For more than a year, Intuit has been giving small business owners a tool to collect credit card payments remotely - a service called GoPayment that's ideal for mobile professions, such as plumbers, electricians and tow-truck drivers.
Now, the company has teamed with a small company called mophie to enhance the credit card payment acceptance policy with a card reader and cover for the iPhone, called Complete Card Solution. The device itself, which will be available at Apple retail stores, will sell for $180. The updated version of the GoPayment app for iPhone is free but the service itself is $13 a month. There's no contract and the company boasts a complete set-up time of about 15 minutes.
The reader/cover is a sleek piece of hardware that's also powerful enough to ensure that the encryption of data happens during the swiping of a credit card. The new offering also includes touch technology that allows customers to authorize a transaction by signing the iPhone's touchscreen with a finger.
I was a little rough on the companies during a briefing because the offering is only for the iPhone. In fact, it's not even available for the iPhone 4, only the older iPhone 3G and 3Gs models. My argument was that small businesses might not necessarily be iPhone users. I pointed to recent trends surrounding sales of Android devices or the market lead still held by Blackberry.
It's important to note, the companies said, that the GoPayment service itself works across platforms. It's only the new reader and app that's iPhone only. Why? Because there's only one shape and size of an iPhone. Because Android devices come in so many shapes and sizes, it would be too hard - the company's word, not mine - to develop a reader for it.
I was really expecting the companies to tell me something about how research found that owners of small businesses tend to be iPhone users or something like that. But that wasn't the case. The companies were rewarding the iPhone for having no variety to its look, for being a one-size-fits-all kind of smartphone. The idea that it would be too hard to develop for other form factors felt like a bit like an excuse instead of a reason.
I won't take away from the technology that's been developed here because it will change the way that mobile workers can instantly collect for their services, instead of having to deal with paper checks or invoices back at the office. And Intuit was quick to point out that there are Bluetooth card readers on the market to deliver a similar service on other formats.
I'd like to think that the life of a product such as the one being offered by Intuit and Mophie is a stepping-stone product, one that won't be needed someday and is only a short-term solution until technology comes in to make it obsolete. I can't help but think of the early Palm docks that were connected to a computer with a wire to sync the mobile device and how Bluetooth technology and over-the-air sync technology turned the docks into flea market junk.
Eventually, mobile devices will likely have some sort of card scanner - maybe using the camera of the device - to make swiping a credit card feel so very 2010. Until then, this comes across as a convenient temporary bridge until the technology evolves enough to make a stand-alone reader something that's no longer necessary.