First non-contact

Although I am excited about technology, I do not normally adopt something just because it is available [and new and shiny]. A notable exception was, I guess, the iPad, where I was not sure why I wanted one, but wanted one I did. So, I tend not to be an early adopter and it is unsurprising that I can get excited about something that has been around for ages.

I am quite up to date with handling my finances. I use online banking extensively, shop online a lot and use plastic cards for all non-trivial purchases. I very rarely dig out my check book nowadays and I am mildly irritated when someone sends me one. But there is still the issue of cash …

Cash has been around a long time. Although paper money is relatively new, coins date back a couple of thousand years. It has often seemed surprising to me that we still use such old technology in parallel with the electronic transactions that dominate our financial lives. However, I have always been reluctant to use plastic cards for small purchases [even though I do online] and mostly use cash for less than, say, £20. That is, until now …

For years, plastic cards relied on signatures to be validated. Although this practice has almost disappeared in Europe, being replaced by electronic “chip and PIN” validation, it is still mostly used in the US. I guess many people, like me, tend not to use cards for small transactions, as the validation process seems too much hassle for the small amount of money involved. Which I guess is why contactless cards were introduced.

These cards are just like other debit/credit cards, except that, in addition to the normal chip, they contain and RFID transponder. To make a transaction, the card just needs to be a short distance [5cm is talked about] from the reading device. So, there is no PIN, no signature – just wave the card and go.

I do a lot of my everyday shopping at a small supermarket that is just a few yards from my house. I go there just about every day, sometimes more than once. [My wife jokes that, if they have not seen me by 11:00, they phone to check that I am OK.] I discovered that they accept contactless payment, so today, for the first time, I gave it a go. It seemed to work like a charm – so I may just be a convert.

There are worries about security and reports of readers detecting cards at greater range, resulting unwanted charges or even charges to multiple cards. So, I will be keeping a close eye on my bank account …

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/embedded-software/2013/05/23/first-non-contact/