Coin’s warm reception proves the George Costanza wallet must die

November 18, 2013

Your wallet doesn’t have to be this fat. But it’s unclear if Coin will solve that problem. (Matt McFarland/The Washington Post)

Chances are your wallet is bursting with cards. Credit cards, reward cards, and cards from businesses you rarely use. They take up space, and can be difficult to quickly find in a cluttered wallet. “Seinfeld” character George Costanza memorably had a wallet he could barely close. While sitting he began tucking napkins under his other back pocket, so that he wasn’t sitting at an angle.

Coin is a card and app meant to end the era of George Costanza wallets. It aims to replace most of the cards in your wallet. The data from your cards is loaded onto Coin, allowing you to leave your cards at home. Coin acts as a stand-in. You toggle from card to card with a click of a button depending on which one you wish to use in a given situation.

While no one outside Coin has been able to test Coin in the real world — and the product has plenty of question marks — that hasn’t stopped it from receiving mountains of buzz and positive feedback. Thursday Coin launched an effort to raise $50,000 via crowdfunding to cover manufacturing costs. The goal was met in 40 minutes. Its Web site was mentioned 200,000 times on Facebook Thursday, according to CEO Kanishk Parashar. A slick video promoting Coin received over 4.6 million views on YouTube in four days.

Consumers are thirsting for a solution to all of the cards they have to carry around. But it’s not yet clear that Coin is the solution.

(Courtesy of Coin)
(Courtesy of Coin)

Coin only holds eight cards, and you probably have a lot more in your wallet. It isn’t currently designed to work with cards that have a bar code on them. Only cards with a magnetic strip work (their information is scanned into Coin with a dongle.) Parashar says his team will develop a feature in 2014 that allows cards featuring bar codes to be scanned into the app, so you don’t have to carry those cards. You could then open the app on your phone whenever you want to use those cards.

Right now Coin can’t replace cards with an RFID chip in them, such as SmartTrip cards that are used on Washington’s public transportation system. You’ll still need to carry your driver’s license as well.

This man could use a thinner wallet. (Undated publicity photo/NBC/Reuters)
This man could use a thinner wallet. (Undated publicity photo/NBC/Reuters)

It’s also unclear what happens once the battery in Coin dies. At this point you’ll have to buy another Coin. Parashar views the two years Coin is supposed to last as a long window for his company to find a better solution.

If you leave your Coin somewhere, the Bluetooth technology will alert you that you have left it behind. While that’s tremendous for people who leave their credit cards at bars, the Coin also disables itself if your phone battery dies. No smartphone means no credits cards, and that’s a problem.

Parashar says Coin will eventually cost about $100. You can pre-order a Coin now for $50. Coin says it’ll ship its first batch of cards in the summer of 2014. Coin’s promotional video is slick, and its Web site flashy, but we need to see more substance. Coin is an intriguing alternative to innovations in payments such as a Square Wallet, because it has the potential to work anywhere cards with magnetic strips can be swiped.

“Something like Coin, it works the day you get it. That what makes all the difference. Coin has technology in there that can adapt to what is going to happen in future,” the optimistic Parashar said in an interview.

While Coin shows lots of potential, don’t ready the eulogies for Costanza’s wallet yet.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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Matt McFarland | November 18, 2013