There’s a new company in town that wants to replace your credit, debit, and store cards with a single digital “meta” card: The unpronounceable and probably-conceived-during-a-drunken-game-of-scrabble Plastc. The Plastc Card is the same size and thickness (0.8mm) as a credit card, but it manages to pack in a battery, e-ink display, NFC, and other high-tech features, along with the usual magnetic strip. The sole purpose of Plastc is to combine all of your various cards and vouchers into a single device, significantly thinning down or obviating your wallet. It’s a nice idea — but is it actually technologically feasible? And aren’t we moving away from credit cards towards mobile payment solutions, anyway?
If Plastc sounds familiar, it’s because it’s very similar to Coin, a crowdfunded meta-card from 2013 that was meant to arrive this summer, but was recently pushed back to spring 2015. Coin originally cost $55 to pre-order, but it has since gone up to $100. Plastc costs $155 to pre-order, with an expected delivery date of “summer 2015.”
$155 is a lot of money to replace a few credit cards with Plastc — but you do get a lot of tech for your money, to be fair. Plastc has an e-ink touchscreen on the front that is used to unlock the device, display the selected card’s details, and to swipe between your cards. There’s a magnetic strip on the back for use in the US, and a chip on the front so that it can be used in every other developed country except for the US. Inside, there’s both Bluetooth (for communicating with a companion smartphone app) and NFC for contactless payments. The internal battery is good for 30 days – and you recharge it wirelessly, using some kind of induction charging plate. [Read: How wireless charging works.]
All that tech is put to pretty good use, too. Bluetooth is used to sync up with your smartphone, so you can keep track of all your transactions and cards — and your phone will tell you if your card moves out of range (i.e. you left your card back at the store). The e-ink display can show you the current balance of your various cards/accounts, and barcodes for any stored vouchers. NFC (in theory) allows for contactless payments. Apparently you can even wipe the Plastc remotely if you lose it (though I have no idea how this feature works, considering it relies on a nearby smartphone for connectivity). If the Plastc Card runs out of battery, it sets itself to your default card, so you can still pay for things if needed.
In short, Plastc — except for the rather exorbitant price tag — sounds like a much better idea than carrying around dozens of cards in a bulging wallet. (There’s also the slight problem that you will be charged $155 immediately for a product that may or may not ship in summer 2015 — and there are some serious technological hurdles that the developers will need to scale in a relatively short amount of time — but hey, let’s give Plastc the benefit of the doubt for now.)
Too little too late
While Plastc is an excellent solution to the bulging wallet problem, it’s still very much predicated on the idea of carrying around a piece of plastic — a piece of plastic that can break, be lost or stolen, or suffer any of the other pitfalls that regularly afflict small, flimsy doodads.
Plastc arrives just as we’re starting to move away from credit cards entirely. Google Wallet, which uses your smartphone instead of a plastic card, wasn’t very successful — but I suspect Apple Pay will be a different story. It’s also worth noting that — at long last — new point-of-sale devices that support chip-and-PIN will be rolled out in a big way in the US in 2015 (in essence it’s being mandated by MasterCard and Visa), and these same devices will most likely support Google Wallet, Apple Pay, and other NFC-based contactless payment solutions.
Read: Apple unveils Apple Pay, a digital wallet for your iPhone 6 and Apple Watch
This isn’t to say that plastic cards will be made obsolete overnight – millions of card-reading devices, from gas pumps to ATMs, won’t be updated to cardless/NFC solutions any time soon. Barring any compatibility issues (MasterCard, Visa, and banks still have to approve Plastc!), I’m sure Plastc will be very useful for years to come. There’s no denying that Plastc is entering a shrinking market, though — especially outside the US, where alternative cardless/cashless payment methods are being readily and rapidly embraced.
Finally, let’s circle back to Plastc’s awful name. Is it pronounced plast-see or plast-kuh? Or do its creators just want us to ignore the word’s sad lack of vowels and call it plastic? In the promotional video, the lady pronounces it plast-ee-card and never refers to it without the “card” bit tacked on the end. I think I’m going to call it plast-kuh just to teach the guys at Plastc that the years of ruthlessly omitting vowels just to pick up a short domain name are over.