The Frank Green reusable takeaway cup has been sitting on cafe and gift store shelves since early this year, looking quite smart – a compact thermoplastic cylinder in a range of nifty colour combinations with a cute red button in the middle of the lid that pops it open for drinking.
But its real smarts are only now being realised: hidden in that cute button is a chip that connects to a just-released app, CafePay, so you can pay for your coffee with the cup.
That might not sound like such a big deal – unless you're the type who regularly forgets your wallet, or you've been in a queue behind someone doing the morning office run: a mixed dozen lattes, magics and skinny cappuccinos, and can I pay for them all separately, and get some change, too, please …
The cup and the app are the brain children of Ben Young, a former mergers and acquisitions guy who has been working on the project since 2011. Young says a cup of coffee is the most common micropayment in the world, with about 3 billion bought every day. Helping people pay small amounts of money electronically makes plenty of sense.
The cup uses NFC (Near Field Technology) to connect to the app. Once the cup is connected and money is loaded to your account, paying for a coffee is as simple as tapping the cup against a reader.
NFC is about to turn smartphones into devices for managing just about anything: LG has announced a range of washing machines that use NFC to communicate with smartphones, you can use it to quickly pair your phone with speakers like Samsung's DA-F60, and NFC powers Sharetapes, a blank smartcard that you load with a "mix-tape" – a Spotify or whatever playlist – and share with friends via the NFC reader on their phone.
Little Rogue in Drewery Lane, Melbourne, is the first cafe to use CafePay; it has been beta testing it since early September. Owner Leo Lee says: "For us it's the new technology, the gimmick that attracts people."
He has about 30 customers paying with their cups. "They say it's amazing. They like the social side of it – building relationships with other people." The app lets you search for users by name and "friend" them; you can then gift them coffees, and even see where they've been last (what was that about privacy and social media again?)
Barista Jackson Maddocks at Tom Thumb Espresso in Flinders Lane says he's just waiting for a payment terminal to put the CafePay system into use. The Frank Green cups have been selling well. "I personally sold 40 in the first week," he says. "The best thing about the cup is that it keeps coffee hot for ages. When I'm running late for my train in the morning I don't spill a drop." (Ben Young claims that the Frank Green seals so well you can throw a cup full of coffee into your bag and it won't spill – as long as you close that button.)
"I serve 900 coffees a day," Maddocks says. "CafePay will speed up the process and leave more time for interacting with customers on a more personal level."
Tom Thumb regular Bryce, brandishing a Frank Green, says he has been using it for about three months: he likes the one-handed push-button opening. Will he be CafePaying for his morning magic? "I might," he says.
The app tracks your cafe purchases and lets you donate to causes such as Y-Gap and Earthwatch, and will soon include cafe maps and store your favourite coffee so you can order as well as pay with a tap.
If you don't need yet another reusable takeaway cup, there's a band containing the chip to slip around all those KeepCups, UpperCups and Jocos in your desk drawer.
Further ahead for Frank Green is a smart water bottle. With an app that you program with biometric data, the bottle will tell you how much water you should drink each day, and even remind you when you're due for a mouthful (no more relying on just being thirsty … we have hard data now).
Says Ben Young: "Frank Green picks things that are bad for the environment and unashamedly attacks them."