The Evolution of Wearables and Mobile Ticketing

The MetroCard will eventually see its final swipe. The iconic plastic card is projected to be replaced with preferred smart devices or wearables in the not-too-distant future. According to a study by Juniper Research, the amount of people utilizing contactless ticketing with wearables or mobile devices will approach 300 million by 2021. Not only does this give a commuter more options to purchase tickets, but it also offers a more seamless travel experience.

With 78.1 million units sold in 2015, wearables have become standard in our everyday lives. People are using them to track their physical health and streamline the process of buying goods and services. But with the proliferation of technology—wearables have gone beyond counting calories or daily steps. Companies like Nymi are pioneering mobile payment by creating products like the Nymi Band—the first biometrically authenticated wearable. The band is activated by your heartbeat or fingerprint and allows you to make contactless credit card payments. Some tech enthusiasts are taking contactless payment to the next level, under the skin. Patric Lanhed, in partnership with Juano Tara, an Arduino developer, implanted an NFC chip that holds the key to his Bitcoin wallet inside his hand. The chip allows him to scan his hand to pay for purchases and send funds using data inside his body. This method is called a “bio-payment.” Convenient for the person who forgets their debit card at home.

It’s innovations like contactless payment that attract a younger generation. Known to be a bit more demanding, they often expect their wearable to provide services that can integrate with their daily lives—like taking public transportation. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) found in their 2014 report, “Millennials & Mobility: Understand the Millennial Mindset” that younger generations have higher expectations for transit services. 61 percent want to see more reliable systems, while 55 percent expect real-time updates and wireless Internet services where they go. 44 percent of commuters are seeking a more user-friendly travel experience over the next decade. Their influence is so potent that it has motivated existing transportation agencies to reevaluate decisions that will incorporate more state-of-the-art technology, enhancing future ticketing systems. A big win for the commuters of tomorrow.

Other industries have already adapted to contactless ticketing with wearables, and customers are reaping the convenient benefits. Take Walt Disney World for instance—they use their own brand of wearables as an option for mobile ticketing. MagicBands, Disney’s colorful, waterproof wristbands, allow visitors to enter theme parks and check in at certain attractions. There are Mickey Mouse sensors throughout the parks and resort hotels that can be used by the entire family for quick and easy access.


Photo courtesy of Disney

Entertainment brand 20th Century Fox ran a promotion for its film The Martian that combined wearables and mobile ticketing in a really cool way. They released a game available on mobile devices and smartwatches simultaneously with the film. Within the mobile app, fans also had the option to purchase tickets, meaning moviegoers could buy a ticket from their phones and then access it on their smartwatches. Another company within the film industry, Fandango, brought its ticket-buying service to Apple Watches in 2015. Their goal was to make getting to the movies as easy as possible. Their president was quoted saying, “We’re excited to be one of the first apps available for Apple Watch, which takes movie-going to a whole new level by providing quick access once you’ve purchased tickets, to movie times, theater location, and more movie info conveniently on your wrist.”

The airline industry is also working toward contactless ticketing for passengers, but it’s hit a bit of turbulence along the way. Since many airlines now offer mobile ticketing, you’re also able to access your boarding pass from your smartwatch. So if you’ve downloaded a plane ticket to the Apple Wallet app, you can open it from the same app on your Apple Watch. The capability is there, but the infrastructure to support that technology needs some adjusting. As this article points out, airports are simply not set up to accommodate smartwatch boarding passes. Sensors at security face straight up, so unless you’re double jointed and can easily flip your arm upside down, a wearable ticket isn’t all that convenient yet. For now, it’s probably easier to stick to your smartphone—at least until they turn those sensors 90 degrees.

But the outlook for contactless mobile ticketing in the transportation industry is still bright. Juniper also states that eventually the use of contactless ticketing on mobile and wearables will represent one in five mobile ticketing users across the rail, metro/bus, airline and more. In the metro/bus sector particularly “due in large part to the well-established contactless transport infrastructure already in places in countries such as Japan, UK, France, Hong Kong, Australia and Korea.” Even in Rio de Janeiro during the Olympic Games, NXP semiconductors rolled out a contactless wearable for several modes of transit, including buses, ferries, metro and train. Anyone with a RioCard, the city’s smart card system for transportation, could use one of the bright yellow bands to move throughout the city more efficiently. And we can expect an even more advanced system for Tokyo 2020.

London has also already introduced wearable technology into their ticketing systems, banning the use of cash when purchasing a train or bus ticket. London commuters can utilize their bPay band instead of their Oyster smart cards as other forms of contactless payment. Commuters can also pre-load the wristband from their bank accounts to avoid refilling their account at crowded kiosk stations.

With the use of contactless technology in wearables, the future of mobile ticketing is primed to become a more seamless travel experience. The days of swiping a MetroCard may soon be behind you, but at least it’ll give you a little more room in your wallet.


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.