Verizon iPhone users get a crack at Isis Mobile Wallet

Verizon Wireless is now offering a special NFC-enabled case for iPhone customers so they can use the Isis Mobile Wallet, which leverages NFC technology for tap-and-go payments via smartphones.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read
A case from Incipio allows iPhone users to access the NFC-enabled mobile payment app from Isis. Verizon Wireless

iPhone wireless subscribers on Verizon Wireless won't be left out of using the Isis Mobile Wallet any longer.

On Thursday, Verizon, which is one of three major wireless operators funding the Isis Mobile Wallet, announced that iPhone users can now use the Incipio Cashwrap case and an iOS app available from the Apple App Store to use the mobile wallet.

Isis uses a very short-range wireless technology called near-field communications or NFC to access the wallet, which digitally stores credit card information, loyalty cards as well as coupons and offers. People with the mobile wallet installed on their devices pay for things simply by tapping their phones to an Isis and NFC enabled terminal.

Because the NFC technology requires a special chip in the device, not all handsets can access the Isis Mobile Wallet functionality. Isis launched nationwide last year on NFC-enabled Android smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 and several other Android devices. But wireless customers with the iPhone have largely been left out of the chance to use Isis, since the iPhone doesn't include an NFC chip.

Cases are available through Verizon's retail channels starting today. A case for the iPhone 5/5S is $70, while the case for the iPhone 4/4S, which also includes an extended battery, costs $80.

Now using the new Incipio Cashwrap Case, iPhone users can get the NFC functionality and use the Isis wallet app via the case, which includes the NFC element. AT&T made the case available for its customers last month.

Isis and the mobile wallet
Isis is just one of several initiatives offering consumers a chance to use their mobile devices to pay for things rather than cash and traditional credit cards. And though the technology has been available for awhile, adoption has been lackluster at best.

Google was among the first companies to launch an actual product. The Google Wallet came out in 2011, but the service has yet to go mainstream. Like Isis, its initial versions used NFC technology. Other companies have also come into the fray, including PayPal, which offers a digital wallet that is not necessarily tied directly to a mobile phone via the NFC technology.

Isis, which is a joint venture started by AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, only began offering its Mobile Wallet service nationwide at the end of 2013. So far Isis Mobile Wallet adoption has been slow. And the app, which was available nationwide in November, has gotten poor reviews. It scores only 2.5 stars on the Google Play store with just over 3,000 users weighing in.

Users who have tried the mobile wallet have complained about the app's many limitations, including the fact that it supports only a limited number of credit cards. Others who have downloaded the app complain that it simply doesn't work.

Glitches in the app itself are only part of the problem. The very architecture of how it works has also slowed adoption. For instance, because the service is tied to a piece of hardware, the NFC chip, it only works with devices supporting NFC. Isis is trying to get around this limitation with covers, such as the one offered for the iPhone. But there is no question that relying on embedded technology that hasn't become pervasive on every device is a limitation. While phone covers help bring the technology to a wider array of devices and users, it's still a clunky solution that likely won't spur much adoption. Another hardware limitation is the fact that payment terminals also need to be updated to support receiving NFC payments.

All of this adds up to making the adoption of the Isis Mobile Wallet and of NFC-contactless payments, in general, an uphill battle. While the introduction of a new case for iPhone users opens the door for usage among a whole new set of consumers, it's still unlikely to make a huge impact on the number of people using the app.