Today's flurry of reports that Apple's iPhone 5 and iPad 2 will support Near Field Communications technology has sparked yet another round of nonsense about how so-called e-wallets soon will be the death knell of the leather variety.
Now no one is disputing (certainly not me) that contactless payment systems are coming to a smart phone near you.
But one story today leads this way: "The next generation of iPhones and iPads will be able to replace your wallet, Bloomberg reports."
Actually, the Bloomberg story didn't even mention the word wallet - not once.
Says another such report: "So what does this mean for consumers? Well, NFC technology means that your phone will pretty much be able to replace your wallet. Instead of carrying around credit cards, you'll just be able to tap your phone to pay for items."
Pretty much? Perhaps when we all have flying cars.
Another writer actually does an admirable job of laying out all the obstacles in the way of e-wallets rendering obsolete the old-fashioned kind, but can't resist wrapping up with: "So, now I would no longer need to carry my wallet."
When the robot maid is doing your laundry, maybe.
Breathless? You want breathless? Offers another scribe: "This is, of course, absolutely huge. We've been waiting ten years to be able to use our phones as a wallet."
I understand that some of you have, but we have not.
Yet that fellow was barely moving the hype meter, witness this quote from a few weeks back attributed to Patrick Bertagna, CEO of GPS technology provider GTX Corp: "Tablets and smartphones will soon replace your wallet and everything inside, it will be your ID, credit cards, access to accounts and even your keys to get in your car or house. They will allow you to bank, shop, play, connect with friends and if not too outdated make a phone call. All with more ease and seamless integration with your lifestyle. This is the new frontier."
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, let's take a look inside the wallet that my future phone is just itching to send to the dump:
There's a loyalty card from a major grocery chain that I'm sure is capable of someday allowing me to pay for my groceries with the phone I'll someday own (right now the process of paying with my bank debit card takes an exhausting 10 seconds). However, I also shop regularly at a mom-and-pop grocer that can barely transact business electronically, never mind accommodate the mobile industry's vision of a wallet without cows.
There's another loyalty card from a major home improvement chain, but I also shop at its big-box competitor and a small hardware store. All three will recognize my future e-wallet when?
I have a library card; the kids love the library on Saturday mornings. My small-town library is relatively tech-savvy, too, but right now its biggest priority is raising funds for a sorely needed bigger building. Yes, the new library - if and when it is built - should feature plenty of cutting-edge technology, but I'm going to venture a guess that allowing patrons to check out books using their smart phones will not be high on the list of priorities. (It had better not be if they want taxpayers to pony up.)
Yes, Bank of America, American Express, VISA and AAA can all be counted on to help me break from the shackles of my wallet ... eventually.
But after my future phone and my carrier and all of these merchants and institutions have synched up to render my wallet obsolete ....we're still left with a couple of issues.
Uh-oh, I just found my health-insurance card. My primary care physician still uses paper, manila folders and filing cabinets. I look forward to his office assistant's laugh when I break out the smart phone.
Now for the two biggies:
There's my driver's license. How soon will the officer who just stopped me for speeding say, "iPhone and registration, please."
And, finally, the most obvious fly in the e-wallet ointment: cash. Don't tell me I won't need to carry any - not in this lifetime. But do tell me why I'd want to carry it in something other than my wallet.
(Update, Jan. 26: Interesting discussion ongoing in comments, and civil, too, for the most part. Here's a new post about one exception.)