In this week's "Cybershake," we take a look at a new credit card system that lets customers pay for things with a simple wave. Plus, we track how Tiger, Apple's new operating system software, is doing in the wild world of Mac users.
Blink and Your Money's Spent
What do you pull out of your wallet when you reach the sales register at a retail store? Using cash can be quick -- if you have enough bills for pricey purchases. Credit cards can be convenient, but slow since you have to wait for the bank's authorization. And you'll have to keep track of all those charge slips to prevent identity theft.
But on Thursday, Chase announced a new payment system called "blink" that the company believes could offer the speed of paper with the convenience of plastic.
The new technology is essentially a credit card embedded with a radio-frequency ID microchip that contains encoded data. To pay for a purchase, consumers merely wave the card at the store's register and an RFID terminal wirelessly reads the card's data to process the payment.
Thomas O'Donnell, senior vice president of Chase card services, says that since consumers don't have to hand over their cards to store employees, "We think we have found a way, with blink, to make that checkout faster."
On average, O'Donnell says the wireless blink technology will reduce the amount of time consumers spend at the sales register by up to 30 percent to 40 percent. Another plus: Unlike traditional credit card sales, blink transactions won't require a customer's signature to complete the purchase.
Detractors worry that the wireless system could lead to new instances of high-tech fraud or identity theft. But O'Donnell says the blink cards -- which can also be used like traditional credit cards through "swipe" readers -- are hardened against electronic attacks.
"The card itself is safe and secure. It uses the highest level of data encryption available," says O'Donnell. And since the card never leaves the customer's hand, there's less chance the card will be misplaced or even misused by an unscrupulous store clerk. What's more, blink users won't be liable for any fraudulent charges -- just like traditional credit card customers.
Such wireless payment systems aren't new. ExxonMobil has a similar system called SpeedPass, which can be used at the fuel pumps and snack stores in more than 8,600 Exxon and Mobil fuel stations. And since its introduction in 1997, only 6 million customers have signed up to use the wave-and-pay system.
But Chase is confident that consumers -- and merchants -- will flock to the speed and convenience of blink. It has already signed up convenience store chain 7-Eleven to test the system in 170 of its 5,800 stores in the United States. Drugstore chain CVS and movie theater operator Regal Entertainment Group have also agreed to use the new blink card technology.
"Our cards members, we believe, already have a good view of where and how they should use their credit cards," says O'Donnell. "We're just making it easier for our customers to get in and out of those places, get through the line more quickly. "
Chase Bank, a division of JPMorgan Chase & Co., says it will begin rolling out the blink cards and terminals to consumers and merchants in two undisclosed U.S. cities next month. But JPMorgan officials say all of its current 98 million credit card holders will receive blink cards, and the service will be available nationwide by the end of the year.
-- Jim Hickey, ABC News
On the Prowl With Tiger
Last month, Apple released the latest operating system for its computers called Mac OS X 10.4. Better known as "Tiger," the software has already made quite a roar among Apple fans.
"It's been a very successful launch for us thus far," said Frank Casanova, senior director of marketing at Apple. The main attractions, he said, are the software's new features that give Macs even more powerful capabilities.
"We built into Tiger, right at the core of the operating system, a search technology that we call Spotlight," said Casanova.
It's a lot like Google's desktop search tool. On demand, Spotlight can find files and applications that match whatever words a Mac user types into the search box. Casanova says because Spotlight is integrated into the heart of Tiger, it means one thing: "It's fast."
Tiger also introduces new terms: "Dashboard" and "widgets." Casanova calls them "cool little programs" that can do all kinds of things. One widget, for example, might be programmed to look for Wi-Fi "hotspots" which would allow Tiger-equipped Mac notebooks to wirelessly connect to the Internet. The widgets, which can be created by almost anyone, can sit on the Mac's desktop, creating a car-like "dashboard."
Still, not all Apple owners are purring over Tiger. Initially, small business owners and corporate workers who use Mac computers complained that Tiger wouldn't work with certain office network setups.
Casanova said Apple released a "patch" -- Mac OS X 10.4.1 -- on Monday which should fix many of the early problems and re-establish Tiger as the cat's meow among Mac fans.
-- Jim Hickey, ABC News
Cybershake is produced for ABC News Radio by Andrea J. Smith.