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Jay MacDonald

Dick Tracy calling: wristwatch that can make payments to debut in US

Do you long to own an expensive watch? Or perhaps harbor a secret childhood fascination with Dick Tracy's two-way wrist radio?

The time is nigh, my friends. Prepare to strap on the arm-candy of your dreams. Well, close to your dreams anyway.

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This April, U.S. banks that use the TransCard prepaid system will unveil the Watch2Pay, a wristwatch with a removable SIM card that tells time old-school (analog) but pulls off contactless MasterCard PayPass prepaid purchases with a flick of the wrist.

While no one is likely to mistake it for a Rolex, the Watch2Pay can certainly lay claim to expensive-watch status. That's because qualified users are allowed to exceed the modest contactless payment limit with a simple tap and PIN entry to complete the purchase of, say, a Lamborghini, a Cezanne still life or a flat-sit in Budapest, all through their wristwatch (and a healthy account balance attached to it). Try that with your measly Patek Philippe one-trick timepiece!

For you Dick Tracy fans, while it's true that the near-field communication range of the Watch2Pay is measured in inches instead of miles, it does technically qualify as both a wrist radio and a wearable accessory that replaces the need for another accessory, in this case a payment card, or indeed even your wallet. While there are only 400,000 terminals worldwide that accept the Watch2Pay, it also comes with a boring old plastic PayPass card that's accepted wherever mag-stripe MasterCards are welcome.

Austria-based Laks GmbH launched the Watch2Pay last year in Poland, Turkey, Hungary and the U.K., where wearers typically were limited to contactless payments of around $25 per purchase. The U.S. limit will be $100, according to Watch2Pay CEO Zoltan Kaman.

But keep your smart phone handy, as the U.S. model comes with online access so you can reload your Watch2Pay from your smartphone or device, monitor your balance and transaction history, and even execute peeps-to-peeps payments while you wait for your fedora to be pressed.

Cards that don't look like cards are nothing new, of course. About a decade ago, key-dangling fobs and miniature credit cards were the rage. But a debit-ready wristwatch? That's different. That's styling.

Unlike a sports fob, it won't get your gym bag stolen. Unlike a mini-card, it won't get lost with your car keys. And true to the promise that cartoonist Chester Gould made way back in the Roosevelt administration, we can finally strap to our wrist something no one has strapped before: a credit card that tells time.

Now if it could only dial Tess Trueheart.

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