Gemplus, which likes to consider itself first among smart card producers, is claiming a product-development first in the area of electronic wallets.
The French company's software division has announced Gemplus Wallet, described as the "first electronic wallet to integrate smart cards."
Consumers shopping on-line could use the card and its embedded digital certificate, which ensures security and authenticity of transactions, at any personal computer, point of sale terminal, or public kiosk capable of reading a chip card.
"The wallet is a bridge between the smart card and e-commerce," said Jean-Marc Sarat, technical manager for electronic commerce at Gemplus America's headquarters in Redwood City, Calif. "It's a way to transfer information from the physical to the virtual application."
The card as a certification token has been widely discussed and even implemented, primarily in corporate and government networks. Aberdeen Group, a Boston-based research firm, said smart cards with digital certificates can be crucial to establishing "portable digital trust," but the technology has had to overcome "negative market perceptions based on historical tales."
The incorporation of a digital wallet, in which consumers maintain their payment choices for on-line transactions, is Gemplus' attempt to give the wallet concept more life and tangibility than it has gained in its purely virtual forms.
The software can be customized in a way that enables financial institutions to assert their brand identities in electronic commerce, the vendor said.
Donna Jeker, vice president of the Gemplus Software IT unit, said banks are increasingly under threats from nonbank competitors and technology suppliers such as Checkfree Holdings and Microsoft Corp., which have the wherewithal to provide some traditional banking functions.
"Banks are looking for these solutions," Ms. Jeker said.
Gemplus said the smart card with electronic wallet will increase on-line sales because consumers will not have to key in their personal information each time they make a purchase. Citing a statistic widely quoted in Silicon Valley, Gemplus said 70% of merchandise that Internet shoppers put into virtual shopping carts is never purchased.
In addition, the security that chip technology affords is expected to reduce Internet-related fraud losses.
Gemplus pointed to a recent Visa International study of 15 banks in Europe that said Internet payments account for 1% of all transactions, but 47% of all credit card complaints, nearly half of which are prompted by Internet fraud.
The software's initial target customers are banks that already issue smart cards, the bulk of which are in Europe. But Gemplus officials are confident that increasing on-line fraud may drive some banks in the United States to adopt smart card programs using the Gemplus wallet.
The product will be available in June and Gemplus said it expects to have 250,000 users in Europe during the first year. An additional 500,000 are expected during the wallet's second year on the market.
The wallet works with all smart card readers and complies with the PC/SC-personal computer/smart card-card-interface standard that Microsoft championed. It also supports standard encryption protocols such as Secure Socket Layer and Secure Electronic Transaction, or SET.
"It works with all platforms," Mr. Sarat said. "The idea is to be completely agnostic."