Square Inc. revolutionized how small businesses do their transactions with the introduction of Square Reader, a dongle that connects to a smartphone or tablet via its headphone jack, to allow merchants to accept credit card payments.
Though the original device delivered, we later found out that it wasn’t quite perfect yet. Some users had to return their Square Readers because the devices weren’t working properly – it was later discovered that in many models, the wire connecting the devices to their battery was no longer intact. But this wasn’t the only complaint, as some users also bemoaned the size of the device, which was perhaps a little too bulky for their comfort.
Now, Square is happy to report that these problems are no longer an issue. Thanks to Jesse Dorogusker, former head of Apple’s accessory division and responsible for the design and function of the Lightning connector, Square Readers have now been redesigned to be more durable, more reliable, and with a thinner, albeit slightly wider, appearance.
Dorogusker serves as Square’s VP of hardware and together with his team, he’s been able to shave a few millimeters off the width of the device. But it’s not all about making the dongle thinner – there are other significant changes too.
So what are major changes on Square Reader?
The Square Reader needs to be accurate all the time, which means it should only ever take one swipe to read the information on customer’s credit cards. To make this happen, Dorogusker designed an all new read head. Credit cards store data from two separate bands in the magnetic stripe. Traditional read heads found on card readers only acquire data from one of those bands thus reading credit cards aren’t always accurate. The read head on the new dongle acquires data from the two bands to make it accurate and likely to work in one try.
The new read head was also designed to make production easier, as it can now be soldered into the circuit board in an oven, instead of by hand. This makes for greater precision in its placement and a more streamlined manufacturing process.
Another angle the team looked into is the feel of swiping the card itself. The tension on the spring that attaches to the read head was also tweaked to deliver that perfect ‘swipe feel’. Earlier tests revealed that the level of contact the reader needs to successfully transfer data from a card resulted in a swipe that felt too loose. Which means people can confuse that with a broken dongle or a transaction not going through. The friction was increased, though not really needed, just so people would feel right about using the dongle.
A chip of its own
For the new Square Reader, Dorogusker designed a custom chip from scratch. By creating their own chip, the team were able to improve the device in a number of ways, including its performance, size, and overall reliability.
The new chip also gave them total control over the whole payment process, which includes decoding the magnetic signal from the credit card, encoding the electrical signal being sent to the smartphone, and all the encryption that happens in between.
And because of the redesigned chip, the new Square Reader no longer needs a coin battery to operate. It now relies on your smartphone or tablet for power. This is a huge deal for the company since one of the biggest flaws with the original dongles is that the connection of the battery often comes loose, which renders the device useless. By removing the battery, the device is now thinner, durable, and easier to assemble as no more wires need to soldered.
No redesign is complete without an aesthetic improvement. The old Square Reader’s slot is placed on the upper portion of the device, which makes it hard to swipe cards when you’re not looking. The new Square Reader has the slot placed right in the center, which makes it more convenient to use. Plus the sides of the slot have been tapered so cards can easily slide in. Though the new design makes it appear like it is one continuous piece, it is not. The seam may not be clearly visible but it’s there and that is something Dorogusker aims to eliminate in the future. But for now, the new Square Reader already looks better than the original version.