Their solution builds upon a sizable body or work: They’ve created a concept for aseizure-detecting device, and another for a line of clothing that can report health data back to your doctor. Similar to those, Token is less of a technology solution, than a common language between many competing streams of information.
The problem with using a smartphone instead of a traditional wallet, as Erickson sees it, is efficiency. Each payment app exists in a vacuum, and there’s no way to sync them with your bank statement for the purpose of keeping a budget, while on the go. Token would amass all of that activity in one place—similar to the promise of Coin, which Erickson says is “still anchored down the credit card form factor”—making it possible to buy a cup of coffee, transfer allowance money to your kid, see what’s left in your checking account, and then go buy a meal—all in a few minutes.
A Token wearer starts by tapping one of four activity portals: “pay” (purchase items from vendors), “give” (transfer funds to another user), “ask” (request money from another user), and “peek” (check bank statements). If you choose, for example, the “pay” button while at a store, Token would quickly add up the total, calculate sales tax, and then prompt you with a blue “pay” button. Tap it, and you’re done. Under “peek,” each Visa or American Express account gets its own bar graph that fluctuates as you incur expenses, or get funds from other Token users.
If this sounds like an overload of activity for a Band-Aid-sized screen on your wrist, consider what money transfers entail: it’s a low input process, because it’s mostly numbers (making the threshold for errors higher than if there’s text) and simple, to-the-point requests, like “pay” and “peek.” “When you’re out it would let you know what your burn rate is,” Erickson says. ”You’d be more aware right now of what your financial situation looks like. ‘Can I afford that pair of shoes, or should I wait a week from now?’”
The success of the Token concept (and so far it is just a concept: the idea bubbled up through Artefact’s in-house idea lab, Startefact) hinges on a payments ecosystem that does not yet exist. In a Token-enabled world, Erickson imagines that all vendors would have technology that could accept payments beamed through Bluetooth, or that could scan a Token-generated QR code.
EACH PAYMENT APP EXISTS IN A VACUUM, AND THERE’S NO WAY TO SYNC THEM WITH YOUR BANK STATEMENT.
Efficiency aside, Token is also carefully designed for security. Because it attaches to a wrist, and doesn’t float around in a purse or wallet, it’s easier to hang onto. Erickson wants to outfit it with sensors, like an accelerometer, so that it doesn’t turn on until it senses a human pulse. And to activate it, there’s a fingerprint reader like the one used on the iPhone 5. These features make Token less of a carrying risk than plastic, which the Artefact team sees as easily compromised. “Today if you leave a card or mobile phone behind it’s easy for anyone to use,” Erickson says.
In many ways, Token isn’t too different from the fitness trackers that originally inspired the Artefact team to look deeper into the wearable market. It catalogs activity, tracks patterns and insights, and can use to data to promote better behavior. It’s aspirational. “It’s an opportunity,” Erickson says. “An open letter to the financial institution, to say there are better ways.”