Twitter co-founder's 'Square' comes into focus

Jack Dorsey is moving forward with a new hardware venture that can turn an iPhone into a credit card reader. He might even give the devices away for free, sources say.

A test 'Square' in action, and a screenshot of the geo-tagged receipt. Engadget

Well, we finally have a glimpse at "Square," the new mobile payments venture coming from Twitter co-founder and chairman Jack Dorsey . As expected, it's a little hardware add-on that can turn an iPhone into a credit card reader.

The funny part: Details about the small-business-oriented project have been on the Web for months. It was just that nobody had put two and two together until some eagle-eyed folks at Engadget realized that a URL on a screenshot of the "Square iPhone Payments Venture" first reported by Coolhunting matched a domain registered to Dorsey.

Dorsey, who stepped down as Twitter CEO almost exactly a year ago , is headquartering the company in New York, though we hear he already has employees in both Gotham and San Francisco. Its Web site will likely be located at SquareUp.com. Currently, that site is a collection of links to a smattering of businesses, including Sightglass Coffee, a new San Francisco coffee shop in which Dorsey has invested. (Wanna bet they're testing Square out there?)

From Coolhunting:

The innovation is in a small, plastic card reader that fits in to the headphone jack of an iPhone (or iPod Touch) and transfers the credit card's swipe data to the app. After the employee enters the amount to charge, the customer confirms by scrawling their signature with their finger and then either one enters the customer's email address to send the receipt to. The payment is processed by Square for a small percentage plus a fixed fee; the funds are transferred directly to the store's bank account, cutting both time and complexity on the processing side. The customer's receipt includes a map showing the location of the transaction which is handy for those who record, sort and file such things.

We heard that the venture is being called Square rather than "Squirrel," its originally reported name (according to TechCrunch's MG Siegler, this is because it looks kind of like an acorn) due to some unclear legal-copyright-licensing-whatnot issue. CNET News first reported the name change along with the news that Dorsey had been an angel investor in location-based mobile navigation start-up Foursquare.

Funding a hardware venture is typically more expensive than a Web-based one for obvious reasons: the up-front cost of production and manufacturing.

But two sources with knowledge of Square's logistics said that Dorsey believes he can keep production costs extremely low, possibly manufacturing a "square" at a cost of about 40 cents apiece. The company may then even give the devices away for free, making money instead on transaction fees. That's the old Gillette razor business model--make the razors cheap or even free, but replacement blades more expensive.

Regardless, we hear Dorsey has been working on a funding round.

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About the author

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.

 

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