All the latest news and reviews are now available via the homepage at

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Snapper USB - First Impressions

Today I received my Snapper USB token in the mail. The token, which enables contactless transactions between consumers and merchants, was sent to me as part of the ANZ National Bank's trial into this new form of payment technology. The devices themselves are set to be available for purchase by the general public on the 14th of July.

The concept behind this technology is to provide customers with a facility to make small purchases (less then $35) without the need to fumble for cash, or enter a pin number as you do with an EFTPOS card.

Your transaction is completed by swiping the Snapper USB token across a merchant's purpose-built Snapper reader. Alternatively you can make a purchase via a more conventional Snapper card (not shown), similar in design to an everyday EFTPOS or credit card. The readers have the ability to communicate with the Snapper card through a wallet/purse when it is in close proximity, so you don't necessarily need to take it out to use it.

There are of course excellent safeguards in place to prevent indiscriminate transactions from occurring. The transaction can only go through when the merchant has a purchase in progress and the unit must be held near the reader for a moment for completion. Both the token and the card use RFID technology inside to facilitate the payment.

At the moment there is a small selection of merchants who are active in the Wellington region where you can make purchases with your Snapper card or USB token. So far this has been limited mainly to convenience stores, coffee houses, and buses. However, the system is set to expand nationwide, allowing payments for small purchases throughout the country. These units maintain a stored-value (similar in concept to a Telecom phonecard) and can work both online and offline. You can charge the units up with credit online (by credit card) or via a merchant equipped with the appropriate facility. You should also be able to purchase these units directly from retailers in the future. If you register your Snapper on the Snapper website you gain the facility of cancelling it and having a replacement sent to you if you have the misfortune of losing the device or it is stolen. Your existing balance will be transferred to the new Snapper.

The USB token which I received came with the ANZ Bank branding. I also had the choice of National Bank branding as well on the protective sleeve. My understanding is that when the Snapper can be purchased online it will only have the Snapper branding on it. I imagine once ANZ National begins to provision the public with these that they will be appropriately branded.

The Snapper is similar in concept to other systems deployed overseas, such as the Oyster Card in the UK and the Octopus in Hong Kong. There are some wonderful possibilities in the future with this technology, including the ability for merchants to store discount and loyalty information on the card itself. This would negate the need for consumers to carry individual loyalty cards for each merchant they visit.

The most appealing piece of this technology to me is the potential to speed up purchases. A swipe of the token and your purchase is complete. The units in the shops are very simple, displaying a green circle if the payment is accepted, or a red cross if it is not. When you register your Snapper you can also be alerted by text message or email if your balance is running low. In the future there will be a facility to have your Snapper automatically topped-up from your bank account when your credit is running below a certain level.

I'll be posting further information on the Snapper as it becomes available, and hopefully a video demonstrating it in use!