Apple’s iPad: A POS Game Changer

By Lisa Terry — October 25, 2010

Lisa-4-(1).jpgNot to knock all those talented engineers, but few POS terminals (if any) come close to attaining the cool factor associated with Apple products, most notably the iPad. Months following the iPad's April 2010 release, iSuppli boosted its projections for 2010 sales from 7.1 to 12.9
million units—an astounding 84% share of the tablet market for the year.

It's a no-brainer that some of your retail, restaurant and other customers will want to use iPads as POS terminals, especially considering iPads are also pretty cheap, as far as PCs go.

Predictably, POS peripheral and software designers are seeking an early foothold in this budding market. POSLavu, Square, Vendi and SPRL Architektura, a Belgium-based SMB software company, are all working on products that take advantage of the iPad.

A 9-inch tablet is not your typical POS form factor. “I was skeptical at first, but what it does well, it does extremely well,” says Alex Frost, president of Vendi, Los Angeles, which expected to release its first hosted POS product for the iPad on October 1. Vendi is spun off from Sunflower Technologies, which develops hosted flower shop software running on PC or Mac. Frost and his colleagues saw a good fit in the iPad for use at POS, as an electronic clipboard for deliveries, and for design stations that allow customers to create arrangements themselves.

UX Magazine compared iPad and iPhone as POS devices, and found the iPad not only superior in processor speed and application real estate, but in the new levels of interaction it invites between retailers or restaurants and their customers. When propped in a stand with a keyboard underneath, it's a classic POS set-up. But in its mobile form, held in the hands or laid on a table, customers are drawn into the app.

Shareable Interface
When used with POS software designed with standard check stand models in mind, “the physical affordances and social invitation of the iPad can lead to awkward user experiences, especially for customers involved in mobile payment transactions,” the magazine says. In one case it observed, the merchant swiped the customer's card but immediately stepped away from the iPad. “After a moment or two, the customer glanced down at the iPad and noticed that the transaction had paused on the screen asking for a tip. He looked around, hesitated, and then gingerly reached over and pressed the $1 tip button. He did the same on the next screen, where he entered an email address for a receipt, only stepping closer to use the iPad keyboard. Throughout this episode, his body language spoke of his social curiosity for the iPad mixed with the social taboo of entering the domain of the merchant.”

The shared, social nature of the iPad opens up new possibilities in how staff and customers can interact. Belgium-based SPRL Architektura aims its iPad-based app at high-end restaurants in Europe, where the caché of the device complements the capabilities it delivers. “It's really nice looking and helps the waiter help the customer choose dishes and wine,” using powerful search capabilities, and even displaying images of the choices on screen, says Alexandra Milo, marketing manager for BVBA Architektura, which has five customers on the application so far.

The bottom line is this: while no one is expecting a wholesale, overnight change to what we know as POS, the iPad, and the other streamlined tablets that follow, are disruptive to the classic POS paradigm. They challenge conventional thinking about the POS interactions and invite developers to discover exciting new ways to leverage tablet-based POS to help the customer feel more connected to the business-an imperative in the new loyalty-challenged, post-recession marketplace.  

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