If you're unimpressed by NFC payment systems like Google Wallet but want to use your phone to carry your credit cards, you should take a long, hard look at the iCache Geode. It's an iPhone case with Kickstarter origins that equips your phone with all of your credit and loyalty cards. You've likely seen loyalty card apps for iOS and Android before, but what's different about the Geode is that it has a small E Ink display on the back of the case that any barcode reader can pick up. Additionally, the case has comes with a "GeoCard" that is a universal credit card — all you do is choose your credit card and loyalty card from the app and it'll refresh the E Ink display and activate the GeoCard with the particular card you want to use. Then just swipe the GeoCard like normal, and scan the barcode on the E Ink display. We had the opportunity to take a look at the case today, so read on for some impressions.
Function first, form second
The first thing you'll notice about the Geode is that it isn't terribly attractive (though few cases are). The version of the case that we saw today is not final, so we're told that the fit and finish will be far improved when it is released. Despite that, the case feels pretty good in the hand — the finish on the back is a nice matt plastic, though unfortunately the front is made of a rubber material that's a little sticky for our tastes. Fortunately, the volume and power buttons work well through the case, and the lump made by the back of the Geode gives the iPhone a bit of a handle that makes it feel quite secure in your hand. The case has a fingerprint reader on the bottom (below the iPhone's home button), and a Micro USB port on the bottom edge of the device serves to connect to a card reader that'll import your credit card info without the need to punch it all in manually. Similarly, you can use the iPhone's camera to scan your loyalty cards' barcodes.
While the hardware is promising, the Geode is very dependent on its software being stable, fast, and easy to use. Thankfully, we have very little to complain about here. The software's not final and it showed in a couple of crashes and bugs, but overall it's solid and it should be great if it's polished up a bit more. You'll have a single default credit card and loyalty card set when you open the app, and if you want to switch any of them just swipe to the left or right to choose from your selection of virtual plastic. Once you're ready, you just click the big button at the bottom of the screen and the E Ink display will refresh with your loyalty card's barcode and the GeoCard will be activated with the credit card you chose. To use the GeoCard, you just pull it out and slap it (rather forcefully) against the back of the case or anything else, and it'll be energized and ready to use. Within the app's settings you can choose how long you'd like the card to be active before it wipes itself — anything from 30 seconds to 5 hours.
A digital wallet that might be able to replace your physical one
Among the multiple options we've seen for replacing your wallet with a phone, the Geode appears to make the most compelling argument for actually being able to pull it off thanks to the ubiquity of barcode and magnetic stripe readers. Unfortunately, it isn't yet possible to load your driver's license or insurance cards to the device, but we're told that iCache is working on that. For now, there's a card clip that can be connected to the back of the case that can hold those cards for you. If you're excited about the Geode, you're going to have to pony up quite a bit: it is going to cost you $199 when it comes out in June — a steep price for a case that will only last as long as your iPhone 4 / 4S. At least you'll have a few color options, as there will be black / yellow, green / white, pink / white, and violet / white versions of the case.