It's getting easier and easier to make and receive payments on-the-go as of late: iOS users can pick up Square dongles at a variety of national retailers, while those with Google Wallet-capable handsets can raid vending machines. Still, both of those methods require unique hardware, whereas Card.io's new app for iOS and Android utilizes your smartphone's built-in camera to charge funds merely by scanning a credit card.
The company initially unveiled its scanning technology (via a private beta) as a tool for third party developers to integrate with iOS apps back in June. Now it has launched a consumer-facing standalone app that can collect payments and deposit funds directly into your PayPal or bank account. We gave it a quick try and found that things proceeded relatively smoothly, but not without hiccups. You're required to sign up via the company's website, though setup is extremely brief: only email address verification and a password are needed before you're able to start charging.
Unfortunately, scanning results were rather mixed. Card.io had no problems deciphering the numbers on a plain Bank of America credit card. However, it couldn't seem to get a handle on an oft-used HSBC card with an image behind the worn digits. If your plastic isn't fresh, you might hit a roadblock here, though manual entry is provided as a fallback. In terms of security, the company claims its software uses 256-bit SSL encryption when scanning and does not permanently store card data. That's not to say there aren't other potential concerns. Could Card.io be fooled by an image of an unsuspecting victim's card? The potential is there, though it would seem difficult to get a suitably focused photo while under the radar. A visible fraud policy could go a long way towards reassuring those on the fence; we couldn't locate one anywhere. As for cost, there's a 3.5 percent (plus 30 cent) surcharge for each transaction, and you'll also need to factor in PayPal's fees if that's where you choose to receive deposits.
How does it stack up to the competition? Not so favorably, at least compared to Square. First, note that individual transactions are limited to $999.99, whereas Square has no such ceiling. Further, your earnings are deposited seven days after initial payment, a fair bit later than the 1-2 business day timeframe promised by Square. Still, there's something to be said for the convenience of having no extra hardware to deal with. Ultimately though, we'd have a hard time recommending this scanning concept over the reliability of Square's reader, particularly for small business owners seeking worry-free payment options.
Card.io is available now in both the iTunes App Store and Android Market; outside developers have access to a mobile payments SDK.