From newspapers and magazines to scheduling and video games, everything is going mobile, including credit card processing. With a combination of mobile credit card processing apps, merchant services and a credit card swiper, you can easily turn your iPhone or other cell phone into a complete credit card terminal. With the right iPhone credit card reader you can have all the benefits of a credit card terminal (speed, security and scalability) without the restrictions (expensive and bulky). Take all the best elements of credit card processing and combine it with the versatility and portability of your smartphone, and you’ve got the best of both worlds in mobile credit card processing.
Merchants know that accepting credit cards is one of the easiest ways to increase sales. Obviously accepting more payment types will increase sales, but it can also boost the amount of money customers are willing to spend on your merchandise. Research shows that accepting credit cards can increase the actual amount customers are willing to spend by up to 16 percent. So if you have a hotdog stand, customers who normally would just buy a footlong and a drink may now throw in a bag of chips if they can pay with their credit card.
The benefits of using a credit card swiper are also clear: faster, more secure transactions that cost less than manually keyed-in transactions. Because the hardware adds security encryption and ensures a safe card-present transaction, the processing bank can transfer funds quicker and without as many security risks (which means they don’t have to charge you as much). Integrating a credit card swiper can save you money on each and every transaction by facilitating lower rates. Depending on your business, that saved amount can really add up quickly. The general principle to go by is that implementing a credit card swiper can save you up to 30 percent on the cost of processing credit cards, as opposed to simply running the transaction manually. The relatively small price for an iPhone credit card reader can easily be justified when you consider that it will pay for itself pretty quickly.
There are several iPhone credit card readers available, from a number of sources. Some come from iPhone case manufacturers, others from merchant service providers. Some are tied to a specific app while others work nicely with multiple services. They vary in price, size, phone compatibility and usability. Here we take a look at the best iPhone credit card readers currently available and consider their unique features and practical benefits for small businesses.
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VeriFone PAYware Mobile credit card encryption sleeve
Form Factor: Slide-locking sleeve with side-swiper and stow-away stylus.
Apps: PAYware Mobile
Standout Features: Stylus and Security
VeriFone is a trusted name in credit card processing peripherals and services, and their PAYware Mobile encryption sleeve is one of the best iPhone credit card swipers. The sleeve easily connects with the iPhone 3G, 3GS or 4. The sleeve features a magnetic card reader on the side with a blue LED indicator light, and the design is durable and very usable. The small sleeve includes a mini USB port so you can actually charge the iPhone without Apple’s proprietary power cord.
Two things that help the PAYware Mobile iPhone credit card reader sleeve stand out are the included stylus and solid security. The capacitive stylus stows discreetly in the sleeve and slides out when needed. While you can capture signatures using just your finger on the touchscreen, the stylus gives users a more comfortable approach that is both more precise and professional. But what VeriFone really focuses on is the integrated security. The magnetic stripe reader actually encrypts the credit card information as soon as it is swiped, protecting the merchant and the consumer right from the get-go.
How about one last perk? The VeriFone PAYware Mobile Credit Card Encryption Sleeve is approved by Apple and even sold in Apple Stores.
For larger businesses, VeriFone also makes an Enterprise model that includes a bar code scanner, contactless credit card reader and physical PIN pad.
Form Factor: form-fitting case with card swiper on the bottom.
Apps: Intuit GoPayment
Standout Features: Distinct form-fitting design available for 3G/3GS and iPhone 4
Mophie is one of the best iPhone case and external battery pack manufacturers, and their Mophie Marketplace iPhone credit card reader case is a great option for accepting credit cards. The Marketplace comes in two separate models: one for the iPhone 3G and 3GS, and another for the iPhone 4. They are pretty much the same in features and price, but we like how the design is suited to complement the phone; the 3G model is slightly rounded, while the iPhone 4 model is flatter, like the actual phone. Aside from the extra inch or so at the bottom of the phone, it’s a minimalistic design, and one of the most discreet iPhone credit card reader cases available.
The credit card reader case works with the professional gateway and GoPayment app from Intuit. The case also includes a mini USB port and cable so you can charge and sync while still connected.
Mophie Marketplace is currently sold by Mophie and through the Apple Store, and it works exclusively with Intuit GoPayment
Form Factor: Wireless terminal iPhone cradle with 30-pin connector
Price: $529.95 ($129 for 3G/3GS only model)
Standout Features: Card reader + printer + barcode scanner
The PaySaber from USAePay is certainly the largest iPhone credit card reader peripheral on our list, but it’s also the most comprehensive. The hardware works with our favorite mobile credit card processing app, Wireless ePay, and in terms of additional functions it far surpasses the competition. With the built-in credit card reader, thermal receipt printer and barcode scanner, the PaySaber casts a shadow on the other iPhone credit card readers.
The mobile terminal is bulkier than credit card iPhone cases and sleeves, but it is still very well designed (and considerably smaller than a traditional credit card terminal). The device is durable and combines the various components together in a logical and aesthetic design.
The actual credit card reader is located just above the iPhone cradle and features encryption to protect you and your customers. The integrated thermal receipt (and invoice) printer is just above that. The barcode scanner (optional) completes the hardware and turns the PaySaber into a complete wireless POS solution.
Another distinct advantage of the PaySaber is that (unlike most other options) it doesn’t just work with the iPhone but is also completely compatible with the iPod Touch.
We’ve focused primarily on the hardware in this article, but it merits noting that the PaySaber’s accompanying credit card processing app is the best available, and the included inventory management and customer billing database really add depth and breadth to this credit card processing solution. The PaySaber may be a bit much for some merchants, but it’s certainly the most comprehensive and best overall option for some.
Form Factor: two-piece connector and stabilizer with swiper on bottom
Apps: QwickPAY, ePNMobile, MerchantWARE Mobile and more?
Standout Features: Instant tokenization security and works with multiple apps
MagTek is a major player in credit card swipers and peripherals, so it’s no surprise that they’re behind the MagTek iDynamo secure card reader authenticator (SCRA). The iDynamo is a plug-in iPhone credit card reader rather than a case, but it has a solidifying bracket, making it more of an iPhone sleeve that attaches to the bottom of the device. The reader uses MagneSafe technology to provide secure tokenized encryption to cardholder data as soon as it is swiped, before the info reaches the phone. The swiper itself has a bi-directional reader with up to three tracks, and it supports various card formats (e.g. ANSI, ISO, AAMVA).
The best part about the iDynamo is that it isn’t tied down to one device or even a single credit card processing app. The iDynamo is compatible with the 3G and 3GS iPhone models, but is also one of the only iPhone credit card peripherals that also works with the iPod Touch. Furthermore, the hardware supports several different credit card apps, including QwickPAY, ePNMobile, MerchantWARE Mobile and more.
Infinite Peripherals Linea-Pro
Form Factor: full case
Apps: Batcher demo
Standout Features: Used in the Apple Store
The Linea-Pro is a sleek case that brings a credit card swiper, barcode reader and battery pack to the iPod Touch. Whereas most credit card readers are designed only for the iPhone, the Linea-Pro actually only works with the iPod Touch (and only the 2nd and 3rd generation models). The device itself is great, featuring a 3-track magnetic card reader, a 30-pin iPod dock connector and a CLASS 2 laser barcode reader. The form factor is durable and streamlined.
The good news is that the Linea-Pro from Infinite Peripherals is actually the official credit card reader hardware they use in the Apple Store. The bad news is that the hardware doesn’t really work with any of the popular credit card processing apps. You’ll need to develop your own app to actually use the device (SDK development kit available). So the Linea-Pro isn’t a good choice for small businesses, but it's a viable option for larger retailers looking to incorporate a custom-built mobile credit card processing solution.
ID TECH iMag Mobile MagStripe Reader
Form Factor: Slide and lock sled with credit card swiper on the bottom
Apps: ePNMobile, Merchant One, iPay, iSwipe, Inner Fence and more.
Standout Features: Supports iPod Touch and the new iPhone 4
The iMag Mobile MagStripe Reader comes from ID TECH, a manufacturer that makes all sorts of credit card readers and POS peripherals. The iMag credit card reader is a sled design that connects to the iPhone using the standard 30-pin connector at the base of the phone. Whereas most iPhone credit card reader peripherals slide parallel to the phone (on the side or below), the iMag reader is perpendicular to the phone, so you swipe the card at a 90° angle. The sled also includes a mini-USB port so you can charge the iPhone through the sled.
iMag supports TDES and AES encryption methods for credit card security, and is PCI compliant. The iMag reader fully supports the iPhone 4, 3G and 3GS models, as well as the iPod Touch (3rd generation model). Another perk is that the iMag credit card reader also works with a slew of processors and iPhone apps, including AprivaPay, Inner Fence’s Credit Card Terminal app, Merchant One, Swipe, ePNMobile and more.
ID TECH also makes a MagStripe reader that plugs into even more devices using the headphone jack. The UniMag has interchangeable stabilizing clips to connect to all sorts of mobile devices, and it currently supports the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Droid.
ROAM Data ROAMpay Swipe
Form Factor: rounded mini wedge with 3.5mm headphone jack plugin
Price: $44.95 (or free with service)
Standout Features: Works with BlackBerry, Android and Apple devices, and even your PC or Mac.
ROAMpay Swipe from ROAM Data is a bit different from most iPhone credit card reader peripherals in that it connects to the device using the 3.5mm headphone jack. This has two distinct advantages: The swiper supports more devices, and the design is much more portable than the relatively bulkier attachments. The ROAMpay Swipe is a small, lightweight credit card reader that can actually fit in your pocket (or around your neck with the included lanyard) when not in use. It doesn’t require an additional power source, and it still provides end-to-end security by encrypting cardholder data before it reaches the phone.
The swiper works with the ROAMpay app, and because it connects via the headphone jack it can work on more than just the iPhone. ROAMpay Swipe works with BlackBerry and Android phones, as well as the iPad and iPod Touch. You can even connect the device to use for point-of-sale transactions through a virtual terminal on a computer. All you need is a Y-cable, which connects to the audio and microphone ports on your PC or Mac.
Square credit card reader
Form Factor: tiny rounded square reader with 3.5mm headphone jack plugin.
Standout Features: Small size (and price)
You’re not going to find a smaller iPhone credit card reader than the Square reader. The micro credit card swiper is little more than a lego-sized reader on a 3.5mm headphone jack. Square’s newest reader is even slimmer than the original. The Square credit card reader and app are compatible with the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and several models of Android phones (including the Droid, Droid X, Nexus One, Droid Incredible, Samsung Galaxy and more).
For more complete information on the Square credit card reader, credit card processing app and service, see our full review of Square.