iOS Wallet Replacements

iOS Wallet Replacements
Some years ago I stopped wearing a watch, since my cell phone was (nearly) always with me for the purpose of telling time. With apps on my phone, I can also use it as an alarm clock, stop watch and timer.

When I finally got an iPhone I stopped carrying around an iPod, too. And I also got a case[1] for the iPhone that doubles as a wallet, so there’s one less separate item in my pocket. But what to do with the plethora of gift cards, rewards cards and membership cards I carried?

Turns out there’s an app for that. Well, more than one.

There are plenty of apps that will let you keep track of your gift cards. 1Card, Clip Wallet, GoWallet Mobile, SWAGG, and Tango Card are those that I looked at based on their descriptions in the App Store. These were all free and I felt no need to look for a paid option, particularly when the paid apps didn’t seem to add any benefits over those that were free. Here’s how these apps fared on various features and criteria:

Multiple card types

I need to get rid of all my cards from my wallet, except credit/debit cards. GoWallet Mobile and Tango Card only allow the user to add gift cards. Clip Wallet adds membership card (and coupons, if you need that). Only 1Card and SWAGG cover gift, rewards, membership and “other” cards like my insurance ID.

Adding cards

This isn’t rocket science, but little things make it easier to use some apps over others. It helps when your card’s merchant is listed in the app; of the eight gift cards I currently have, all eight are in GoWallet Mobile and SWAGG, five are in Tango Card, and one is in 1Card. Clip Wallet requires you to enter each name manually. SWAGG is smart enough to know if a particular card requires a PIN for balance updates and only shows that field if needed.

1Card, Clip Wallet and SWAGG allow you to scan the barcode (if available) to enter the card number. Clip Wallet and SWAGG have the ability to take pictures (front and back) of your cards, which is handy for your membership and other cards.

GoWallet Mobile, SWAGG, and Tango Card allow you to add notes to the card; however, SWAGG is the only app of the five that doesn’t let you edit the card once added—so forget about using the notes field to manually track your balance (see my gripe below).

Using cards

You’re in line, you need to get to the card quickly. Something that could trip you up is the quality (or lack thereof) of your Internet connection. Except for Clip Wallet, all of these apps require an Internet connection—and Tango Card will crash if you don’t have one. I’m not clear on why this is necessary and I’m still waiting on answers. (Update: Card data, at least for SWAGG, is not kept on the device.)

You don’t want others to get to the cards quickly, though: some security would be nice. 1Card and Clip Wallet provide none; the others require a PIN (GoWallet Mobile) or your account/webiste password. I’m not a fan of the password approach; since I use obtuse, unique (20+ characters including punctuation) passwords for websites, getting to that password and putting it into the app takes a bit of time.

Once you’ve selected the card, 1Card, Tango Card, Clip Wallet, and SWAGG will show a barcode (turn your iPhone for Tango Card—that stumped me for a while); the latter two also make the photo(s) of the card available. But GoWallet Mobile only displays the card number to be manually entered.

At many establishments, though, you may not want to use these apps to redeem your gift cards. How many of you are comfortable handing your phone to your waitress to be taken to another part of the restaurant out of your sight? Even if you took a screenshot and “quickly” made that your lock screen wallpaper, it’s still your phone.

Tracking balances

What’s the balance on your gift and rewards cards? 1Card doesn’t know and Clip Wallet only allows you to manually update the balance. The other three offer automatic updating, but SWAGG leads the pack: six of eight gift cards and three of six rewards cards were updated automatically for me (GoWallet Mobile: 4, Tango Card: 2). Unfortunately, if SWAGG can’t update the balance, you can’t enter it manually—unlike the other two.


SWAGG ended being the best of the crop, but there are still some issues with it: there’s no PIN protection (instead of passwords), you can’t edit cards (to change notes or manually update balances), and Internet access is required (for gift cards, other cards, and photos).

Update [8/23/2012]: The product manager for SWAGG informed me that version 2 of the app “should be coming in the next couple of months” and will address PIN-based entry into the app and caching of data in the app.

Update [11/29/2012]: SWAGG will shut down on December 12, 2012.

By the way, I also looked at Lemon as a possible contender. It’s great for keeping receipts out of your wallet, but the only cards that it’s useful for are credit and debit cards.

  1. I rarely carry cash and, when I do, I end up just stuffing it in my pocket anyway, so this case works well for me. Holds three cards plus ID.  ↩