Family photos are easy -- aren't they already on your smartphone?
Then there's the hard part: driver's licenses and other government IDs. These need to be in a provably unique, untampered form. That likely means tying them physically to a smartphone, which starts to muck up the hardware design and of course makes it a hassle to update your device every few years as manufacturers and carriers want you to.
One option is to have a universal ID "card" slot, sort of like the MicroSIM used for GSM-based 3G networks, where that government-issued ID can be moved from one device to another. But given how a decade after 9/11 the states still can't figure out how to issue an unforgeable, provably legitimate driver's license and the feds continue to struggle with similarly nonhackable passports, that seems a technology too far. A simpler option, at least as a transitional step, is that we'll all still carry that secured, provable government-issued ID in the case that holds our smartphone.
I suppose we could all have a very small travel wallet for such an ID and a bit of printed cash, but as long as people have to carry both a wallet and a smartphone, it's hard to see how an e-wallet could really take off. Still, a travel wallet would likely be needed by international travelers for when they are overseas.
One last issue I've heard: What about power? A physical wallet requires no electricity to work, whereas a smartphone does. I'm not concerned about that. It's exceedingly common to have a charger at work, at home, and in the car. Now that the European Union has forced device makers to standardize on USB power, it's both cheaper and easier to connect a device to a charger, whether yours or someone else's.
Still, I can see people running out of juice and not being able to get a bus ride home, show the police officer their license, or pay for the groceries. Of course, the same is true when people forget their wallet, so do we really need a technical solution? If we did, an RFID chip is the answer: It requires no power and could be the backup identification and e-cash holder -- the equivalent of tucking a $20 bill behind your driver's license for emergencies and keeping a spare credit card at home in case you lose your wallet.
I fully expect that in the not-too-distant future the smartphone will become your wallet, and that folded leather or cloth contraption will go the way of the wristwatch: abandoned by most, used as a retro fashion accessory by some. Which leads to one more change that will need to occur: Clothing designers will need to rethink the pockets in men's pants, as the back pocket will not be where you'll want to carry your smartphone/e-wallet.
This article, "Forget mobile payments. The future is the mobile wallet," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.