Can the iPhone Completely Replace the Wallet?

Matt Richman ponders this question on his personal site. At the top of his article, he quotes Tim Cook, who makes it apparent that this is what Apple wants to iPhone to be eventually:

We can imagine a day in the not-so-distant future when your wallet becomes a remnant of the past. Your passport, your driver’s license, and other important documents can be digitally stored in a way that’s safe, secure, and easy to access — but only by you. After all, we shouldn’t have to trade our security for the convenience of having all of this information at our fingertips.

He goes on to highlight the plethora of barriers Apple would have to surpass for this to be the case:

Yes, as more card issuers support Apple Pay and NFC card readers become more prevalent, the credit and debit card compatibility issue will slowly disappear. However, Apple will still need to create a method to store membership cards, ID cards, and health insurance information electronically. It will also have to ensure their acceptance. You can’t use your digital health insurance card if your doctor doesn’t accept it.

In order to realize Cook’s vision of an iPhone that stores passports, driver’s licenses, and “other important documents” (e.g. Social Security cards), Apple will have to convince governments to allow digital passports and driver’s licenses, and then it will have to work with those governments to create them. The process would likely take years.

Another barrier regarding the iPhone as a wallet replacement:

Some cultures prefer to use cash over credit cards, and some cultures don’t value technology as highly as we do here in the U.S. It’s unlikely everyone will embrace Cook’s vision.

It goes to show that the complete replacement of the wallet and passport may be the next big challenge of the smartphone… which makes it all the more odd that the narrative circling around now is VR eventually taking over and potentially replacing the smartphone. Maybe it will happen, but that’s like waiting for flying cars - it’ll happen on an infinite time scale, but no time within the next decade or two, especially when the smartphone’s potential is far from being unlocked.

Still, Richman urges Apple to keep on in spite of the barriers, and I do, too. As with many of the opportunities they pursue, Apple’s in a unique position to fulfil Cook’s vision, at least partially. This is given a) their ability to integrate hardware, software, and services, and b) their stance on security, which is an absolute must for the storage of confidential files like travel and medical documents.

The work will be tough, but it’s really something I believe only Apple can do.