Forget carrying around a separate mobile phone, credit card and Oyster card -- according to O2, in the future we'll only need one device. At a press conference this morning, O2 announced the start of a trial that will see 500 people test out a system called O2 Wallet.
O2 Wallet is essentially a mobile phone (in the trial it will be a modified ) that acts as an Oyster card and a credit card. Similar to Londoners' current Oyster cards, you simply have to tap the phone against card readers in Tube stations for it to debit the appropriate fare. Making payments for other goods and services is equally simple.
The concept isn't new and uses near-field communications (NFC) technology that's been around for some time, although this is the first time it's been trialled in the UK on this scale. NFC will also allow users to pick up downloads such as ring tones or wallpapers, for example, by simply tapping advertising posters with chips in them.
The trial will last for six months, after which all of the companies involved, including Transport for London, TranSys, Barclaycard, Visa Europe, Nokia and AEG, will decide what to do next. If the trial proves successful, we might see this system rolled out to the high street by the end of next year.
While we're impressed with the O2 Wallet's versatility, we're still uncertain of a few issues the system might bring up. Click on the next photo to find out what's got us a little concerned.
Triallists will be able to pay for goods worth under £10 using their phones at selected stores where readers are installed. Obviously being able to pay for goods in this way would be very fast, but in order for it to completely replace your wallet, all high-street shops would need to install readers, which is a long way off.
Another issue is security and how safe the system is, relative to using chip and pin. But Barclaycard and Visa assured us this is something they take very seriously, and adequate security measures would be installed for large transactions.
But what if your phone is stolen? All of the partners said that in any public version you would be able to call a number and get all three services disabled. Obviously you'd need to find a phone first, which could prove tricky depending on where you were robbed.
Strangely, while the triallists can use the phone for a variety of services, they can't use the installed cash system to top up their Oyster cards to pay for travel -- instead, they have to top it up using the traditional method at busy TfL machines, which still means carrying cash or a card around.
In the final version it would be good to see a cross-platform solution that allowed users to wirelessly top up their credit without having to queue up for ages.
What concerns us most about O2 Wallet isn't all the technical details, most of which will be solved somehow. No, what worries us is that in order to use this system you have to pull your mobile out all the time. Whether it's to pay for a pack of chewing gum or leave a station, you have to show your phone to the world, and, exposing your expensive gadgetry to all and sundry isn't always advisable.
But O2 Wallet doesn't have to be a complete replacement and most likely won't be. It was clear from the launch today that how this system is finally used is still up in the air. Will this virtual wallet replace your current wallet? Probably not -- but it will come in very handy when you've forgotten your credit card at home or lost your Oyster card and need a quick and easy backup solution. -Andrew Lim