Vodafone SmartPass: The Pros And Cons

Vodafone SmartPass: The Pros And Cons

Vodafone has begun Australian trials of SmartPass, payment application for Android phones which support Near Field Communication (NFC), creating yet another method by which we can make payments simply by tapping our phones on an appropriate reader. That could be very convenient, but the plan isn’t without its challenges.

This isn’t the first payment mechanism we’ve seen via NFC. The most prominent local example is the Commonwealth Bank’s Kaching application, although oddly the bank only supports it on iPhones (which need a special NFC-enabled case) and ignores Android (despite NFC-enabled Android phones being increasingly common). Globally, Google Wallet is the most visible NFC success story, but it isn’t yet available in Australia.

The SmartPass app is currently being trialled by 101 customers around Australia. Once that process is finished, Vodafone plans to roll it out to customers in early 2013, though it hasn’t set an exact launch date.

The basics are like any other NFC system: With the app installed and running, you can use an NFC-equipped phone by placing your phone within a centimetre of any existing payWave terminal. If you want to pay more than $100, you also need to enter a PIN on the payWave device. The payment comes from a specific Visa prepaid account set up for use with the service. You can’t put more than $1000 credit on that card — a move presumably designed to minimise the risk if someone misplaces their phone and doesn’t take sensible security precautions.

The process is driven by an Android app on your phone, which also lets you check your balance and transfer funds as needed. There’s some clever design tricks in the app; rather than displaying your balance for all to see when the app is open, you have to use a slider to reveal it. That ensures a nosey shop assistant can’t see how much cash you have left.

The big issue with the app is that it will only work for Vodafone customers, which is a shrinking group of people in Australia these days. Vodafone eventually plans to offer the app pre-installed on all new Android phones with NFC capabilities that it sells. Existing customers will also be able to install the app, though they’ll also need to swap their SIM for a specific NFC-enabled one.

That aside, the element I’m not entirely keen on is the separate card. While I appreciate that minimises the security issues, having one more card set up seems less convenient than using the accounts I already possess. What do you think?

Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


  • I know people that have a phone cover/wallet that they use to store their phones and bank cards. Just hold that up to the reader. Seems the easiest option until everyone sorts their s**t out.

    • Ha ha, I do this, Just have my card slipped in between my phone and case. Tap the phone at the counter and people just look at you like you hacked their eftpos machine.

  • I swear commbank have given up on mobile apps. For android, the netbank app crashes on start up since an update from months ago that never has been fixed (despite numerous emails). The other option is Kaching which is an extremely slow and buggy port of their iphone app. I’d rather write a check on a stone tablet then use kaching for net payments.

  • Maybe banks are resistant to it simply because it DOES show you the balance of your account… thus making you more aware of just how much debt you’re in, so you stop spending… thus the banks lose money.

  • i like using paywave on my card, so the more wireless payment options the better.

    but opening up a app first feels like it would be a bit of a inconvenience (#firstworldproblem) compared to simply touching my wallet against the reader.

    • I cant do that anyway, since i have 2 pay wave cards in there and my wallet doesn’t really work for one each side with enough gap between them, i’m not sure what would happen if i put my wallet up to the reader.

      I love NFC cards, particularly the 5% rebate on purchases under $100 with ING at the moment.

          • They sent me a email asking me to forward it onto people. it has a link and a referral code on it.
            I’ve been with them a while, so im not sure if that has anything to do with it. also im pretty sure you need to be using the paywave card (if you dont have one, just call them and ask for it, its free)

          • How long is “a while”? I’ve been with them since 2004 (I think), and I am using the paywave card. Never got that email though. It’s too bad, because I did effectively refer someone half a week ago,

          • bout a year. so way less then you.

            looking at the email. it says i got it because i subscribed to email offers.

            i cant find a general link on the website. perhaps give them a call?

  • “having one more card set up seems less convenient than using the accounts I already possess.”

    I made the same comment on their release blog and asked if there was some reason for it, but didn’t get a reply. I’m assuming there is some deal with Visa and/or ANZ driving the requirement, but I can’t think of a technical reason for it.

  • though they’ll also need to swap their SIM for a specific NFC-enabled one.

    Is an NFC enabled SIM a SIM with a built in NFC antenna, or does it just have extra functions for bank authentication as well as the mobile network authentication?

    Personally, I think we need some high-end dual SIM phones, but instead of getting 2 SIMs from different carriers, we get one from our carrier, and one from our bank for using contactless payment from your phone (with proper authentication).

    • The latter. There’s no way you can fit an NFC chip on a SIM card. Especially a nano sim 🙂

      I’m actually kind of against NFC payments with phones. What happens when my power sucking smartphones battery dies? Yep, I’ll still need to carry my wallet. Nice one chap.

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