Why an e-wallet won’t replace my leather one

Recent reports that Apple's iPhone 5 and iPad 2 will support Near Field Communications technology sparked yet another round of chatter about how so-called e-wallets soon will be the death knell for the leather variety.

Now no one is disputing that contactless payment systems are coming to a smartphone near you. But one story started this way: "The next generation of iPhones and iPads will be able to replace your wallet."

IPHONE-AS-WALLET: What you should know before taking the plunge

Another said: "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?

Offered yet another: "This is, of course, absolutely huge. We've been waiting 10 years to be able to use our phones as a wallet."

I understand that some of you have, but we have not. More to the point, even if I had been long pining for this functionality, neither that longing nor the arrival of the functionality would allow me to lose the leather.

Let's take a look inside the wallet of the present that my phone of the future is 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 bovine intervention.

Here's another loyalty card from a major home improvement chain; again, perfectly capable of contactless commerce. 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. 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 smartphones will not be high on the list of priorities. (It had better not be if they want taxpayers to pony up.)

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.

There's 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 smartphone.

And now for the two biggies:

How soon will the police 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.

What's in your wallet? The address is buzz@nww.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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