Square is an app for both iPhones and Android devices that allows its users to accept both cash and credit card payments using a simple app and a card swiper that plugs directly into a smartphone's headphone jack.
Fast Company quotes Twitter co-founder and Square creator Jack Dorsey as saying that "With Square the goal is to get people in immediately, and make the transaction as smooth and simple as possible."
Getting started using the service is quite simple and you can even sign up to accept cash payments on the phone app, but accepting credit cards is a little more involved, requiring a credit check. According to the company, "this reduces costs, keeps the Square network secure, and ensures compliance with required government and banking guidelines." While Square does allow credit card numbers to be entered manually, this is seen as less secure and has a higher processing fee. Once a credit check has gone through, Square sends a tiny square (hence the name) card reader to you for free.
Compared with other credit card services, there are no activation, gateway, monthly, early termination, or hidden fees and Square works with "any US-issued credit, debit, pre-paid, or gift card from Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover." The program also allows for payments to include tips, either by percentage or by amount. As for accounting, Square allows users to download a CSV of all transactions. For even more information, clicking on a specific transaction on Square's website will even provide a GPS location for the transaction with a timestamp.
Unlike the Near Field Communication payment systems we explored last month, Square doesn't require both the payer and payee to have a smartphone. Some of us have wondered how willing we might be to hand over our credit card to be swiped into a phone, but we're willing to bet there were similar concerns when credit cards themselves were first introduced. Square has a few features, including a picture verification of the person you're paying, to help try to stem these fears.
While users may be leery at first, we'll likely see more and more mobile payment systems like Square as time goes on and we're betting that they'll soon become more the norm than the exception.