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Will LG's payment card succeed where others have failed?

Engadget Engadget 7/07/2016 Daniel Cooper
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A new report out of the Korea Herald revives the rumor that LG's going to try something different with its own foray into mobile payments. As we reported earlier this year, the company has been working on a system that uses a standalone digital credit card rather than an NFC chip inside your smartphone. Apparently the Korean conglomerate had planned to launch the product at the start of the year, but held off to foster better relations with banks. But given how other attempts at reinventing the credit card have gone, is LG really going to crack a winning formula?

The idea of a standalone digital credit card has already been tried, most notably by startups Coin and Plastc. Both are credit card-sized gadgets that can aggregate various payment methods into its memory, letting you switch between them quickly and efficiently. Rather than carrying around a wallet or pocketbook full of plastic, you only ever need one, like a swiss army knife of money. The only downside, of course, is that one of Plastc's devices will run to $155, slightly more than the nothing you pay for the physical credit card in your hand right now.

Except, of course, that of the two companies that have been trying to build this solution, one's already collapsed. Coin was mostly swallowed by Fitbit back in May, with the ostensible aim of integrating its payments platform into future smartwatches. The Coin 2.0 hardware, meanwhile, has been left to die, with customers only able to use them until the built-in battery expires. It doesn't help that Coin's technology was already outdated by the time it shipped, further reducing customer demand.

This, too, may point to LG's wider malaise when it comes to the problems of modularity in technology. It's an issue that has hobbled the success of its G5 flagship smartphone, a throwback to a less elegant time. A report from Korea Times details how LG is now reshuffling its mobile leadership after the G5's sales cratered. The handset was designed with a series of swappable modules that users could buy to enhance certain features. But as desirable as those features are to power users, mainstream customers haven't embraced the concept.

An early spy shot of the LG Pay card from January

LG's hardware-focused tack has also ensured that it's now lagging well behind other companies in the mobile payments market. Both Samsung and Apple have adopted NFC-based payments into both smartphones and compatible wearables. Homegrown champion and nearest rival Samsung has announced that it's already processed over a billion dollars in transactions in South Korea alone. Apple hasn't replied with similar stats, but researchers believe that it has 12 million users, compared to Samsung's five million.

On the flip side, there's something to be said for not integrating your entire life into your smartphone as a safety measure. If your Galaxy or iPhone is stolen, it means you've theoretically your wallet, keys, transit pass, Uber account and ability to call home. But if that belies a squeamishness to rely on technology, then you'd probably just keep a regular 'ol free credit card in your back pocket rather than a pricey digital version.

We've reached out to LG to ask for any further details on the shape that its payments system will take and will update this if we get a response. But we do wonder that the company, which is turning up with the wrong implementation months behind its rivals, is going to be able to make this work at all.

Korea Herald

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