May 6, 2014

Turn Your Tablet or Smartphone into Credit Card Terminals

London commuters are set to pay for tube rides with their phones. With such news, it may not be long before cash and their drawers go the way of the dinosaurs.

Just a few years ago, entrepreneurs were coughing up hundreds of dollars for point-of-sale (POS) terminals that include mammoth-sized PCs and Macs running on merchant accounts. Signups to these accounts equate to commitments that span several years, which translate to sky-scraping fee structures and expensive leases on the terminals.  It was no wonder a multitude of businesspeople stuck with a cash-only policy. 

Those days may be behind us now. 

Today, your iPad or iPhone—heck, any of your mobile devices—can moonlight as a POS system. Yes, a mobile register for credit card payments, even checks. Accessible anyplace, anytime.

Turn Your Tablet or Smartphone into Credit Card Terminals

Many companies, from dedicated ecommerce solutions like Paypal to long-time POS solutions providers like Innerfence, have forayed into the mobile checkout game. The aforementioned companies have devised tiny but powerful credit card processors that empower businesses to turn their communication gadgets into POS systems.

These developments are expected to democratise the checkout system for the trades and other field businesses, on a scale never before seen. Whether you’re a street food vendor, plumber, or a flower shop owner, you now have the option, the power, to operate a cash register away from a cash register. 

Are you ready to make this technological shift in your small business? This guide will ease you into an already easy process.

Compatibility and network connectivity 

First, there is the subject of device compatibility. Needless to say, all the latest iterations of iOS and Android smartphones and tablets will do just fine. 

No smartphone or tablet is that old to be converted into a credit card payment solution. With smartphones, you need only ensure that your device has a minimum platform of iOS 5 and Android 2.2. If you’re a PC user, however, make sure that you’re running Windows 8. Macs that run on at least a Snow Leopard will work well. As a rule of thumb, get a computer that has not aged more than seven years, five years for a smartphone or tablet. 

Credit card checkouts are moot if you can’t obtain at least a 3G signal on your phone. For tablets, you should be able to connect to Wi-Fi or Ethernet.

Choice of POS service

It’s time to select from a wide gamut of app developers that will enable your device for credit card transactions. One name bandied around of late is Square. 

Developed no less by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Square is by all accounts the most basic and easiest app to set up. However, many may favour Paypal Here, if only because this service is available in more countries. (Square is as yet only available in the US, Canada and Japan.) Nevertheless, Square trumps Here in that it deposits payments nightly to your bank account, whereas Paypal goes through the customary two to four days of clearing. 

Most remarkably, Innerfence and Intuit, already established names in the POS solutions industry, have stepped up their game with mobile offerings. They are your best bets if your country is out of the other services’ coverage. Or if you own a Windows Phone: Square and Here do not run on it so far. 


As a minimum, all of these services will equip you with an object called a card reader, an auxiliary device that will truly put your device at the point of sale. Just plug it into your headphone port and—voila—you have an instant terminal for credit card swiping.

Turn Your Tablet or Smartphone into Credit Card Terminals

Many services supplement the card reader with such hardware as receipt printers and barcode scanners. Most services completely obviate the need for the former, as they can just send the receipts by email or SMS to the customers. Other services allow photo capturing, with your mobile camera of course, of the card or check for later verification. Still, other services capture signatures, perform tax deductions, and even accept tips!


Card readers are bundled with the services for free, with the exception, perhaps, of Breadcrumb. The Groupon-owned service charges $15 for their readers. 

Should you lose your card reader by any company, you can usually find a replacement for $15 at a local store. The SOP is to request for a refund. 

Almost all credit card processing services for mobile devices do not yoke you to lock-in periods. Nor do they charge monthly fees, again with a few exceptions. Fee schedules are lower in general. Just like regular merchant accounts, the services take out transaction fees, but as little as 0.38 percent, always no more than 3 percent. However, be prepared to shell out more if you manually key in credit card transactions: as much as 4 percent. 

For businesses that handle large sales volumes, some services are prepared to offer fixed transaction fees per month.


Never has running a small business been easier with the advent of credit card-reading apps. They could only be rejoinders to the ever mushrooming ways in which consumers pay. In fact, as the London tube will show in the coming months, cards will soon be antediluvian ways of paying. Phones themselves can be viable currencies in their own right. But even now, these credit card readers, and their attendant apps, prove that it really isn't that hard to maintain a business.

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