Day Without a Wallet: Boston

What can be done without a wallet and only a smartphone?

By Mark Lowenstein on January 6, 2015

This is the first article in our Day Without a Wallet series exploring what can be done without a wallet and only a smartphone in various cities across the country.

The smartphone has increasingly incorporated many of the day-to-day functions of our lives that once required separate devices. In addition to serving as a portable phone and pocket computer, the smartphone is also a camera, radio, media player, e-reader, navigator, game player, watch, pedometer, activity tracker, personal information manager, travel guide, compass, calculator, alarm clock, flashlight, notebook, voice recorder and payment mechanism, among other functions. These days, when you leave home, there are three things you take with you: keys, phone and wallet. If you don’t drive or have a push button lock, you might be able to leave your keys at home, too. But what about the wallet? Well, we’re getting there.

As an experiment, I decided to see how much I could do on a given day while leaving my wallet at home and relying solely on my smartphone as a typical commuter in the walking- and transportation-friendly city of Boston.

The day starts well before I leave for work. I’m awakened by the alarm clock function on the smartphone and am told by my FitBit app that I have had a below-average night’s sleep because I stayed up too late last night watching the election results on TV. Then it’s off for my morning run, smartphone in armband while listening to my favorite playlist and podcasts, with the RunKeeper app keeping me informed of distance, average pace and heart rate. Then it’s a quick walk of the dog (wallet – no, plastic bags – yes), which, according to the Breeze app (and M8 motion co-processor on the smartphone), consists of 2,000 steps. Breakfast is a rushed bowl of cereal while making sure the kids have packed their lunches and glancing at the Boston Globe on my iPad.

Today, I’ll take the commuter rail to work and am relieved there are no alerts of any delays. My pass is stored in the MBTA Commuter Rail app, which I show to the conductor for payment. On the thirty-minute ride to work, it’s a quick check of e-mail, the day’s calendar and scan of the business headlines from a couple of my favorite apps. Before getting into the office, I pick up a coffee at Starbucks, where I pay by launching the app which pulls up a digital barcode image of my stored card.

After a couple of hours of calls, I have a meeting about 2 miles away in another part of downtown. Rather than taking the subway, I decide to hop on a bike through Hubway, Boston’s bike-sharing app. Since I use this fairly frequently, I pay an $85 annual fee, so I don’t need to pay separately for the ride.

By the time the meeting is over, it’s time for lunch. I have plans to meet a friend who’s visiting from out of town. Since it’s a nice day we’ve decided to take a walking tour of the Charlestown part of the Freedom Trail. He’s a bit of a history buff so we use the Tour Boston Freedom Trail app, which is packed with content including full audio, HD video footage, GEO location and maps, and thorough historical information about each of the sites.

Since the walk was a little over an hour, we don’t have time for a sit-down lunch, so we decide to grab a couple of sandwiches. He’s a Subway guy, so he buys me lunch using SoftCard, which is the easy-to-use mobile payments app offered through Verizon Wireless and other carriers.

Before heading back to the office, I stop in at Whole Foods to pick up some bread and cheese for dinner, which I pay for using Apple Pay. All I do is wave my iPhone in front of the terminal and press my finger to the home button. I feel a quick vibration confirming payment and the $11.50 receipt from Amex pops up on the screen. 

I hop on a Hubway back to the office, put in a full afternoon of work and race to catch the 6:20 p.m. train home. On the way home, a colleague calls me to let me know he’s made a couple of changes to a report we’ve been working on together and asks whether I can give it a quick review. He’s uploaded the file to Dropbox, which I open, make a couple of small changes and then upload the final document. My colleague also tells me about an interesting new TV show debuting tonight. After I finish with the file, I launch the DVR Manager on my smartphone to set a recording. And since everyone is home this evening, I check the NEST thermostat on my device to make sure the heat is turned on and set to a comfortable temperature.

About three quarters of the way home, I realize it’s now pouring rain outside. Usually I walk the 1.5 miles from the train station to home, but given the weather I order an Uber to give me a quick ride. I launch the app, see that a driver is about ten minutes away from the station and make the request. He’s pulling in just as I get off the train and ten minutes later I’m home. The fare for the Uber ride is automatically charged to my credit card and the receipt is sent to my personal e-mail address.

After a nice family dinner, I help the kids with homework and then kick back to watch the show I recorded earlier. The wallet-less day has worked out pretty well.

Tomorrow morning I have to drive one of my kids to a doctor’s appointment, so I’ll need to bring my wallet since it contains my driver’s license. Well, I guess that’s the next thing to work on – convincing the Registry of Motor Vehicles to allow a secure image of my driver’s license to be stored on the smartphone.  That would be an important next step to eliminating the need for carrying a wallet!

Mark Lowenstein, a leading industry analyst, consultant, and commentator, is Managing Director of Mobile Ecosystem.  Click here to subscribe to his free Lens on Wireless monthly newsletter, or follow him on Twitter at @marklowenstein.

The thoughts, opinions and suggestions of the author may not necessarily reflect those of Verizon Wireless.

Tags: Uber, NEST Thermostat, SoftCard, Hubway, Fitbit, Boston, Mobile Ecosystem, Mark Lowenstein