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New form factors coming in our industry

Week 21, 2007

A regular contact smart card has to be held firmly in place, in front of the contacts for a transaction to be completed. This has led to a variety of card connectors and acceptors, motorized or not, swallowing the whole card or not.

Now that more applications are going contactless, we are gaining a new liberty. The card, or better, the contactless portable object only needs to get close to the reader, not to be absorbed by it. This opens to a variety of form factors such as key fobs of all shapes. All major manufacturers (Gemalto, G&D, Oberthur, …) have included key fobs in their offer, and say they are ready to develop any new shape.

But new form factors trigger new questions, at first on the supplier side. All the existing manufacturing equipment has been designed to manufacture cards. Years of engineering experience have been accumulated to be able to take efficiently a card from the bottom or the top of a card pile in a manufacturing environment. Personalization equipments have been optimized over years to carry and personalize cards efficiently. Graphic personalization may become an issue on items with various shape factors. Most cardholders are used to having their name, some other details and even a photo on their card. Having a different shape factor may mean changing to new personalization technologies, less sensitive to flatness of the support such as inkjet. Or we could just abandon graphical personalization altogether, but then, how will merchants ensure the cardholder is actually who he pretends to be, and how will cardholders ensure they don't mix their cards.

Then bulkiness may also be an issue. So far, most key fobs, and other devices came with interesting shape factors, but with a volume far superior to the one of a regular card. When most of us carry between 5 and 10 cards in our wallets, how would this convert to 5 to 10 bulky items?

New shapes undoubtedly have a novelty pull, but the existing card form factor is here to stay.

Thierry Spanjaard
Chief Editor
Smart Insights