Technologists are designing wearable technology to join mobile and tablet devices in making frictionless contactless payments. Along with the consumer’s expectation of always-on multi-channel retail – where goods and services may be purchased whenever and wherever – comes the expectation that the payment process itself should become ever easier. Increasingly flexible payment options, facilitated by technology, are already in the works.

Digital wallets

Digital wallets are perhaps the easiest means the latest technology has provided for to trigger contactless payments. Wallets can take the form of a sort of credit/debit card vault that houses the details of all the user’s cards, unlocking them with a single username and password. The purchaser need not reach into a wallet for the card itself. Likewise, mobile payments, as exemplified by Apple Pay, allow for point-of-sale and person-to-person payments.

NFC and WAP

The technology behind the adaptation of phones and wearables to payment channels typically involves near field communication ("NFC") or Wireless Application Protocol ("WAP"). NFC devices communicate with each other using radio frequency, and in China, NFC is an accepted means of payment on all public transport. WAP payments rely on the Internet to connect to a payment method such as Google Wallet.

The payment capabilities of wearable devices are in evidence with Apple Watch and the Samsung Gear range, which have your credit and debit card details pre-loaded for quick purchases. Even jackets have been configured for on-the-go payments: Lyle & Scott’s so-called Contactless Jacket puts the NFC chip in the cuff of the sleeve, so payment is as easy as a flip of the wrist. Over in Japan, Tokyo jeweller Core Jewels has been offering NFC-enabled diamond rings for over a year now.

The most common wearable

By far the most prominent and cheapest wearable on the market is the wristband, of which the Nymi Band, which uses heartbeat identification, and Barclays’s bPay, which offers the option of a fob and a sticker, are merely two in production.

Visa Europe is collaborating with Central Saint Martins to realise wearable payment devices of the proverbial and actual future. Students there are contending with design challenges of wearability, practicality, technological specs and, well, looking cool. We might as well look good while we’re buying things to look good.