In November of 2012, Google Wallet chief Osama Bedier admitted defeat. "Nobody today is delivering any solution that will get scale, including me," he said onstage at the Open Mobile Summit. Soon, facing insurmountable odds from iron-fisted cell carriers and credit card companies, version one of Google Wallet (which emphasized wireless NFC payments) flopped and Bedier left Google.
Why not support every way we’re going to pay in the future?
But Bedier remained one of the most reputable mobile payments executives in the industry, having also worked at PayPal for years prior to working at Google. He went on to invest in Coin, the digital credit card that holds a wallet full of cards, and joined the board of PayPal competitor WePay. But a burning question remained: how could you convince carriers and retailers to adopt new payments technology? NFC had obvious benefits, from enhanced security to convenience, but everybody wanted a piece of the pie and nothing got done.
And then, news broke about a mandate that would force all American retailers to support EMV, also known as "chip and pin cards," by the end of 2015. Bedier had found his solution. Square and other payments companies announced plans to roll out new readers that support both magnetic strip cards and EMV, but Bedier thought: what better time than now to build the best payments terminal in the world? Why not support every way we’re going to pay in the future — and then sell it to banks, who actually provide readers to stores, not carriers.
Today, we’re getting a first look at that product. It’s called Poynt, costs $299, and ships in Q1 2015.
Poynt is a complete "point of sale" (POS) machine that includes every payment tech you’d want to use — magnetic stripe (today's credit cards), EMV (chip and pin cards), NFC (Apple Pay), QR code (Starbucks), and Beacon (Bluetooth, but we’re yet to see many of this kind). Poynt has a 7-inch, quad-core Android tablet built-in, as well as a 4.3-inch touchscreen for typing in PINs. Poynt even bundles in a tiny receipt printer, a rechargeable 8-hour battery, and a 3G / 4G modem.
Poynt works with magnetic stripe, EMV, NFC, QR code, and Beacon
Bedier’s machine isn’t as exciting as a digital credit card or a contactless mobile wallet, but might in fact have more of an impact in changing the payments landscape as we know it. While Apple, Walmart, and others argue over their NFC payments systems, most retailers still have credit card readers that appear to have been built in the 1980s. Even more recent readers, like those you might find at CVS or McDonalds, look outdated and clunky compared to today’s consumer technology.
Building a more modern, consumery POS system might seem like low hanging fruit, and it is. But Bedier says that until it was announced that all US retailers would need to buy new POS systems, pitching a more modern device was a tough sell. After all, Poynt isn’t pitching consumers who love new gadgets — it’s pitching old, curmudgeonly banks who hate change. The EMV mandate, in combination with all the recent retailer data leaks, proved to be a recipe for such change. "The Target breach made it clear how bad security had gotten in the country, and almost every week since we’ve heard of a new breach," says Bedier, "so now networks are rethinking this."
Alongside impressive hardware, Poynt also integrates an open software platform that developers or retailers can use to build cashier apps and other finance apps. Poynt does ship with a Square Register-esque inventory app, though it’s far worse looking than Square’s. But that shouldn’t matter to the massive banks and retailers Poynt is courting. To these companies, what matters most is security, and Bedier and co. did their homework. Poynt integrate industry standard SSL, DUKPT, TDES, PKI and AES encryption to secure payment data, and also meets PCI and EMV requirements for payments hardware. The device also includes tamper detection that wipes data and alerts merchants if there’s been any tampering.
Poynt is, from the outside, a better product than the credit card reader you just swiped, but Poynt doesn’t have to convince consumers — it has to convince banks. Bedier says that talks are ongoing with the country’s largest banks, who have the distributing power to buy millions of Poynts and deliver them to retailers. Also, with a team composed of ex-employees from PayPal, eBay, Google, Amazon, Apple, Hypercom and Verifone, Poynt likely has the knowledge required to get its product off the ground. "Poynt is an absolute game changer," said Dana Stalder, a former senior vice president at PayPal who invested in the company.
Bedier is very clearly proud of what he’s built. But perhaps he’s most satisfied with the idea that he might happily sit on the sidelines of the upcoming NFC payments war. No matter who earns more market share, whether it’s Apple, CurrentC, SoftCard, or even Google Wallet, Poynt wins. And this is good for your average consumer, too — if more credit card readers offer more ways to pay, perhaps the best payments system will actually be the payments system you use.