While there are no shortage of electric cards that promise to be a physical home for all of a consumer's divergent plastic rectangles, Stratos stands out and is reportedly close to shipping out to the public.
So how does it work?
The Stratos card comes with a mag stripe reader that plugs into a smartphone that allows readers to add their cards to the Stratos app via swiping. According to CTO Henry Balanon, sensitive data is not transmitted to Stratos’ servers. Instead, the company receives contact information associated with the card, which they use to fulfill a legal requirement to verify the owner. Once loaded, Stratos users select the three cards they want to be able to use from their card emulator - other card information is then encrypted and stored on the phone. This allows for cards that can be quickly swapped out and loaded onto the emulator card without having to load the app.
To use Stratos, cardholders tap the device and press one of the three buttons - which allows the selection of a specific card. After that, the Stratos card works just like any other pay card and can be swiped through most retail POS.
Again, there are other products like Stratos, but Stratos is choosing to market itself as something more akin to a service than a good. Instead of selling the universal credit cards, customers obtain the card through a subscription service that costs $95 a year (or $149 for two). The company expects to start shipping its first wave of cards in April.
Other products with this model have been advertised - Coin and Plastc spring to mind - but so far neither has managed to get any cards into consumers' hands. Stratos has raised around $7 million and certainly can not be accused of releasing a half-thought through product.
However, the question still remains: with the world falling under the siren song of mobile wallets and smartphone-based commerce, is there enough juice in the market to support hybrid card/mobile pay schemes while consumers are in transition, or is this the transition step that no one actually needs?