Mobility

Visa is about to put a ring on it

The future is now, at least in terms of mobile payment. Visa has conceived a payment ring for testing during the Rio Olympics. Here's more about the good and the bad.

Image: Jack Wallen

For those that have adopted mobile payment, bravo for taking a small step into the future. But guess what? If Visa has its way, you'll be left in the past...a very bulky, inefficient past that'll make you long for an even better means of making payments while on the go.

What is Visa doing? They are testing out a new form factor for the Rio Olympics. Certain Olympic athletes will be outfitted with Visa payment rings. These rings will enable the testers to pay with things by simply swiping

their hands over a payment terminal to complete the transaction. The rings are a simple, ceramic circle (they cannot be covered in any decorative metal or dye, as that would interfere with the antenna) and will serve as an ideal replacement for when you don't (or can't) carry your wallet, purse, or smartphone with you.

The rings offer an ingenious design. Instead of relying on a battery (that would either need to be replaced, or charged), they draw a tiny bit of power from the payment terminal...just enough to complete the transaction. This new technology also doesn't exchange much in the way of information. In fact, this type of payment method is pretty much exactly like swiping your card...only it's a card you wear around your finger.

Genius.

"Misplacers" need not apply

The idea of a payment ring brings up one very obvious question. What happens when you lose that ring? Unlike wallets and phones, unless that ring is constantly on your finger, they can easily go missing. Take a dip in the pool or the ocean and that ring could slip off and be next to impossible to find (or swallowed by a shark, who will then swim off to purchase who knows what).

Don't get me wrong, I personally think this is a brilliant idea. There are times I'm on the go (without wallet or phone) and I'd love to be able to purchase something. If my run takes me too far from home, and I need a Gatorade, it'd be nice to know I could wave a ring I wear 24/7 over a payment terminal, and purchase that refreshing, electrolyte-charged liquid.

Even so, not everyone's ability to keep track of jewelry is created equal. For anyone that tends to lose those smaller bits of fine festoonery, the Visa ring is probably not for you. But for those who don't have an issue keeping track of their jewelry, this form factor would be the best all-around solution for wearable payment.

Why this idea should flourish

There are really two main reasons why the payment ring idea should ignite interest from nearly every sector. First off is the form factor. Consumers want the easiest method of conducting transactions and this could be that very thing. It's as portable as it gets (without going the subdermal chip route), which will appeal to a lot of user types. The next obvious reason is that there will be zero concern for battery life. With Android or Apple pay, your phone must be charged in order to work. I've been behind a consumer ready to pay for a purchase, only to see their phone die right before they could complete the transaction. To compound the situation, they'd left their wallet in the car. With the payment ring, this wouldn't be an issue.

Why this idea could fail

In a word...security. Consider this: It took the United States years to move away from the old magnetic stripe technology and implement chip and PIN. Can this new form factor compete with the more secure transaction type? Or will it add a layer of insecurity into the mix? What Visa is doing, however, should abate the fears of anyone afraid of data theft from the rings. First off, the rings don't exchange as much data as does Android or Apple Pay. And should your ring be stolen, it will be of little value as the data has been tokenized. On top of which, the rings can easily be deactivated from your smartphone.

Even so, many will be hesitant to connect unproven tech to their bank account...and that could be a massive deal breaker.

Not even in beta

The Rio Olympics are to serve as a testing ground for the Visa payment ring...and only with a very small cross section of users. No one knows if this technology from Visa will make it out of Rio. However, this proof of concept will spawn copies. Even if Visa cannot complete this transaction, someone will. Within the next year or two, you will see a number of financial establishments and tech companies putting a ring on the consumer to make mobile payments as easy as waving a hand.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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