Digital Wallet User Experience Challenge

State of Digital Wallets – Part 12/16


This post, “Digital Wallet User Experience Challenge,” is an excerpt from a report entitled The Current and Future State of Digital Wallets, which is being shared here as a 16-part series. Download a copy of the report. Read a complete summary.


Overall the user experience (UX) for Wallets has been, with few exceptions, miserable to date. From Microsoft Passport over twenty years ago to the most current Apple Wallet and Google Pay, the experiences have not delighted.

The successful actions of Digital Wallets don’t feel like we are using a Digital Wallet. Using Apple Pay or Google Pay, you pass your smartphone over a device and biometrically approve the transaction. At no point do we actually “pull out our wallet.” Behind the scenes, our Digital Wallet talked to the payment terminal, negotiated, and facilitated the transaction. All the Digital wallets needed from us was the biometric authorization.

Digital wallets are most successful when invisible to the user, enabling effortless actions without drawing attention to themselves. This is the kind of user experience that is most effective.

UX failure

While having a Starbucks credential in one’s Apple Wallet may be convenient, it is not always the most user-friendly experience. Flipping through the various Wallet cards to locate and load the Starbucks card can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Subsequently, it would be simpler and more efficient to open the Starbucks app directly from the home screen, shake it and pay, eliminating the need to search for the desired card within the Wallet. In terms of user experience, this design flaw limits the potential of the Digital Wallet function.

Organizing and Finding My Stuff

The most challenging user experience will initially be the organization of all the stuff I can put in my wallet. Like the classic Seinfeld episode, George Costanza can’t close his wallet due to the abundance of cards and receipts. It is too easy to put Stuff into a Digital Wallet. Once the Standards shake out, receipts, Credentials, and more will accumulate.

So how do you organize them – and can your Digital Wallet keep Stuff organized without accidentally hiding them from you? The organization side of wallets will likely take years to shake out.

Research is needed to examine the various user experiences needed to manage the growing information. UI approaches, categorization, automatic requests/offers, and many more areas need exploration. Interaction designers, UX experts, and human factor engineers, among others, are also required.

​Invites, Offers, and Requests

A Digital Wallet that is empty isn’t beneficial to anyone. We need to ensure that the ability to put things into our Wallets isn’t incredibly hard or confusing.

Similarly, we should be able to “take something out” of our Digital Wallet to offer it to someone else – much like we do in the physical world.

These actions should feel intuitive.

Some actions may just be built-in and completely invisible. As an example, if we buy some movie tickets and arrive at the theatre, why would we need to dig around looking for the ticket? As long as the movie theatre knows how to tell the Digital Wallet what it needs or can use, our Digital Wallet can have things at the ready. A simple visit to the movies could involve a silent conversation as we walk in, where the theatre systems and our Digital Wallet “talk”:

  • Theatre system: “Hi there! I am theatre XYZ – if you have any tickets or coupons for me that are valid now, I can help.”
  • Digital Wallet:  “I have two passes for a movie here starting in 25 minutes and a coupon for food.”

That simple digital conversation allows our Digital Wallet to be ready to present the tickets instead of digging into an application that we can’t find easily.

Over time the movement of “Stuff” in our Digital Wallet will primarily happen in the background.

​What’s Normal (What’s Weird)?

One key thing our Digital wallets will need to do in the future is to ensure that we share what we should be. A stranger asking for a complete passport profile will become an odd request in time, and our Digital Wallet should warn us. Many warnings will likely relate to privacy, where more information is requested than required.

What kind of “normal” activity will our Wallet allow us to do – and when will it flag us that something is not normal or even creepy.

Let’s run through a few examples:
  • Semi-anonymous transactions – many interactions in life are nearly anonymous and should remain so. Paying for something with cash is almost anonymous; logically, similar capabilities will continue to exist in the digital realm. But some transactions require a bit more, e.g., proof that a person is old enough to make a particular purchase. Our Wallet, using selective disclosure and zero-knowledge proofs, can do this. It can also warn us when more information than is required is actively requested.
  • Surveillance – Digital Wallets should establish unique (pairwise) connections with each party we work with to protect user data. As a relationship is unique, we can understand how often it is requesting information, what consent we have given, and more. This information can make a digital relationship very healthy or can indicate abuse. As the Agents in our Digital Wallets get “smarter,” they will tell us when we have a digital relationship going farther than we would like – and adjust or terminate that relationship.
  • Law Violations – Some activities are not legal for various reasons, ranging from civil code violations to criminal behaviour. Our digital wallets can help protect us against inadvertently breaking the rules or regulations. As data moves through our pairwise connections, we can monitor them for nefarious activity. Asking for a full driver’s licence with name, address, date of birth, and more will become odd in time, and at some point, a jurisdiction will make requesting it illegal at some level.
Early Warnings

The critical action that our Digital wallets will do here is to warn us and stop us from doing things that aren’t good for us. Of course, you should be able to do whatever you like – and your Digital Wallet shouldn’t stop you. However, you may have particular Agents in your Digital Wallet that only allow certain activities and actions.


This post, “Digital Wallet User Experience Challenge,” is an excerpt from a report entitled The Current and Future State of Digital Wallets, which is being shared here as a 16-part series. Download a copy of the report. Read a complete summary.

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