The credit card, like much of the useful technology around today, was conceived by the Victorians — which is something very people know, and in fact even fewer care! But it does demonstrate how sensible an idea it is that it’s stood the test of time, and since they have come into use in the late 1950’s they’ve been both the liberator and bane to most people’s lives.
But now that everyone carries phones around it is assumed that the credit card will eventual be phased out and replaced with purely digital transfers or money — but the latest app/hardware add-on for the iPhone from Square promises to give the credit card a new lease of life and perhaps further reduce our need to carry cash around in our pocket.
What you get is the small Square dongle which plugs into the headphone jack which is used to read the cards, and when used with the iPhone app allows anyone with an iPhone (and a Square account) to receive payments via credit card for anything.
The beauty of this is that it’s small, secure and damn easy to do: you simply enter the amount of money to be paid (which is then presumably checked by the credit card holder!), swipe the card through the dongle and then get the user to sign on the screen using their finger.
Also the fact that it’s all digital and mobile means that the buyer can easily get receipts sent either by text or email (which I’m sure eco-warriors will like), and if they are also a Square member you can see their details — namely their picture — to ensure that they are who they say they are!
I think it’s impossible to see how this wouldn’t be useful if it were to become widespread — being able to pay for all the little things by card would mean you wouldn’t have to carry any cash around at all: imagine paying for stuff at markets, charity donations and the ‘Big Issue’ all using your card? Ok perhaps the last one was a bad example as I’m not sure they could afford an iPhone, but you get my drift.
But there is a big assumption there: “if it becomes widespread”. Although there are about 40 million out there at the moment, that still means more likely than not the person you will be buying something off won’t have one, and even less likely that they’ll have this reader, so don’t expect to be able to go out without any cash just yet.
Unfortunately I don’t share the optimism that some people have about this being that widespread: yes it is a brilliant idea, and for those that have iPhone’s and sell stuff using cash this could be incredibly useful, but I doubt you’ll be seeing it all that much.
I can think of two main reasons for this, the first is that us Brits are fairly cagey about our credit card details, and are unlikely to want to trust an iPhone, iPhone app and a piece of plastic — I’m not saying that this won’t be completely safe, rather that I think people will rather pay with cash.
The second is that, at the end of the day, cash isn’t that inconvenient — we’ve managed several millennia using it, and I can imagine it will still be around in one form or another for at least a few more decades.
But it is a start, and I think that ultimately when one standard all encompassing system comes up for using mobiles as credit card readers then I think this will really kick off, and we could be finally saying goodbye to cash!