"Smartcards have finally got interesting," according to Dave Birch, a self-confessed smartcard nerd. Birch is a director with digital consultants Consult Hyperion and says smartcards have applications far beyond merely stopping fraud. He says in the medium term the cards will be ideal for unattended situations like vending machines and kiosks, and also eventually for unattended checkouts, with customers simply "dipping" their own cards and entering their PIN. But over time, Birch says we will not even have to put our card through a machine at all. "The idea of a card that is wireless, what's known as a contactless card, is very attractive. In the states Exxon is using what it calls a Speed Pass which allows people to pay for their petrol without having to swipe a card. "This means people will be able to walk through a checkout without having to stop or swipe their card. And eventually the PIN will be replaced with biometric data like a thumbprint." The added security of chip cards will also open up new channels to retailers. New computers are likely to begin arriving with smartcard slots allowing easy and safe payment online. But it's not only the internet that smartcards are likely to open up to shoppers. Digital set top boxes are already beginning to include special slots which will enable consumers to buy through their television and Birch says smartcards will be key in harnessing the power of digital channels. But he adds: "The possibilities are way beyond just a credit card and retailers should start looking into these systems." The use of chips in loyalty cards will offer a whole new world of opportunity for retailers. In terms of information retention, the chips can withhold a great deal more information than any magnetic card, enabling personal information to be stored on the chip, cutting back on general infrastructure costs for operators. There's also potential to combine the technology of digital television with smart loyalty cards according to Birch. "People could insert their loyalty cards and receive reward points for watching adverts or receive a companies programmes," he says. {{COVER FEATURE }}