Intelligent Machines

A Credit Card Terminal That Takes Apps

A former head of Google Wallet rolls out a “smart” terminal for all kinds of payments.

U.S. merchants must soon accept credit cards with embedded microchips, or accept liability for any fraudulent transactions.

Last year, Osama Bedier—then the head of Google Wallet—decided he was on the wrong side of the payments business.

Poynt’s payment device has two screens, one for customers (shown here) and another for merchants.

Bedier’s new company, Poynt, has a new kind of credit-card terminal. The sleek-looking, $299 touch-screen gadget accepts cards with embedded chips—which will soon be widespread—as well as digital payments, and can run apps for things like customer loyalty programs and sales analytics. Poynt unveiled the device on Wednesday and plans to ship it to merchants in early 2015.

Google’s digital payment app, Google Wallet, offers consumers a number of payment-related features, including a quick way to pay at stores by tapping a phone that contains a near-field communication (NFC) chip. Although adoption of Google Wallet has been slow, NFC technology is gaining in popularity, and that is likely to accelerate with the introduction of a similar system from Apple, called Apple Pay (see “With Apple Pay, Forget Cash, Just Pull Out Your Phone”).

Meanwhile, the U.S.’s major credit-card companies are mandating a shift to more secure credit cards that eschew the familiar magnetic strip for a chip that uses a unique string of numbers for each transaction (a standard known as EMV, which stands for “Europay, Mastercard, and Visa” for the card companies that first backed the technology).

This change, which has already occurred in other parts of the world and aims to staunch the kinds of security breaches that have occurred at major retailers like Target, Neiman Marcus, and Home Depot, means that U.S. merchants must upgrade millions of credit-card terminals to accept the new cards by October 2015 or face liability for any fraudulent transactions.

Bedier, a former PayPal executive who came to Google in 2011, saw an opportunity to switch his focus from the gadgets we can use to make payments to the ones used to handle the transactions: credit-card terminals and cash registers.

“No matter how great the value proposition, you can’t force people to install new technology if it’s a ‘nice to have,’” Bedier says. “People only change technology when they have to.”

Poynt’s terminal is dominated by two touch screens that meet at an angle—a seven-inch display that a store employee will use to ring up sales and a 4.3-inch display facing the opposite direction that a customer will peer at to see details of the transaction and sign their approval. The apex of the device houses a slot for dipping a credit card, and there’s a built-in receipt printer that will spit out paper from an opening below the customer touch screen.

The Poynt device, Bedier says, is meant to accept all kinds of payments that may become increasingly popular in the coming years. It accepts payments via NFC (used by services such as Google Wallet and Apple’s new Apple Pay) and QR code. It includes Bluetooth as well.

Bedier showed me how it works during an interview conducted via Skype video. The Poynt terminal he used said “Welcome to Main St. Bakery” on the customer screen, and showed a few different payment options. Merchants could use the screen for ads or store specials when not taking payments, Bedier says.

Bedier had a colleague come and make a purchase using Apple Pay on an iPhone: Bedier typed in the amount due and the colleague tapped the terminal with his iPhone while placing his finger on the iPhone’s home button—which on newer models is also a fingerprint reader—to validate his identity.

The Poynt terminal weighs a little over a pound and contains a wireless modem and eight-hour rechargeable battery, which means it could be carried around a store or restaurant if needed. It will come with three apps, including a cash register app and an app that lets merchants pick out insights about their sales, such as what’s selling best and worst.

In addition to convincing merchants to pay $299 for the device (Bedier contends this is about what they’d pay for one of the new card terminals anyway), Poynt will have to get developers interested. Bedier says the company won’t make money from sales of the device itself, or a cut of payment fees. Instead, it plans to take a cut of revenue from sales of apps that will run on the device.

This means Poynt is largely dependent on the success of developer apps for its survival. On Wednesday, it showed off its first steps toward corralling developers by naming six partners including Intuit, Vend, and Kabbage, and releasing a software development kit in hopes of attracting other developers, too.

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