Objects comfort the human hand. A fishing weight. A cigarette hard pack. Lipstick.
And credit cards. The unlimp but not unyielding plastic; the braille surface alive with take-charge symbols; the smart edges that are just shy of sharp. The touch of a credit card supplies a shot of short-term confidence, well-being and authority.
I can’t wait, then, to get my hands on Coin, the charge card to end all charge cards.
Coin looks like a building ID card — a cryptic white or black mystery item with a flat-iPod vibe. It runs on a lithium battery and — get this — has a magnetic strip that can be custom-programmed to become any swipeable card: a credit card, or a debit, gift, metro, flexible health and transit accounts, CVS, Sephora, Topless Teddy’s. Even National Security Agency top clearance. You name it.
OK, maybe not NSA. Or not yet! But everything else.
That’s right: Coin — the magnum opus of mobile developer Kanishk Parashar and handsomely capitalized by Y Combinator — is a device that looks and feels like a credit card and yet can morph into as many as eight cards.
Picture an evening out at the club or school potluck: Coin, a $20 bill, your phone. That’s all you need, and you’re Jason Bourne. Add a Trish McEvoy mulberry sheer lipstick — an odd choice for Jason Bourne, granted — and you could be around the world by sunrise.
No one has used Coin yet. It is scheduled to come out next summer, at a price of $100, or it can be preordered right now for $50 plus $5 shipping. But here’s how it is supposed to work: To choose your card, you press a peppercorn of a button and up comes the card’s name in e-ink on an embedded screen. You can swap cards in and out by swiping your card through a secure dongle that connects your phone. Using a mobile app, your phone then talks to Coin via Bluetooth.
Parashar’s breakthrough was to forget fretting over reinventing money with things like Bitcoin — and to leave digital payment systems to the folks at Square — and stick to reinventing the swipeable. He saw that nearly all the cards we use feature magnetically encoded info that, as with hotel key cards, can be changed in an instant.
In spite of its little calculator-like display, Coin is a terrific example of the nonscreen Internet. That’s where we’re heading. Look for pedals and clothing and furniture with Internet capacity. Just about any object can be made digital now.
And starting with credit cards is the right idea. Because no matter how good credit cards feel, you don’t want too many. A single card that works like a skeleton key? That’s trumps.