Bitcoin payments with a simple tap? Multi-purpose nio Card gets added functionality

A British startup called Bluenio has revealed what it claims is the world’s first Bitcoin payment smartcard – or at least it will be if no others have popped up by the time it ships in March.

Bluenio is already in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign for the nio Card, which was initially pitched as a security chain for helping to cut down on the loss of smartphones and wallets. It still does that – it does a few things, actually — but on Friday the company said it would also function as a Bitcoin wallet-slash-payment-card that can transfer money “in a single tap” using near-field communication (NFC) technology.

Easier Bitcoin payments

“It’s a cool way to provide secure Bitcoin payments in a way you currently can’t do,” Bluenio co-founder Ben Hounsell told me. “The way of making a Bitcoin payment right now can be a little bit convoluted, or certainly not as easy as making a traditional chip-and-PIN payment or a tap. You have to scan a QR code, read it in, validate the payment, enter private keys… it can be quite irritating.”

nioCard_bitcoin“Having a card where you tap to make a payment securely bring s [Bitcoin] in line with more conventional ways of making payments.”

You can already get Bitcoin wallet apps for Android(s goog) devices that allow funds to be paid and received via NFC. However, nio Card allows owners of iOS(s aapl) devices, which unlike most modern Android phones do not have built-in NFC technology, to enjoy the same convenience.

Ultimately, Bluenio would like the nio Card to be able to replace traditional payment cards, Coin-style, but the company hasn’t struck the necessary deals with the banks yet. Europe largely uses chip-and-PIN cards, which are more advanced and secure than the magnetic-strip norm over the U.S., but that means you can’t simply swipe in any old card and have the device replace it, as you can with Coin.

Starting with security

The nio Card is in many ways an evolution of Bluenio’s nio tag, which you can attach to things you don’t want to lose. It sets up a Bluetooth connection with your smartphone, so if the connection is lost an alarm goes off, and it also has an anti-theft motion sensor.

On top of that, its pairing with the smartphone means it can be used to authenticate the user in the context of sensitive data – one of Bluenio’s own suite of apps is a secure digital wallet for storing passwords and bank details, for example, and then of course there will be the Bluenio Bitcoin app.

The nio Card is essentially like a nio tag that you can stick in your wallet (depending on the wallet, as it’s 4mm thick). It also adds 2GB of built-in secure storage, a temperature sensor and that crucial NFC functionality.

New applications

And the nio Card also has applications beyond payments and making it harder to lose your phone or wallet. “Because it has NFC built in, you can program functionality from your smartphone onto the device via Bluetooth,” Hounsell said. That means it can be used for keyless entry systems that have smartphone apps, for example.

It’s also a fitness tracker when used with Bluenio’s nio Fit app. The firm also offers a software development kit (SDK), so third parties can create new use cases.

It’s a promising-sounding device, though at £59.99 ($98, about the same as Coin will retail for) it’s not particularly cheap. That said, those throwing £40 ($65) into the Kickstarter campaign will get one as their “perk”.

The campaign has 11 days to go and is only £13,080 (at the time of writing) towards its £35,000 goal. I daresay the addition of Bitcoin payment functionality will help it meet that goal in time with ease.

By the way, in case you’re wondering if the functionality was added at this point to give the campaign a boost, Hounsell told me it’s always been the plan but testing only finished this week. “We’ve been stung by other Kickstarter projects which made claims they couldn’t live up to so we’re very careful about that sort of thing,” he said.