Turn your iOS or Android device into a portable bank terminal…for free!

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I love the world we’re living in. Everything is becoming available for normal people these days, be it CNC routers, 3D object printers or, apparently, portable bank terminals! Adapters to turn iOS devices into bank terminals isn’t a new thing, but this particular one has a twist: it’s free, and you don’t have to be a business to get one.

I got a haircut today. What’s the significance of that, you ask? Well, if you knew how long my hair was this morning you wouldn’t ask, but aside from that, the hairdresser didn’t have a bank terminal! I actually had to go to the ATM and withdraw paper money before I went there, or I wouldn’t have been able to pay. I made a joke about having to contact the museum of history to get it when I gave it to him, and he took the comment with a big grin. Honestly, what business doesn’t have a bank terminal these days? The (sad) truth is that it’s one that has to turn away a lot of customers, because people generally don’t carry physical money anymore- at least not here in Norway.

Despite it being such a necessity for any business these days, there are still a lot of messing around to do to get one set up, and it’s not cheap. How do I know? I worked at a museum for 7 years, and one of the attractions is a restored grocery store from the 1950’s that sell period authentic goods. The products were 1950 style, the store was actually from the 1950s and fully restored, and the cash register? A Windows powered touch screen computer with a readily available bank terminal. Why? Because people don’t carry cash anymore, regardless of what products they’re buying.Still, it was a pain- it broke down randomly, and if the Internet was out, so was the bank terminal.

Luckily, it just got a whole lot easier and cheaper to have a bank terminal. Small business owner? Sure! Farmer selling goods at the market? Of course! 20 year old student collecting beer money from his friends? No problem! This is all possible thanks to a company called Square.  To register with them, you need to be in the US, have a US bank account, physical US address and a US social security number. They’ll then send you a square (heh) dongle that connects to your device’s 3.5mm audio jack which you pair with a free app. Then you’re set up, and can begin collecting payments. Square makes their money by charging a fee for each transaction, more precisely 2.75% + 15¢ for swiped transactions and 3.5% + 15¢ for manually entered transaction.I’m sure there is some math to be done by businesses to calculate whether a “normal” solution would be cheaper, but the startup cost of $0 is certainly impossible to beat for a lot of potential users.

It’s rather self explanatory what any business person (be it a farmer or a CEO) would do with such a device, but there are actually quite a few uses for this for you and me as well (you at least, I’m not in the US, and my US iTunes account won’t help me now). I already mentioned collecting beer money, and a similar use would be to split tabs at restaurants, parties, or basically any situation where you have to collectively pay. One person pays the bill, the others swipe their cards on the payer’s Square- simplest way to square up (the name itself offers hours of entertainment when you’re a blogger) that I can think of. No more “I don’t have the exact sum, I’ll pay you later” and no more “I don’t have any cash”. As for security, it’s no different from a normal bank terminal (a credit card can be used with just the information on the card, for that matter).

As for compatibility, it will support any iOS device with the exception of the first generation iPod touch, but only a limited number of Android devices (for now). The reason why the first generation touch is excluded also explains how this works; by using the microphone input of the 3.5mm jack. Card readers simply read the magnetic strip on the card, and this is such a small amount of data that you can almost use a carrier pigeon to transfer it- and you can definitely send it as audio signals through the microphone input.

I think this business model (free startup, charge a fee) is simply brilliant because it puts the technology in everyone’s pocket. It’ll help small businesses but also be available to the general public, and that is something that no other companies (that I”m aware of) can say. I wish them the best of luck, and hope they somehow bring this to Norway as well- if I could charge $1 per hour I spend fixing other people’s computers, I could retire at 25.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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