First Look: iCache Geode digital wallet for iPhone (Verdict: cool, but half-baked)

Summary:A first look at this promising whole wallet replacement for the iPhone. It stores credit and loyalty cards with biometric security and presents them with an e-ink display and programmable magstripe card. While cool, the software is missing basic functionality and feels unfinished.

First Look: iCache Geode digital wallet for iPhone

Easily one of the most promising Kickstarter projects I've seen is the Geode digital wallet from iCache ($199) -- and that's saying a lot because there are many promising Kickstarter projects.

Geode is the first secure, digital wallet for the iPhone 4 or 4S which I first wrote about it back in March 2012. What makes Geode unique is its combination software and hardware. Unlike software-only solutions (like CardStar) Geode's barcodes scanned at every retailer I tested it at courtesy of the slick e-ink display on the back of the unit.

It works like this: attach the Geode case to your iPhone (which is about the size of small piggyback battery case), install the Geode app (free, iTunes), scan your finger on the biometric reader (which encrypts the data from prying eyes). Then attach the small, yellow card reader (pictured above, right bottom) and scan all of your credit cards into the app.

Once your credit and loyalty cards are scanned, you're ready to shop! When it's time to make a purchase, simply launch the Geode app, log in with your fingerprint, select a payment card and/or a loyalty card you wish to use, then touch the Geode "G" logo at center bottom of the screen.

First Look: iCache Geode digital wallet for iPhone (Verdict: cool, but needs work)

 

Geode comes with a universal credit card called a "GeoCard" that has a magstripe that's programmed on-the-fly and can be used at any point-of-sale terminal. It can be programmed to be your American Express, Visa, Exxon Mobile or any other credit card with a few touches. Then simply swipe it at your merchant's terminal, sign and go. Need to use it to emulate your Sunoco card? Diner's Club? No problem, the GeoCard morphs into whichever card you want with a touch.

Touching the Geode logo programs the magstripe on the GeoCard and displays the selected loyalty card barcode on the devices e-ink display. Then it's just a matter of scanning the loyalty card (which was flawless at six national retailers that I tested it at) and swiping the GeoCard in the credit card terminal. The GeoCard also worked flawlessly when I swiped it at three different retailers -- although it drew some strange looks from clerks.

But it's far from perfect and Geode is very much a version 1.0 product.

One of the most annoying issues for me is a name mismatch problem preventing me from adding my debit card to Geode -- the card I use the most. When I swipe it using the supplied card reader the app gives me a "Card name does not match registered name" error. The name on the card is "JASON D O GRADY" and my name in the app is "Jason O'Grady." Currently there isn't a way to add other instances of your name to the app, so I can't use my primary debit card. 

Worse, there's no way to manually input loyalty card numbers (ala CardStar) into the Geode app. They can only be swiped (if they have a magstripe) or photographed (if they have a barcode). Geode won't read the magstripe on my Starbucks Gold card and it doesn't have a bar code -- only a 16-digit number -- so I can't enter it. Same with my Panera Bread loyalty card. The magstripe won't read in the Geode reader, and it doesn't have a bar code, only a 12-digit number, so no dice there. Same with my library card, which has a barcode, but it's apparently too "tight" for the Geode app to detect.

The Geode app desperately needs a way to manually enter loyalty card numbers. (It would get bonus points from me if the camera/scanner could detect numerals using OCR and build a virtual card from them.)

Although iCache alluded to a license holder accessory that would store a physical driver's license (the last remaining piece of a complete wallet, natch) details are slim on it. Personally, I'd love to be take a photo of my driver's license (or any card for that matter) and store it in Geode app. 

The other wildcard is Apple's "fall transition" mentioned on its 3Q 2012 earnings conference call with analysts today. Everyone else refers this to this as the iPhone 5, largely rumored to arrive in the Fall (September, October) with iOS 6. When I showed the Geode for some friends over the past few days, several worried about spending $200 for a digital wallet a short 2-3 months before the new iPhone comes out. While a valid concern, iCache has mentioned "an iPhone 5 upgrade incentive" but it's limited to backers of the (now-funded) Kickstarter project.

One nice feature of the Geode is that, despite thoughts to the contrary by Apple, gadgets like Geode can be made in the US. (Check out this video of Geode being manufactured by Creation Technologies in Lexington, KY, like the Nexus Q.

Geode definitely is great demo-ware and has a metric ton of potential, but there's still too many unanswered questions for me to be able to recommend it. 

Does a "digital wallet" appeal to you? What would it take for you to take the leap?

Update 2012-0727: iCache CEO Jonathan Ramaci has posted a video update about a "dynamic card issue" that's been uncovered with the adhesive that holds the metallic chip onto the GeoCard. Apparently the adhesive has been losing contact with card due to the high heat experienced in some delivery trucks. Existing orders are being held back for about two weeks while the company tests a new adhesive. Ramaci has promised weekly video updates to Kickstarter backers on the status of the fix.

Topics: Apple, iOS, iPhone, Reviews

About

Jason D. O'Grady developed an affinity for Apple computers after using the original Lisa, and this affinity turned into a bona-fide obsession when he got the original 128 KB Macintosh in 1984. He started writing one of the first Web sites about Apple (O'Grady's PowerPage) in 1995 and is considered to be one of the fathers of blogging.... Full Bio

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