Just wave your smartwatch to board this train

Sony's FeliCa smartcard chip is getting ready for wearables

If you're holding out for that multi-functional smartwatch of your dreams, Sony is working to add contactless payments to wearables with a new chip.

The electronics giant's FeliCa Networks subsidiary is modifying its FeliCa contactless card technology, widely used in Japan for public transit and e-money payments, for wearables.

The company is designing a low-power chip that could be used in wearables such as smartwatches and smart bands, giving them contactless e-money or transit functions or access to restricted areas.

That would allow users to board a train or bus simply by waving a smartwatch near a chip reader, eliminating the need for a separate smart card.

"The wearables field is just beginning so we're considering what users will want with this functionality as well as what degree of compactness and power savings it will have," a spokeswoman for FeliCa Networks said.

The firm is also developing FeliCa smartcards with small LCD screens and a touch interface that can display information when users swipe their fingers across the cards.

This "interactive FeliCa card," still in the prototype stage, can show the remaining balance of money stored in the card, for instance, or payment history.

While about 45 million Android smartphones in Japan have had the FeliCa chip since 2012, iPhones do not support it. The LCD smart card could link with iPhones via Bluetooth so users could check their balances on their phones.

FeliCa Networks hopes to introduce the LCD smartcards in the year to April 2016.

One in two people in Japan has a mobile phone with NFC FeliCa phone functions, according to FeliCa Networks.

The company has shipped more than 236 million of its Mobile FeliCa chips as of December 2013, while Suica, a FeliCa-based smartcard for railways in the Tokyo area, can be used in 230,000 stores.

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Tim Hornyak

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