Tom Simonite

A View from Tom Simonite

Use Your Name as a Credit Card, Thanks to Twitter's Inventor

A new phone app from Square enables you to say your name instead of handing over cash or card.

  • May 24, 2011

Jack Dorsey, inventor of Twitter, wants every business you visit to know your name, and accept it as a form of payment.

As CEO of payments startup Square, Dorsey has previously introduced a keychain-sized credit card reader that could be plugged into an iPhone or iPad to enable anyone to accept credit cards (read our profile of Square). The new app he introduced at the TechCrunch Disrupt event suggests Dorsey wants to change the way we pay more significantly.

Known as Card Case (see a video), it makes it possible to walk into a coffee shop and tell the cashier your name instead of handing over cash or your credit card. It works because the app enables you to open “tabs” with participating businesses so that they have your name and payment details on file. After that, any time you are within two blocks of the business the location-aware app allows you to signal that you’re about to visit. When you reach the cashier you just tell them your name and they tap a photo of your face to debit your account.

Using Card Case requires a merchant to be using the other produce Dorsey unveiled today, Square Register. It runs on an iPad or iPhone and can be used with the Square card reader, the new tab function and can also be used to monitor cash transactions.

Dorsey likened paying with the Card Case app it to the ease with which you can download a song from iTunes. But Dorsey hasn’t quite unveiled the real world analogue, pointed out the Financial Times’ Tech Hub:

“Square starts out with the classic chicken-and-egg problem. When Steve Jobs unveiled iTunes, the big music labels had already lined up behind the service, giving consumers a compelling reason to use it. But Dorsey is starting out with only 50 small merchants. Without more merchants, it will be hard to get consumers to use the service, and vice versa. Most established retailers have already invested heavily in technology, so getting them to start from scratch will be a challenge (analysts we spoke to saw this as the biggest challenge.)”

Dorsey says his new idea will work upwards to ubiquity from the bottom up: by charming local businesses until the big stores have to fall in line. As the WSJ points out, Square already has the network in place to try that:

“The startup already has relationships with hundreds of thousands of businesses such as restaurants, flower shops and hairdressers who accept credit card payments by swiping cards through a small Square reader.”

The 50 merchants that have already signed up for the Card Case and Square Register scheme can be found spread across San Francisco, Washington DC, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and New York. The Card Case app is so far available for the iPhone only.

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