Gift Cards and Smart Phones

As smart phones become more ubiquitous, applications related to gift cards are bound to appear with greater frequency. We’ve previously reported on an iPhone app from Wildcard Network that allows you to store your gift card information (so you have it when you need it), but few gift cards are supported. Joining the ranks of imperfect but promising applications is an iPhone app from that allows you to activate or look up the balance your your Visa gift card, presumably only the ones sold by The main problem with this is the disconnect between the buyer and recipient of the card. The buyer might think it is a cool idea but the recipient might not have an iPhone or not know about the app, so it does them no good.

But, these apps may be imperfect, but they are a step in the right direction. What might make gift card apps more practical is the acceptance of a purely virtual app based gift card, possibly a counterpart of a physical card (i.e. you could use either/or) that is accepted by retailers. Consider this: I recently flew and used nothing but a bar-code displayed on my iPhone to get through TSA security and board the airplane. If this works with TSA, surely it has to be possible eventually with retailers.

Short of that, I would love to see someone create an app that allowed you to look up the balance on ANY gift card (each retailer/issuer would have to be accommodated separately – a lot of work) simply by using the phone’s camera to view the front of the card, much like apps that can do a price check by using the camera to view a bar code. Now THAT would be useful!