Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

ROAM Brings Credit Card Reading to BlackBerrys, Outclasses Square Instantly


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.