When Coin released the first video of its über credit card, the response was enormous.
After 40 minutes, even though it was still just a prototype, 1,000 people had evidently forked over $50 for the super-slim electronic device that stores multiple credit card numbers and lets you use any of them with the mere push of a button. That took the company past its $50,000 pre-order goal. Just a few hours later, it had received a massive 20,000 orders for the device, which slides through checkout-counter card readers much like any other piece of plastic. Within two weeks, more than six million people had viewed the launch video that sent Coin viral. Apparently, there’s an awful lot of pent up frustration over the supposed problem of a wallet stuffed with too many credit cards.
Today, much of that frustration is still pent up. Nine months later, most of those who pre-ordered the device are still waiting for it to show up on their doorsteps. Though the company initially promised a summer 2014 ship date, only about 1,000 customers have received a version of the device that Coin quietly released for beta-testing, mostly in San Francisco. But relief is on the way.
On Friday, Coin announced the launch of a new beta-testing program, open to the first 10,000 customers on the wait list who choose to participate. In exchange for taking part, they get a test version of Coin before the device’s official release, now slated for spring 2015. The bad news is they will still have to pay to get the final first-generation version of Coin when it arrives (though they’ll only have pay $30 for it, a big discount from the regular, non-pre-order price of $100). The good news: WIRED has checked out the beta version of the Coin card, and it actually seems to work.
“The launch received more attention than we thought it would, which was good for us,” Coin founder and CEO Kanishk Parashar told WIRED during a recent visit to his company’s San Francisco offices. “But it also increased the scope of the work we had to finish.”
A Coin for Every Counter
When all those orders first started rolling in last November, Coin the company spanned about six people working in a small carpeted room downstairs from Dropbox, and Coin the product looked like a white door-key card with a digital watch face built into one corner. Today, Coin has more than 30 employees working in a spacious basement that once housed a meat-smoking operation, and the current version of namesake device looks much like the mock version in the launch video.
Parashar says the main challenge to getting more Coins out the door has been scaling up manufacturing while working to ensure the devices are secure and can work everywhere. In the Coin office, tables teem with credit-card terminals of every make and model, each with its own idiosyncrasies that Parashar says the company is trying to tease out before making Coin available to everyone. “They’re almost the same but slightly different,” Parashar says of the many terminals users might find at checkout counters. “We have to be the super-set.”
The beta release is part of that process, he says, an attempt to identify “corner cases” in which users encounter situations where swiping Coin doesn’t work perfectly. Even then, he says, users won’t be left without a way to pay. The app that syncs cards to the Coin device still contain those cards’ numbers and other necessary information, which can be punched in manually. But Parashar says he wants to avoid putting users in a situation where they need the manual option as a fallback. “We want to make sure the experience is top-notch,” he says.
On Coin’s Facebook page, commenters impatient for a firm release date are plentiful. And in general, their angst is not unreasonable. The recent history of crowd-funded hardware is littered with prototypes that never became full-fledged products.
But the version that I saw appeared to function very much as promised. Parashar synced his Coin with the Coin app, to which users upload their cards by swiping them through a reader attached to a smartphone audio jack. The app then uses low-energy Bluetooth to transfer the card data with the Coin itself.
On the front of the device, I used a nearly flat button to toggle through the different cars—multiple Visas, an Amex, a gift card. A small black-and-white screen displayed four-character names—VISA, AMEX, GIFT—to identify the different cards, along with the cards’ last four digits and expiration dates. But the most encouraging moment was the swipe itself. Trying out multiple stored cards on multiple card terminals in the office, the card data showed up. Receipts were printed. Everything needed to use Coin to pay for something seemed to be working as promised.
IF PARASHAR CAN GET ENOUGH COINS OUT THE DOOR, THE FUTURE OF DIGITAL PAYMENTS COULD HAVE ONE MORE CANDIDATE.
A working beta version may or may not be enough to quell the impatience of Coin customers still waiting to shrink down their wallets. But with 10,000 Coins on the way, Parashar and company seem to have figured out not only how to get Coin to work, but how to get Coins made. The next interesting test will be to see how Coin gets used once a bunch of them are out on the streets. Will they end up just another geek novelty, a solution to a “problem” that wasn’t really a problem in the first place? Or will they be the digital-analog answer for how everyone will pay in the 21st century, combining the best parts of paying by phone with the familiar feel of swiping plastic?
Right now, Silicon Valley is sure that traditional ways of paying belong to the past, but no one has quite figured out payments’ definitive future. If Parashar can get enough Coins out the door, that future could have one more candidate.