The AOL cafeterias recently added the PayPass credit card readers. Instead of handing your card to the cashier or sliding the magnetic stripe through a reader, the terminals allow you to just touch your credit card against the reader.
The system uses a technology called RFID. If you work at a company where you enter by hitting your badge against a wall reader or you use Metro’s SmarTrip or London’s Oyster systems for paying your subway fare, you’re already using RFID.
Adoption of RFID for credit cards has been slow. Nationally, CVS, McDonald’s and 7-11 have rolled out the system. I’ve also seen it at Whole Foods and a few movie theaters. Trying to find a reader is complicated by the fact that different companies refer to it by different names: PayPass, ExpressPay, Contactless and blink. It’s commendable that they are trying to come up with friendlier names than the computer industry (802.11g, IEEE 1394, etc.). But a consistent name would help in building consumer awareness.
Getting an RFID credit card isn’t automatic, either. Most credit cards don’t have the chips in them. With the expansion to the AOL cafeterias, I decided to make the effort to getting an RFID-enabled card. Neither American Express or Citi could issue my card with the chip. (They have others, but I didn’t want a new account.) Chase did.
Like those overly techno-looking fonts that companies use to imply that something is futuristic, Chase has a drawing of what people think of as a microchip on the front of the card. The actual chip is elsewhere on the card and not at all sexy.
The difference in the time it takes to tap a card versus sliding it through a reader is a fraction of a second. The bigger time savings comes from the fact that for most transactions under $25 you don’t have to sign. But this isn’t unique to RFID; many retailers are already doing that with magnetic-stripe based transactions.
I was hoping to save the time it takes to get the card out of my wallet, but (unlike my SmarTrip), I couldn’t get it to work through my wallet. The chip is small enough – about 3/16″ square – that it could easily be placed on a key tag. That would make it much more convenient.
But it’s still not as convenient as the process at Google’s cafeterias.