TECHXNY - Compaq unveils PCs that accept credit cards

Your local supermarket probably lets you pay for purchases by swiping your credit card through a reader. Why not give home PCs the same capability? That's the idea behind Compaq's new Smart Credit Card Internet Keyboard, announced here this week at PC Expo/TECHXNY.

Available as an option on the company's Presario 5000 and 7000 series home PCs, the keyboard has a smart card reader that works with smart credit cards to make online shopping safer, simpler, and (via promotional offers available only to smart-card users) cheaper.

The keyboard looks much like other Presario keyboards, except for a reader mounted on its right side. Systems equipped with the keyboard start at $US799. So far the system (and services associated with it) is only available in the US.

Compaq is partnering with financial services firm FleetBoston Financial, which issues the Fusion smart Visa. The "smart" in this card--which can also be used as a standard credit card--is its built-in microprocessor and memory.

Make a purchase at a participating online retailer, and you can swipe your card through the keyboard to complete the transaction without transmitting your credit card number over the Internet. This is an option that some Web shoppers will find comforting given the ongoing reports of credit-card data thefts at well-known Web sites.

Mixing with bricks and mortar sales

The Fusion card's memory can store personal information such as your billing and shipping addresses and upload them to a Web store at checkout, saving you some typing time. The memory can also be used to store electronic coupons, tickets, and other virtual items that can be redeemed in the offline world.

These applications, of course, all depend on online merchants giving their Web stores smart-card savvy. Some major sites are on board, including Yahoo, Buy.com, and 1-800-Flowers.com. In the bricks-and-mortar arena, discount retailer Target plans to let customers download electronic coupons over the Web and onto the Fusion card, then cash them in at a local Target store.

The new Presarios aren't the first PCs with built-in smart card readers. American Express' Blue card, which debuted in 1999, offers features similar to Fleet's Fusion, as does a disposable card designed for online shopping by MDNA. Still, smart cards have yet to catch on big time. Compaq says it hopes to promote wider consumer acceptance for them by offering Presarios equipped with the new keyboard for about the same price as models without it.

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Harry McCracken

PC World
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