Soon, you'll be able to accept credit card payments via a swipe on your cellphone -- which could mean big changes for small businesses, traveling merchants, part-time vendors, or boutique owners.
Within the last several weeks, at least three services have popped up, designed to turn a smartphone -- primarily, Apple's iPhone, but eventually others -- into a tiny point-of-sale system for processing credit card transactions. Each includes a way to swipe a credit card, input that data into your phone, and run a transaction.
The idea is that small retail merchants or even individuals will be able to accept secure credit card payments for goods and services where either cash or more complex payment-processing infrastructure was necessary before. Imagine being able to accept credit cards at a flea market, or as a roaming service provider -- hair stylist, for instance. Or imagine being able to replace your bulky point-of-sale setup with an iPhone or iPod touch. (Heck, Apple is doing this in its retail stores using a similar configuration.)
So who are these companies? What are these products? Here is a rundown of the first three we've seen:
The Square device (pictured) plugs into the headphone/microphone jack on an iPhone (more options coming soon) and works with special Square software to run credit card transactions, including digital signatures and paperless receipts. "No contracts, monthly fees, or hidden costs," Square promises. "Effortlessly manage all the money you take with an easy and intuitive interface."
Square's Web site is still in "preview" mode, so there's not much information regarding whether the device will synchronize with other bookkeeping or payment software. But Square does seem to put a premium on design, which could mean a more elegant, user-friendly system for merchants. Founded by Jack Dorsey, the guy who invented Twitter, Square has already captured the most attention of these three in Silicon Valley.
On the Web at http://squareup.com/
Like Square, payment-processing giant VeriFone will soon roll out software and hardware that allows iPhones to accept credit card payments. This time, it's a special case for an iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS that includes a magnetic card reader. VeriFone's case was set to begin shipping on Jan. 15, and it plans to have its app in the iTunes App Store before the end of January.
The advantage here is obviously VeriFone's relationships with thousands of merchants, and potentially its back-end systems. This could allow merchants to add iPhone-based credit card swiping to their existing VeriFone-based infrastructure. But the jury's still out on whether it will be able to match Square in elegance or user-friendliness.
VeriFone says it plans to make versions available for BlackBerry, Microsoft Windows Mobile, and Google Android devices "in the near future."
On the Web at http://www.paywaremobile.com/
Mophie is best known for making iPhone cases that include extra batteries inside, which effectively double the length of a phone's battery life. Now, the company is making more sophisticated cases, including "Marketplace," which is "coming soon."
Like VeriFone's case, the Mophie case adds a magnetic card reader to an iPhone. Mophie software will handle emailing receipts, digital signatures, etc. But no word yet on pricing or other features.
On the Web at http://www.mophie.com/ ;;;