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Monday, Feb 26, 2024
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How do students feel about the digital Bear Card three months later?

A student tries to use a backup near-field communication battery to access a Blackboard Transact reader.
A student tries to use a backup near-field communication battery to access a Blackboard Transact reader.

This semester, Mercer University’s Auxiliary Services Department began offering a new ID option for students: the digital bear card.

In the initial announcement of the offering, Associate Vice President for Auxiliary Services Ken Boyer said he hoped the new option would bring the community choice and convenience. Now that students have had the opportunity to try this new technology, some are left feeling disappointed.

Mercer junior Uday Sappati switched to the digital Bear Card amidst frustrations with the physical option. 

“(My Bear Card) got damaged and it wouldn’t tap, it would only swipe,” he said. “I hate actually carrying a lot of things on me, and (the digital Bear Card) could just make it easier, because I already carried my credit card in my phone, and money is in my phone, so I was just like, ‘oh, why not just add my Bear Card to that?’” 

However, the digital Bear Card wasn’t everything Sappati had hoped for.

“First of all, the way they made it sound, I guess I could just say this is like the sensor, and I could just go like 'boop' and come in, but no, I have to line it upright in front of the thing and you can’t like put it at any angle,” he said.

Sappati’s primary frustration is with the ability, or lack thereof, of the digital Bear Card to continue working after the phone battery dies.

“The biggest thing that gets me is that they straight-up lied about the usability of the dang thing. I got told by a couple people, some who were higher up or at least associated with the mobile Bear Card, that it’ll last up to three hours after your phone dies because it has infrared waves or some nonsense like that, absolutely lied,” he said. “My phone died five minutes before I came to Phase 2, and I couldn’t tap my card in.” 

Sappati is likely referencing Boyer’s previous comments made to The Cluster.

“The new versions of Apple devices, according to Apple, have an additional power source that keeps the (near-field communication) chip powered even when the phone and other data functions quit when the battery dies, for approximately two to three hours,” Boyer said.

The digital Bear Card utilizes Apple device’s near-field communication chip to store a fully-functional digital version of the Bear Card in the user’s Apple Wallet. However, it is important to understand that while NFC technology has been available since the iPhone 6, there have been significant changes and improvements throughout generations of devices.

It wasn’t until the release of the iPhone XR and the iPhone XS that Apple introduced Background Tag Reading, which enables the device to automatically check for NFC tags when in close proximity with one. Any iPhone released before this will require the user to open the Apple Wallet app in order to scan for NFC tags like the Blackboard Transact readers.

Sappati has an iPhone X, possibly explaining his frustration with having to precisely line up his phone with the Blackboard reader. This also explains his frustrations with the backup battery he believed to be available for the NFC chip, as the feature was also introduced with the iPhone XR and XS.

Despite his feelings of deception, Sappati still believes the digital Bear Card is a viable option for some students.

Honestly, it depends on what you want to do. If you don’t mind having a wallet on you or something like that, then yeah, I’d say stick with the normal Bear Card,” he said. “But if you’re all about not carrying too much … then yeah, I’d say switch to the iPhone. Just be smart about it. Just know that it’s gonna die, you know, and like, you’ve gotta keep it charged and keep wary of your charge.” 

The digital Bear Card is part of Mercer’s five-year plan to transition away from mag stripe cards to the MIFARE DESFire EV2 contactless card technology, according to the announcement. Sappati believes that Mercer will see success in this endeavor. 

“I actually do believe Mercer will fix their issues because Mercer’s trying really hard to compete with any other college that has like any big technological innovations,” he said. “So Mercer will definitely update their mobile Bear Card, you know, make it the kind you want.”


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