You know what you love about the iTunes store: You enter your payment information once, and then immediately, all of the world's digital content is available at your finger tips.
Jack Dorsey's Square has just created a system just like that for all the payments you make in the real world—for the capuccino you pick up at your favorite coffee shop, the cute dress from your local boutique, even an old Ramones LP from your favorite flea market vendor. With the click of a button, you can now pay any real-world vendor who's set up with the Square system.
Here's how it works: You set up a "card case" in your iPhone. It's an app that works like a wallet, and each vendor you frequent has its own credit-card-type card inside the case. When you show up at one of your regular haunts, you open your case, pull out the "card", and click "Start tab."
Using one of Square's new iPad-type cash registers, the vendor rings up your bill as they normally would. Then they find you in their list of active customers (now that you've clicked "Start tab"), and charge the bill to you.
That's it. No cash, no credit cards, no receipts.
"There are a lot of people working in this [mobile payments] space," Dorsey said, "and they're all concerned with the parts"—payments, coupons, and "waving your phone in front of a terminal waiting for a bit" (presumably a reference to NFC technology).
Dorsey said he thinks that's exactly the wrong way to go about it. "In order to do this right, you have to have one system."
The system is starting off slowly. Only 50 vendors across the country—in San Francisco, New York, St. Louis, Washington, DC and Los Angeles—are using it today. But Dorsey says it will soon be available to all vendors who want to sign up to use it.
For the system to work, customers will have to download the card case app and get used to using it on their phones. But if the experience of the iTunes App Store is any indicator, there's no reason the Square system won't take off like wildfire.