The Geode from iCache, a new mobile wallet product that just made itself known to the world today through social funding platform Kickstarter, is special for exactly two reasons. For one, it solves what could be mobile wallets’ biggest problem: that you have to really trust your phone. And secondly, by using Kickstarter as a financing and PR tool, it has managed to make Kickstarter look useful. Incredibly useful.

What is it?

The Geode is billed as “the most secure wallet you’ve ever seen.” Unlike other mobile wallets, it’s a physical, corporeal thing: an iPhone case, not just an app for the phone (though Geode is an app, too). It comes with a credit card slipped into the back, and a fingerprint reader that wraps around to the front of the phone, and a card reader that can attach to the bottom of the phone. Users can add credit cards onto the app using the card reader, and loyalty card barcodes can be captured using the iPhone’s camera.

When it’s time to check out, users can select which card they’d like to use, and the GeoCard — the credit card in the back of the case — is programmed to act as a duplicate version of the card. Want your Ralph’s card scanned for extra savings? You can select it through the app and a scannable image of the barcode appears on the back of the phone case, which uses e-ink, the same technology that the Kindle and Nook use.

Check out the demo video below for more:

Why is this better?

One of the design aspects of mobile wallets that has always made this writer skeptical about them ever actually replacing cash or plastic is that they will require near complete trust in smartphones and near complete adoption of them. Those that assume app-based mobile wallets will take off assume that all retailers everywhere will replace or upgrade their current point-of-sale terminals to accept NFC payments. That’s a lot of buy-in to expect from an incredibly diverse sector of the economy that gets little in return for it — no reductions in interchange fees, for example.

With Geode, users can save all the pocket space they want, but they’ll still be able to buy their groceries at a supermarket that doesn’t have space-age technology installed at every checkout aisle.

Perhaps more importantly, if you put all your cards on your phone and don’t carry cash, you are entirely dependent on your phone’s battery life to buy anything. This is a terrible position to put oneself in. While Geode comes with a default setting for how long the GeoCard is active — under half a minute according to a spokesperson — but this can be changed by the user. If your phone is dying, Geode will alert users to this and suggest they program their card to last for a few hours, giving them access to cash even if their phone is dead — how novel!

There’s no hypothetical upper bound to how long you can program the GeoCard for, said the spokesman, over the phone, but you can’t make it last 10 years, for instance. Cards have expiration dates, after all.

Kickstarter: not just for vanity projects!

The problem with Geode, as far as mobile wallets are concerned, is that it is a thing. And things need to be made and that usually costs money. However, by seeking their last bit of financing through Kickstarter, Geode has developed a good bit of buzz in the averse-to-pay-for-anything tech world. They’ve designed the product, and they could likely find private financing for their first round of manufacturing, but instead they turned to the social web for it, launching a Kickstarter project earlier this week, seeking $50,000 — they’ve raised more than $69,000 at this time.

They did so by offering access to the first versions of the Geode for $150 — $49 less than the MSRP — and by offering a “Re-Seller Pack” for $7,500. Two people are already slated to be resellers — that’s $15,000 right there — and about 320 of the wallets have been pre-sold through the site. Not only is iCache taking advantage of the free financing the platform offers, they’re also generating buzz and locking in retail dealers through the deal. For a site such as Kickstarter, cluttered with music videos that don’t need to be made and books that don’t need to be written, that’s a breath of fresh air.

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  • Commonwealth Bank in Australia uses a similar technology for its “Kaching” iPhone app. You have to snap an attachment onto the phone. How this differs (in principle) from the NFC stickers other vendors have explored isn’t exactly clear to me.

    All these solutions are temporary; they are bridges between where we are now and where will we end up in the future. Eventually, payment technology will be baked into phones — not attachments or stickers.