Fast Company

ROAM Brings Credit Card Reading to BlackBerrys, Outclasses Square Instantly

ROAM

The encrypted ROAM credit card reader and associated e-commerce apps have just been announced for RIM's BlackBerry platform, globally. With so many million BlackBerrys out there, and RIM's rep for security, the rival Square device is in trouble.

ROAM Data announced the news by noting it's the "world's first encrypted audio coupled card reader for BlackBerry devices" which means it's instantly compatible with "approximately 30% of the smart phone market in the U.S."

The hardware and business plans are very familiar: ROAM is a tiny plastic peripheral that jams into the audio socket on a smartphone. When you swipe a credit card through it, the electromagnetic data from the card's stripe is converted into an audio signal, in encrypted form, that communicates to a special app on the phone. The app does all the secure data handling that a "normal" store-type credit card machine does, just much simpler, more cheaply, avoiding the usual banking frameworks, and thus bringing credit card acceptance powers to many more smaller vendors. It's exactly analogous to the way that Square works.

Except that ROAM is on BlackBerry, which is a significant strength. It's not available for all BlackBerry smartphones yet, but there's a sizable list already and ROAM is working on enabling compatibility with more handsets. Though iPhone is the hottest smartphone on the grid, and RIM's future doesn't look especially shiny, there are many million more handsets in use from RIM than Apple around the world. ROAM Data has some history in e-commerce apps already, and by partnering this new solution with BlackBerry it can leverage off the "secure" and "business" labels that RIM's hardware typically trades on.

Square itself, despite being driven along by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, has had a host of problems--including a redesign so that it would work with the iPhone 4. Despite this, Square's recently had a relaunch, but ROAM is now super-hot competition for it, operating in the same business space, on more devices--which is bad news for Dorsey. (Are we also out of place to wonder if this new system is infringing on IP protections that Dorsey will have surrounded Square with?) Anyway, it's good news for us as consumers--a radical, innovative couple of new players the digital payments business can only result in better service and facilities for us as end-users.

To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

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4 Comments

  • abe solomon

    Square is not generally for serious credit card processors as it's percentages are much higher than a traditional merchant account. The problem with Roam is that most companies that offer it will most likely require a contract of 3 yrs (as many do) and could easily have hidden fees in the fine print. The way to go is find a reputable company that is honest and advertises no contracts or set up fees and has solutions for smartphone users like www.prestigemerchantservices.c...

  • RTO

    In a more detailed comparison of ROAM and Square, the companies take very different approaches to a low cost payment receipt solution. In my opinion, ROAM, and the ROAM founders who come from the payments industry, have invested significantly in their technology and therefore demand and can receive compensation for their solution. Contrary to the article, ROAM does not avoid "...the usual banking frameworks," and does indeed require the user to have a traditional merchant account.

    Square, on the other hand, has taken a very low tech approach to the market and does not charge for their solution, except in the form of a markup on interchange. They can do this as they do not rely on the usual banking frameworks and aggregate their merchant processing much like PayPal does.

    It will be fun to watch Square over the upcoming months as they push the established boundaries of the payment industry. I hope they have the cash in reserve to fund such a venture as it will most likely not be profitable for a long long time...if ever. Best of luck.

  • Jason Bertman

    How much does the reader cost? Is it free like Square? I can't figure out how to get one off of their site.

  • Gerald Irish

    I don't see how having a competitor on another device altogether spells "trouble" for Square. It is simply competition. And as you duly noted Blackberry sales are withering in the face of competition from Android and iOS. If I were betting on a company I would not bet on the one with its carriage hitched to a company that is in steep decline.