Smart TV will make spending worryingly easy, says Mark Vernon
The prototype of a revolutionary purchasing system that allows consumers to buy goods directly from a television set at the press of a button was leaked at a conference last week in New York. Developed by a little-known company called Smart TV, the credit card-sized device represents a significant development in smart card technology because it is able to send and receive information over already existing transmission networks, such as those used by cellular telephones. The card can also be used to collect electronic coupons from a TV set or other sources.

The card was demonstrated by Roel Pieper, CEO of Tandem Computers, which is backing Smart TV as part of Tandem's launch into the Internet and other open networks. Mr Pieper ordered a can of Coca-Cola while watching an advertisement for the drink on television.

Frank Nemirofsky, a co-founder of Smart TV, was guarded about the launch of the product, which is still a month away. But when asked how it compared with other smart cards already being piloted, he said, "You will be surprised at what we have achieved here."

In addition to its television function, the card can be used as an electronic wallet to carry cash. The embedded memory chip also contains an in-depth profile of the user, including bank details and spending habits. Mr Nemirofsky added that Smart TV had worked closely with banks and consumer research bodies to predict the impact of the easy-to-use card upon spending habits, given that it offers virtually no resistance to the purchase of goods. He admitted that there were "behavioural issues over self-indulgence".

He did not commit himself to the way in which the card is to be introduced to users, but said, "It will be distributed in the most ubiquitous manner possible", indicating that Smart TV could adopt an aggressive policy of delivery to capture the highly lucrative market.

The card is the result of more than two years' research and development. At its heart is a "consumer operating system" that aims to do away with "technology barriers" by potential users, such as PCs and complex software