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Isis Mobile Wallet: Worthy of the hype?

By Justin Boyle

Isis Mobile Wallet: Worthy of the hype?

If you live in Austin, Texas, as I do, you've seen it plastered all over town. Austin is one of two U.S. cities -- along with Salt Lake City, Utah -- that have been chosen for the pilot roll-out of the Isis Mobile Wallet. Isis is yet another brand name to enter the mobile payments frenzy, and it promises to "transform your buying experience."

By now, MBB readers are as familiar with mobile payment apps as anyone. These apps aim to link your credit card accounts together in a single smartphone application, with the stated purpose of saving you the monumental hassle of handing your card over to a cashier and, later, physically signing a small slip of paper.

It's natural to wonder if the Isis Mobile Wallet has got anything going for it other than an aggressive marketing campaign. Does it offer anything that the existing stable of mobile payment apps doesn't already offer? We've done the homework so you don't have to.

Isis Mobile Wallet at a glance

First off, it's important to note that Isis springs from a mobile commerce confederacy that includes Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T. Not only that, but credit card giants American Express, Capital One and Chase have lined up behind the mobile payments debutante.

This list of prominent backers suggests that Isis won't have any trouble distributing its mobile payment stations to merchants, which is a hurdle that some virtual wallets may struggle to overcome. It also deals in "virtual coupons" and features a built-in debit feature called the Isis Cash Card.

Security measures on the Isis are good and tight, too, which is absolutely mandatory for smartphone apps that link to your personal finances. The app makes use of unique PINs, shifting security codes in the phone's memory and a disabling function for spending that can be de-activated with a call to your wireless provider.

Restrictions and drawbacks

The consortium of mega-companies behind Isis Mobile Wallet suggests there could be a certain amount of restriction on the types of phone or card that will work with Isis. Currently, only American Express, Capital One MasterCard and select Chase credit cards are compatible with Isis, and the app's corporate sponsors may not be quick to allow much expansion of that list.

What's more, the Isis app relies on near-field communications (NFC) technology, which is far from ubiquitous among smartphone handsets. All iPhones -- including the hot new iPhone 5 -- lack the chips that enable NFC transmission. The Isis team is rumored to be developing a handset case that contains an NFC chip, however.

Even if your phone is NFC-equipped, it can be something of a hassle to get Isis up and running. If you don't already have an "Isis Ready" phone (and even if you do, in some cases), you'll have to visit a dealer and get a special SIM card before you can make use of the free app.

With such a list of big players pulling strings behind the scenes, however, there's a decent chance the mobile payment software and special SIM hardware might come pre-installed on more handsets in the future.

The verdict on Isis

All in all, Isis Mobile Wallet seems to feature garden-variety touchless payment functionality with some installation drawbacks and scant rewards incentives (aside from compatibility with some of the credit card reward programs you already use). So far, Isis isn't showing us anything new, other than its hardware requirements.

But the heavy hitters that back Isis might succeed in altering the mobile payments landscape enough for their app to be more competitively outfitted than its rivals in the segment. It might not pay to jump on the bandwagon now, but it's probably best not to write Isis off just yet.

Justin Boyle is a writer, editor and multimedia designer who lives and works in Austin, Texas.

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