History of Cell Phone Wallets

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Promo Expert

Published: February 25th, 2019

Updated: April 22nd, 2019

A cell phone wallet might seem like a simple invention. After all, it’s just a little pouch that sticks to the back of your phone case, right? Well, there is actually more to the story than you might think! It involves patent wars, covert missions to the Apple store, and a thumbs up from “Shark Tank.”

Who invented the cell phone wallet? What’s its brief history? Stick around like a cell phone wallet to hear the full story!

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In this day and age, we rely on our smartphone more than anything else.

– Kumar Jambunathan, Co-inventor of the Card Ninja

A Brief History of Cell Phones

Before we can really talk about cell phone wallets, we have to talk about cell phones. Carrying a cell phone is a relatively new phenomenon. It’s only been in recent years where our mobile devices have become like attached limbs to our bodies. We can’t go anywhere without one!

Brick Phone Source: dayintechhistory.coffee

The first cell phone made its debut in 1973 and was developed by an executive at Motorola named Martin Cooper. At the time, the device weighed more than 2 pounds and featured a long antenna. Definitely not an ideal setup for cell phone wallets!

Brick Phone Source: dayintechhistory.coffee

About 20 years later, IBM created the first smartphone, the IBM Simon. From there, there was no going back. Manufacturers kept releasing greater devices with more technology than ever imaginable, including the first camera phone released by Sprint in 2002. Five years later the first iPhone came out, followed by the Android a year later, and just like that, the digital age had begun!

Are you interested in learning more? Check out this video from Tech Insider!

A Wallet for Your Phone

Even though cell phones are amazingly advanced, there is still room in our hearts for classic accessories. That’s why wallets have never gone out of style, and we’ve even found a way to combine them with our digital devices.

While the first official cell phone wallet is hard to determine, there have been many patents for different designs over the years, with much credit going to one particular company named Card Ninja.

Sunder Kumar Source: wsj.com

Who Invented the Cell Phone Wallet?

If you had to choose someone to credit for the invention of the cell phone wallet, that honor would most likely go to Sunder and Kumar Jambunathan, two brothers in California. The duo came up with the idea of a stick-on wallet after Sunder lost his actual wallet at the airport and the rest is part of promotional products history.

Before Sunder and Kumar went about receiving a patent on their cell phone wallet, they made sure nothing else was like it on the market. Sunder and his wife went to the Apple store to dig through their inventory looking for something similar, much to the dismay of the employees. When they came up short, the brothers decided it was safe to pursue this new idea.

CardNinja Patent Source: patents.google.com

Sunder and Kumar teamed up with their college friend Chris Page and started Card Ninja in 2012. In the early days they experimented with different prototypes including one made from paper. However, after learning more about fabric and sewing, Kumar came up with a more practical neoprene design. This was an especially important decision as the team had set their sights on the promotional products industry, and neoprene made it easy to print company logos and business names right on the wallets. This new neoprene wallet was called the CardNinja pouch.

The flexible CardNinja pouch could hold up to 8 cards and quickly became a huge hit, with sales in more than 1,000 cities and 31 countries. Sunder and Kumar also secured top clients, like Google, who wanted cell phone wallets printed for their events. The business was so successful that many cell phone wallets had to go on back order since they couldn’t keep up with demand.

Card Ninja is now known as Cubi and is still going strong today. They are always perfecting their design and continue working directly with promo product distributors around the world.

Did you know?

The CardNinja was voted the best promotional product by reps of “Shark Tank” at ASI Orlando in 2015.

Dan Smith Source: thejimmycase.com

Competition in the Marketplace
Not to be outdone by Card Ninja, Dan Smith, a TV executive for Playboy and American Gladiators, received a patent for his own phone wallet. In 2013, he made the first one in his garage and called it the jimmyCASE. These cell phone wallets are handmade in East Los Angeles and crafted from custom fabrics, silicone, basswood, and real mahogany. They are designed to fit 6 cards and cash without getting stretched out.

Tom Hanks Source: thejimmycase.com

The patent for the jimmyCASE states that the device is flexible and capable of holding more than just cards and bills. It can also store keys and other small personal objects. Plus, it fits on the back of not only smartphones, but other media players and small electronic devices.

Smith’s company is still going strong today with products in many different styles, colors, and materials. This cell phone wallet has even been found on the phones of high-profile celebrities like Tom Hanks and Chris Martin of Coldplay.

A Plethora of Patents

Many patents have existed over the years for products similar to the CardNinja and jimmyCASE. Some were released before these household names, while others came out afterward, making it difficult to give credit to any one person or company for the invention of the cell phone wallet.

Here are some of the other patents that are out there:

Over the years, many people have designed their own cell phone wallets. It wasn’t until the birth of Card Ninja in 2012, however, when these tech accessories were really put on the map. Today, you’ll find a variety of cell phone wallet manufacturers with their own unique designs and shapes.

Did you know?

The idea of a wallet goes all the way back to 3300 BCE when Otzi the Iceman carried his coin purse on an expedition to Val Senales Valley.

Aol Card Holder Source: tekweld.com

Promotional Cell Phone Wallets

Aol Card Holder Source: tekweld.com

The cell phone wallet was always designed with the promotional products industry in mind. Many suppliers and distributors offer this tech accessory as it makes for a great giveaway at trade shows, conventions, and other events.

Take for example Tekweld, a promo product supplier with over 10 years in the industry. The company offers five different cell phone wallets on their website, which are all ordered in bulk and customized with a logo via ink pressing. These cell phone wallets can also be specially embossed, debossed, or printed with a full color design.

Every cell phone wallet at Tekweld comes in a variety of eye-catching colors and is compatible with most smartphones. They also each have a unique feature that sets them apart from the rest. For instance, one of the models comes with an attached stylus, while another allows you to store the debit cards on the side rather than at the top.

It’s important to keep in mind that Tekweld is a promo product supplier, not a distributor. If you want to customize cell phone wallets as giveaways, you need to go through a distributor like Quality Logo Products®.

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People are addicted to their phones. Their phone is like their sixth finger so the cell phone wallet is a great advertising tool for that reason.

– Eileen Eckhardt, Purchasing Manager at Tekweld


Orange Card Holder

The Future of Cell Phone Wallets

Orange Card Holder

Time will tell what the future has in store for the cell phone wallet. With everything becoming digital, it doesn’t seem like an item that will be obsolete any time soon.

According to an article in The New York Times, paper currency isn’t going to disappear, even in the age of electronic payments. We will always need a safe, convenient way to store our cash and cards and what better place than right on our phones?

The Bottom Line

The cell phone has become an important part of our lives. We use it to stay connected, keep on track, and be entertained. It only makes sense to use it as a wallet as well. The cell phone wallet has a short history thus far, but as new technology emerges, this popular promo item could evolve in exciting ways!

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. As a promo expert, she's uncovered the world’s first custom tote bag, interviewed the guy behind rock band ACDC’s logo, and had a piece published by the Advertising Specialty Institute, a leader in the promotional products industry.

References

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Haislip, B. (2015, January 25). A Lost Wallet Was the Inspiration for a Business. Retrieved November 8, 2018, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-lost-wallet-was-an-inspiration-for-a-business-1422244841

Dowd-Higgins, C. (2018). Your Working Life Podcast. Retrieved November 8, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33kyGPcs7Lg

Golson, J. (2013, March 28). Callet Sues Hex and Apple Over ‘Slavish Copy’ of iPhone Case/Wallet Design. Retrieved November 8, 2018, from https://www.macrumors.com/2013/03/28/callet-sues-hex-and-apple-over-slavish-copy-of-iphone-casewallet-design/

Hur, J. (2016). History of Mobile Cell Phones – The First Cell Phone to Present Time. Retrieved November 9, 2018, from https://bebusinessed.com/history/history-cell-phones/

Dyroff, C. (2018, July 25). Here’s How Much Cell Phones Have Actually Changed Over the Years. Retrieved November 9, 2018, from https://www.thisisinsider.com/the-history-of-the-cellphone-2018-7

Bellis, M. (2018, August 30). The History of Cellular Phones. Retrieved November 9, 2018, from https://www.thoughtco.com/martin-cooper-history-of-cell-phone-1989865

Pad & Quill. (2017, March 9). Wallet Origins and the History of the Everyday Essential. Retrieved November 9, 2018, from https://www.padandquill.com/blog/2017/03/09/wallet-origins-and-history/

Popper, N., et. al. (2017, November 14). Will Cash Disappear? Retrieved November 13, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/14/business/dealbook/cashless-economy.html