The Coin (promising to let you combine all your credit/debit/loyalty cards into a single piece of tech) has delayed for so long that you might have forgotten that you ordered one. In November of 2013, the YC-backed company blew past its $50,000 pre-order goal in forty minutes, but despite a promise of summer 2014 shipping, the company has yet to ship a product that wasn’t in beta. Until today.
After a six-month beta program, Coin is finally ready to ship a finished product to the 350,000 people who have pre-ordered in the first two months of pre-order.
Allow Coin To Re-Introduce Itself
Coin works by letting you add all of your debit, credit, and loyalty cards onto one piece of technology, the Coin.
After signing into the Coin app with the same credentials used to order the Coin, users are asked to create a unique six-digit tap code. It uses a combination of long taps and short taps, of your choosing, to ensure no one can get into the Coin app or the Coin itself unless they know the code, or have control of the user’s smartphone.
Once the app is set up, users can pair their Coin and add new cards by manually entering information, swiping the card through an included card reader that goes into the headphone jack of the phone, or by taking a picture of the card as you would with Apple Pay.
CEO Kanishk Parashar said that the Coin connects to the smartphone through a secure Bluetooth channel, which is meant to prevent the bad guys from being able to use the Coin or transmit information from it without access to the user’s smartphone.
“Coin has built a custom 128-bit encryption layer for bluetooth that secures sensitive information and prevents man-in-the-middle attacks,” said Parashar. “We use secure Bluetooth to implement the Lock-and-Find feature, which provides a real-time validation that you, the owner of Coin, are present at the time of the transaction. If you aren’t there, Coin will lock itself. And you, the owner, can find Coin’s last known location in the mobile app.”
The Coin remains locked when not in use. As soon as you’re ready to make a transaction, a single tap on the Coin’s solitary button will wake the device, do a quick search for your specific smartphone, and after a couple of seconds it will unlock. If your phone is turned off, on Airplane mode, or otherwise unavailable, you can unlock the Coin by entering the same six-digit Morse-style pin code that you will use each time you access the Coin app.
The Coin stays alive for seven minutes once it’s unlocked (so that a waiter can have the time to swipe), and then automatically locks and goes to sleep. It also remembers its last-known location and alerts the user as soon as it thinks that the smartphone has been separated from the Coin.
Users can save up to eight cards on the Coin at a single time, and they can re-sync different cards stored within the app as long as they’re within reach of their smartphone.
Parashar explained to TechCrunch that Coin was surprised by the sheer volume of pre-orders placed in two months (350,000), and that manufacturing at that scale while maintaining quality ended up being a trying experience.
Coin was originally slated to ship in summer of 2014, and here we are approaching the summer of 2015. Shipping starts today, but some backers will still wait a few months before they get their product (depending on their place in line).
This hasn’t gone over well with the backer community, as Coin wasn’t as transparent as many had hoped they’d be about delays. Some even speculated that Coin was dead, but Parashar says it was simply being cautious with the product. The team went through 42 test designs (and raised $15 million in funding) during the interim, and a beta program that lasted six months across 1,000 cities. Finally, the card is shipping.
But is it too late?
Competitors like Stratos has plans to ship soon (said they would in April, but haven’t yet), and Plastc is slated to ship this summer. Plus, Apple Pay has gone live and will likely begin to permeate the mainstream along with other mobile payments solutions. Meanwhile, Coin is still working to receive its PCI (payment card industry) compliance certification, which the company says it expects to receive in Q2 of this year.
And then there’s EMV migration.
The United States is way behind when it comes to payments security, especially with regards to magnetic strip cards. While most European vendors require EMV cards (enabled with a special chip that authenticates each transaction with a unique code), the United States has been late to adopt the technology.
In October of this year, however, the United States will begin to shift over to a chip-and-pin lifestyle as opposed to the swipe-and-sign we’ve grown accustomed to. Technically speaking, liability shifts over from the merchant to the bank if EMV is enabled at POS and the bank still hasn’t issued the user an EMV card. If an EMV card is being used and the merchant doesn’t have EMV enabled, fraud liability goes to the merchant.
The shift doesn’t necessarily mean that all transactions will change over night. There are millions of POS systems that require upgrading, and banks still have to issue new cards to cardholders. That said, merchants that have fully migrated over to EMV will likely reject a regular swipe-and-sign card, which at this current point in time, would include the Coin.
“It’s not going to be a black and white change,” said Parashar. “The whole system is going to be in a major transitional phase for a long time, simply based on the time it takes to switch over consumers and the resources it takes to migrate vendors.”
That said, Parashar told TechCrunch that the team is already working on an EMV product. He said that Coin would try to make the shift as seamless as possible for backers, but that it’s too early to know what the exact deal or trade-in process will be.
“It will be something sizable enough to show our appreciation for our early adopters,” said Parashar.
It will take a few months for all 350k backers to receive their Coins, but thanks to a rather long beta program, Coin is expected to work in millions of locations. It does have some limitations, including transit systems (no stored Metrocards, NYers) and motorized dip ATM machines (the ones that pull your card entirely into the machine and spit it back out).
That said, Coin is equipped with a system that allows for over-the-air firmware updates so that the Coin team can continue to add features and capabilities to the hardware.
There may be life in Coin yet and, luckily, it looks like backers are finally getting their devices.