By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
Picture yourself in twentieth century Coney Island, where the sound of waves mixes with children, hot dog vendors and transistor radios. Step off the boardwalk and sink your toes in the hot sand. A giant mirror faces you; it's leaning against the boardwalk. As you approach, you see other people's reflections in the glass. Young and old, short and tall, their images roll by.
Cut to Sept. 9, 2015. Apple Inc. rolls out a new product line and the world stares, transfixed by moving images on a thin, flat screen. You may have seen some of the trending pictures on social media: the hulk holding an iPad Pro, a stylus spearing a bright red Apple, a human dwarfed by a giant iPad Pro. A chorus of voices reciting a litany of boos and cheers, poking fun at the iPad Pro's size, bemoaning the Apple Pencil stylus as a "Number 2 pencil killer."
Merchant level salespeople (MLSs) have seen plenty of killers over the years; most will tell you that killers don't always get the job done. As has been seen with the Tranz330 killer, the T7P killer and more recently the Micros killer, there's a lot of yelling and commotion, but at the end of the day, no one really dies.
In his post "Why Tablets Are the Future of Computing," Wall Street Journal's Christopher Mims described the new generation of tablets, with super-fast computing power and optional keyboards, as "ultra tablets." He called their impact on the market "a weird moment in computing history, when every major desktop and mobile OS, with the notable exception of Mac OS, will be competing on devices with the same ultra tablet form factor."
So many had written off the tablet as a momentary distraction, failing to recognize its potential as a full-blown product. MLSs can relate to that, too. Remember what people used to say about Europay MasterCard and Visa (EMV)? After many years of agreeing that EMV was a few years away, it is finally getting some traction. Cards are being issued. Terminals are being upgraded. Even naysayers have adopted a more subdued type of grumble, mainly about the need to educate merchants.
Mims finds it remarkable that a product assumed to be nearing the end of its useful life has come roaring back into the mainstream. He predicts things will get even weirder. Interoperability will make it possible for consumers and business owners to use any type of device for light computing. Consumers will face "a bewildering array of choices for doing 'real' work," he wrote, adding that many of these devices will boast not only a full keyboard and mouse, "but also a touch screen and a stylus and who knows what else."
It's the "who-knows-what-else" factor that keeps payment pros up at night. No matter where you stand in the technology adoption curve, it's hard to ignore the pageantry and drama of the new tablet rollouts. The tablets accept optional credit card readers with the same ease and grace as they accept keyboards and other peripherals. Designed to mirror business environments, many come with a full line of vibrant color veneers that match surrounding retail environments.
The competition between Microsoft Corp. and Apple has been good for consumers; fierce competition is driving design excellence and sharpening the technology sector's fashion sense. Old laptops and their desktop predecessors look retro and clunky. Old monitors look ridiculous. We've seen similar trends with television sets, smartphones and credit card terminals. Older equipment in a contemporary setting can seem out of place.
"We had a beautiful old cash register in our candy store with brass trimmings and a cute bell," said a mom-and-pop retailer who prefers to remain anonymous. "When our customers began to use credit cards to buy candy, we began to rethink our POS."
As they searched for a suitable replacement for their quaint but outdated cash register, the mom-and-pop retailers found an embarrassment of riches in POS tablets. Most major ISOs have private-labeled tablet offerings with an array of value-added options designed to help small business owners manage every aspect of their operations. Cloud-based solutions offer single-access views of real-time transactions, inventory, loyalty and rewards, and back-office accounting programs.
When small merchants switch from legacy systems to digital payments, other business owners become motivated to upgrade their old technology, sometimes on the basis of aesthetics alone. Today, tablets and thin mobile devices are all the rage. What will tomorrow's POS look like?
Payment analysts predict the future of the POS will be less about devices and more about creating a holistic experience that fluidly blends work and play, finance and commerce, and social media and entertainment into a seamless consumer experience.
In a recent Twitter chat, Ben Yaniv Chechik, Vice President of Product at New York-based Zooz, a payment technology company, stated he expects to see more emerging financial technologies like CurrentC that attempt to "circumvent credit card networks." Javelin Strategy's Nick Holland, Head of Mobile, tweeted in response, "I'd also put my money on some kids developing a card that can store multiple other cards. Probably called 'zing.'"
There's also a chance the new payment forms will be more lifelike than static transactions from days of yore. Consumers may be able to point at a moving image in a video to buy a pair of shoes or a jacket with a single click. Participating retailers, mobile network operators and financial institutions will exchange tokenized information such as size, address and preferred payment method while the movie keeps rolling, uninterrupted.
Apple debuted Live Photos on Sept. 9, a service that records 1.5 seconds of content to create a short animation. Days later, Google revealed it would offer a similar service with moving images that can be captured with a smartphone and shared. The payments industry, like photography, is constantly changing. Its role may seem invisible to many, but payment pros and merchants who look at the big picture know the evolving POS has a distinct part to play in the ever-changing human narrative.
I was fourteen when I dreamed of the mirror on the beach. Finally, after watching a long parade of moving pictures, I saw my own reflection: a fourteen-year-old girl with medium brown hair wearing shorts, sandals and a safari jacket. Seconds later it was gone.
Dale S. Laszig, Staff Writer at The Green Sheet and Managing Director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content provider. She can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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