loop also comes in a couple of different forms: a small fob ($US40) or a charging case for your iPhone ($US100). An Android version of the app that powers both is still in development, but Android phones can generally get by on NFC. Both devices come with a magnetic card reader to store your credit card data. Unfortunately, both devices are currently only available in the US, although the company says it's "working to expand" to other countries.
The other big difference, however, is that Loop actually exists. At the moment, Coin exists mainly in the form of a YouTube video and a crowdfunding campaign. The actual product isn't due out until the summer. Loop started shipping on Wednesday, and GigaOm's Kevin Fitchard already took it for a spin. On one hand, he really liked it:
Where I used Loop, the experience was surprisingly seamless. When you're ready to pay you press a button on the fob and then tap or wave the device near the magnetic strip reader on the point-of-sale terminal. The terminal behaves exactly as if you swiped plastic.
But there is this one annoying drawback:
I found it a bit annoying that there was no connection between my phone and the fob unless they are physically linked. That means to switch between cards I have loaded in the fob, I have to plug it into my phone's audio jack, open the app, enter my PIN, select the card I want to use and then unplug. In my mind, it's just easier to go into my wallet and pull out the physical plastic.
That does sound annoying. It also brings up the big question with products like these: Isn't it just easier to keep using credit cards? They're even getting smarter soon, and chip and pin would break this whole system, making this a temporary investment. Frankly, the Loop is pretty small, but it's not as small as a tiny, thin credit card. And, unless you carry 15 of them, chances are the thickness of your wallet's not really a problem.
Then there's the security piece of things. Can any hacker with a scanner just walk by and nab your credit card information? According to Loop, the answer is no. All of your data is "encrypted and tokenized" for security purposes, and you need to input a pin every time you make a payment. You also have to push a button to activate the Loop before making a payment, so it's not like the data is out there floating in the ether all the time.
But, hey, technology is progress. Plus, the charge case actually adds 60 per cent more battery life to your phone and makes you look like a badass at the check out. A badass who also maybe looks like a kind of shifty hacker. [Loop via GigaOm]