​Barclaycard bPay band: A story of wearable awkwardness

We took the bPay band out for a spin and this is what we learned
​Barclaycard bPay review

I arrive at the counter and put in my order: one white Americano. The barista asks for two British pounds. Little does he know that social conventions are about to burst into flames.

We've now locked in a complex social and subconscious dance. He's looking for my reaction. He wants me to pull my wallet from my pocket and reach for coins, notes or a card – that will signal his next step. But I'm just standing there. Now I'm pulling my sleeve up to reveal a large white bracelet.

No-one knows what to do.

Wearable payments revolution

The era of wearable payments is well and truly upon us, and as Apple Pay expands from the US to include UK banks, Barclaycard – a UK bank – has launched the bPay band its own wearable payments system.

Essential reading: How to set up Apple Pay on the Apple Watch

What I'm waggling in this barista's face is actually the second edition. The first was trialled last year as a way for people to make contactless payments from things that aren't their debit or credit card.

While the wristband (£24.99) steals the show, bPay is a collection of devices including a keyfob (£14.99) and a sticker (£9.99) that can be attached to any item imaginable to turn it into a contactless device. Each has to be bought separately.

#Trending: Three ways to pay from your wrist

The set up process is fairly easy. You register your card, and then you can add money to it. You don't need to be a Barclaycard customer, as you're essentially adding money to the band each time – like a wearable betting account. You can add anything from £5 to £200, and have the band automatically top itself up, so there need never be an interruption to your rampant spending.

What it's like to wear

For something with one single feature, the bPay band is a hefty wearable. It's like a big plastic bangle, which unclips for you to slot the contactless card inside. There's no need for charging or any of that nonsense, as just like your bank card, all the magic happens without the need for power.

Given the lack of need for any kind of technology whatsoever, it's actually slightly bemusing why the bPay band is so large.

But its size and similarity to a prisoner's day release tracker are not the most awkward thing about it. It's that silence, the one that myself and the barista are still locked in.

"I'm going to pay by contactless," became my stock request to overcome those silences, a subtext for "JUST TURN ON THE CONTACTLESS MACHINE AND STOP STARING ALREADY". Standing there gormlessly or raising the cuff of my jacket to reveal the bracelet became something I came to dread.

What we learned about wearable payments

It's not a problem that's just Barclaycard's. Using Apple Pay also means you have to endure the same thing – although as it becomes more widely recognised the problem should dissipate. I will flash the Watch, they will know that's how I need to pay. The bPay will never enjoy the same ubiquity.

That's already starting to happen. During a failed Apple Pay payment at our local store (resulting from not quite being able to fully contort my arm to make a good connection with the payment reader) the guy behind me asked "have you actually got that to work yet?" He was genuinely interested. He made the awkward situation okay.

But it all shows that making wearable payments commonplace is more than a tech question. It's an incredibly complex social science that's not going to happen overnight.

bPay isn't a serious product – it's another standard-bearer for the payment revolution and a exercise for Barclaycard to show it's a forward thinking bank (which doesn't support Apple Pay). While contactless cards moved us away from old chip-and-pin, bands like this are primers for a future where our bank cards no longer exist at all.

The bPay wristband is a great publicity tool – but the furthest from a usable and desirable solution. But just one day was enough for us to yearn for a future where paying is faster, easier and possible where ever you are. And wearables will drive that future.

5 Comments

  • paulbrock says:

    my experience has been rather better.  I fully agree with the barista standoff - you have to say "pay by contactless please" or similar.  But other than that its great.  Zips through tube barriers, self service tills, pubs, coffee shops...  no buttons to press, no battery to worry about; I disagree with the suggestion its not a 'serious' product, it is, though not one that will be around in ten years.  But then neither will any of the existing payment options, including the much lauded, but equally clumsy, Apple Pay.

  • TheWerewolf says:

    I don't use contactless much myself - but I did find myself behind a lady who was struggling to get a payment with her contactless credit card to work. She mashed her card against the reader so hard that the entire card bent and when that didn't work, the clerk asked her to turn the card around 180 and try again (she was pressing the contact area against the card reader) and again, MASH until the card looked like it would break. Finally, the clerk suggested she use the chip part and insert the card into the reader, which she did and all was well.

    As for wearable pay - I have a Microsoft Band and use it to pay for coffee at Starbucks which uses an optical barcode system. The barcode is displayed on the Band's display (which is what all of the apps do, actually - there's really no smarts in the app) which is held up to the barcode scanner. 

    Most clerks at Starbucks know this gesture and respond by aiming the barcode reader at the customer's phone - so switching to wristband wasn't that big a deal.

    • j.stables says:

      Interesting to hear!

  • webtechy says:

    I thought I'd give this a go. I think the best think they could do is offer Pebble straps that you could slip the SIM type card into, or something similar for Jawbone devices, iPhone watch etc. as I already wear these (well, the Jawbone UP anyway).

    What I'd really like to see is this as an opportunity for alternative cash payment systems (like BitCoin) that don't use the central clearing houses (such as VISA).

  • Blomgren says:

    hi, what is the exact size of the Visa small card?

    BR Ola 

What do you think?

Connect with Facebook, Twitter, or just enter your email to sign in and comment.