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

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.

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TOPICS: Apple, iOS, iPhone, Reviews
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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

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  • No this does not appeal to me. Where are the scurity features?

    On the surface this looks great. What I am fearful of though is that this is going to be a target for people that want to steal your credit card information. How long will it take for someone to hack the code to allow them to read in any credit card regardless of the name? Oh that geocard you let the waiter have to pay your dinner bill just got swiped into his phone. Now he can program his geocard or other card with your information to pay his charges.
    I am not impressed yet with the security of just verifying names on the credit card with who the phone thinks you are. Having the card reader and writer on an iphone appears to be giving out half the tools needed to steal the information. Will someone write an app for that? -- you bet they will if they can figure out the interface.
    voltman3
    • Do just a little bit of research....

      Nobody needs this device to steal your credit card information. In fact, it makes *no sense* to spend $300 on this device (and the expense of an iPhone) to steal credit card numbers when people can buy card skimming and writing hardware for under $50 online.

      Personally, I'd *love* to be able to read in alternate names so I can allow my wife to use a credit card on an account that's only available in my name (but which is paid for out of our joint account). However, it doesn't allow that.
      OregonJeff