With the iPhone unlikely to get NFC capabilities this year according to reports, waving your iPhone in front of a cash register to pay for your morning coffee will have to wait until 2012 at the earliest. Or will it?
Square has just unveiled their next-generation mobile platform, Square Card Case, and it’s not just an interesting precursor to the promise of NFC, but NFC’s first truly viable alternative in the mobile payments arena… at least when it comes to local merchants.
The idea behind the Card Case is simple. Although the name implies an iPhone case for your iPhone or iPod Touch, Card Case is actually an app that functions as a virtual wallet in which you can place location-specific cards to pay automatically at specific merchants, check out products, get receipts, and more.
Here’s an explanation by Techcrunch:
Once you’ve downloaded your mobile Card Case, you can fill your case with ‘cards’ of all the merchants you visit and buy from who accept Square. When you click on an individual merchant’s card, you’ll be able to see a map of where the merchant is located, contact information, your own order and purchase history, and receipts with the merchant and a daily live menu of items or services from the merchant. You’ll also be able to see what other customers are buying at the store, and merchants can serve customized offers to specific customers based on their purchase history.
So here’s where things get interesting. In a merchant’s card within the case, you can press a “use tab” button which allows the frequent customer to essentially put a purchase on their virtual tab with Square at the merchant. So once you press that button within two blocks of the merchant, you’ll be able to tell the cashier your name and your card will be charged on the merchant’s backend Square register. Because you are a repeat customer, Square already has your payment information. The purchaser will then receive a push notification when the merchant processes the payment.
In other words, the Square Card Case acts as a sort of next-generation bar tab. As long as you’ve made a Square purchase at that store before, you just walk in, tell the cashier your name, and walk out with your goods. Square automatically takes care of the payment and emails you your receipt.
Brilliant… and all without that little Square dongle sticking out of an iPhone. Unfortunately, right now, Square Card Case is only rolled out at just fifty business in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, St. Louis and Washington D.C… but local business can sign up here if they’re interested in accepting tabs. Time to pressure my local cappucino maker to get in on this.