Apologies, dear readers. It’s been a while.
For starters, my boss wasn’t kidding when he said this job would be hellish. Also, I made the mistake of choosing the Durbin Amendment to the Dodd Frank Act as the subject of an upcoming post. Writing it is a long and boring slog; reading it will undoubtedly be similar.
But then I came across something I had to share.
Square, a payments company founded by Jack Dorsey of Twitter fame, develops hardware and software that turn Apple and Android devices into payment processing machines. They make a cute little card reader that plugs into the audio jack of the phone or iPad. Square has gotten funding from Visa and shelf space in Apple stores, and they’re taking off.
The card reader is a great idea; you can now take credit card payments at your garage sale. It’s a perfect example of the ‘solve a problem and be useful to humanity’ school of product design.
However. Square is piloting a new payment experience called Card Case. It’s slick. It’s nifty. It’s beautifully designed. But, unlike the card reader, Card Case falls squarely into the ‘build it and hope they will come’ school of product design. It’s a Parlor Trick product – clever and entertaining, but not… terribly… useful.
Mashable describes Card Case thusly:
“Square has just introduced a new mobile payment system that allows consumers to pay with their names, no wallet needed, with merchants who use the Square card reader and run the startup’s newly updated Square Register for iPad application.”
In a nutshell, here’s how Card Case works (it’s worth checking out the end-to-end visuals here).
- You visit a participating merchant and pay via Square card reader.
- You enter your cell number in the merchant’s iPad.
- You get a text message with a link to Square’s account setup pages.
- You create an account. Square sets up a tab (as in, “Put it on my tab”) with the merchant, using the credit card you used for the initial transaction.
- You download the Square Card Case application for iPhone or Android and create a PIN.
- You end up with a card for each merchant where you have a tab.
The UI is undeniably gorgeous. Stylish. Retro. Clever. I’m almost tempted to run out and get an iPhone just to be able to use UIs that look like this (RIM, are you paying attention?)
- When you’re checking out at a participating merchant where you have a ‘tab’, you click Ready to Pay on your phone and your name appears on the merchant’s Square Register application. The merchant selects your name to charge the transaction to your tab. It’s not completely clear from the Mashable article, but I don’t think you’re running up a tab with the merchant. It sounds like this is just a fancy way of executing a credit card transaction.
- An electronic version of the receipt is attached to the merchant’s card in your Card Case.
There’s also a local component – Card Case can show you participating merchants nearby, and even the merchants’ menus or product listings. The only thing missing is a social angle; share to Facebook is undoubtedly coming soon.
Adorable. But what’s the point of this? How is it faster or easier than swiping a credit card? Or more flexible than carrying a couple of credit cards and switching off as needed?
Here’s what Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square, has to say about it (quote from Mashable):
“Cash registers and credit card terminals are relics of an expensive, complicated and impersonal commercial transaction system… With Register and Card Case, we’re transforming everyday transactions between buyers and sellers into something special.”
I haven’t found credit cards terribly complicated, myself.
Net life change: You can leave your credit card at home, provided you’re (a) going to a merchant where you have a ‘tab’ and (b) you want to pay from the same credit card you used to create the tab.
When I compare this to the net life change for Kenya’s killer payment app, I’m underwhelmed, but then, I’m a Gen X stick-in-the-mud.
Help me out: Hipsters, Millenials, and Apple fanpersons, this is your chance to call me an old fogey. Is Card Case the next iPhone, a product so cool that it doesn’t have to fill a need? Or are the good folks at Square simply trying to get press? What do you think?