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iPads as Cash Registers Are About to Go From Novelty to Norm

• Marcus Wohlsen via WIRED.com
 

On a recent morning at my corner café, I ordered two Americanos (they were out of drip) and a flaky, buttery calorie bomb of a pastry to start my day.

Across the counter, a barista handed me the iPad she had just used to swipe my debit card. I tapped “$1″ for a tip and hit “no receipt.” And we were done.

In that moment, I had just paid for coffee on the same kind of device I use at home to watch Mad Men, page through pictures of my kid, read The New York Times and video-chat with my dad. Can your cash register do that? Daily life really didn’t used to be this way.

Yet I recount this scene not to marvel at the wondrous march of technological progress, but to point out how such briefly novel moments are starting to veer toward banal. Yep, I bought my coffee with an iPad. The interesting part of that sentence will soon be the coffee.

Even in the San Francisco Bay area, retail stores and restaurants still mainly use traditional dedicated point-of-sale systems (that is, cash registers). Smartphones and tablets equipped with card readers plugged into the headphone jack are not the norm. But that’s changing.

Between 2011 and 2012, the number of “mobile point-of-sale” terminals registered by businesses worldwide more than doubled, according to U.K. industry research firm Timetric. The newly released report doesn’t see such a dramatic rate of uptake to continue year after year. But researchers do project that the percentage of checkout counters using mobile point-of-sale systems such as those offered by Square, ShopKeep, Intuit and PayPal will jump from fewer than one-fifth last year to nearly half by 2017.

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