Square is doing its best to speed up chip-card transactions

The new credit cards with embedded chips may be a whole lot more high-tech secure than their mag-stripe predecessors, but paying with one can be so excruciatingly slow that it sure doesn’t feel like progress. 

“The big guys aren’t faring all that well,” says Jesse Dorogusker, hardware lead at payments company Square, of large merchants who process chip-card sales using conventional payment terminals. “You do a lot of waiting, a lot of standing. There’s an odd UI and weird noises. That’s posed a nice opportunity for us.”

Square, which designed its own mag-stripe/chip/contactless reader and developed all the associated software, is announcing that a new version of its firmware, which is rolling out as an automatic update, cuts the time of a chip transaction from 5.7 seconds to 4.2 seconds—a 25% improvement over what was already swifter-than-usual performance by chip-card standards. Its ultimate goal: three seconds.

Dorogusker told me that Square expects technologies such as Apple Pay and Android Pay to win in the long term, but for now, it’s obsessed with speeding up chip-card transactions. “A second and a half is a second and a half,” he says. “Some people might not sweat it. But standing at the counter awkwardly in a new way when it used to be faster and better is not cool.”HM