Typically, I don't cover or analyze so-called payments innovations that merely embrace and extend the legacy infrastructure, but a new middleware startup, CardFlight, could actually operate as a payments "air traffic controller" because its code sits directly between the consumer and the processor.
CardFlight announced the availability of a private beta last week for the iOS and Android platforms. Its encrypted magnetic-stripe card reader and simple software development tools allow developers to handle swiped card payments within mobile apps without becoming payments experts. It focuses on card-present payments and charges 10 cents per transaction.
As the New York startup's technology makes its way into more mobile applications, the company could also begin to offer non-card payment choices as well, such as the new cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin circulating worldwide now. Just as mobile application developers don't want to worry about compliance with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) data security standard, they don't want to worry about alternate payment models either. A one-stop shop for payments integration can allow developers to support bitcoin processing for a global marketplace.
The existing merchant processor landscape offers either a 100%-card platform or a 100%-bitcoin platform, requiring developers to integrate each separately. Atlanta-based BitPay is the leader in bitcoin merchant processing and they offer exchange rate guarantees as part of their service.
If grabbing market share of placement within mobile applications is the name of the game, the payments functionality is an excellent place to start.
"We aim to be the leading enabler of mobile commerce for vertical industry software developers and our vision is not constrained to Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and Discover," says CardFlight founder and CEO Derek Webster. "As a lynchpin in the payments processing chain, if customers demand bitcoin or Ripple support, we could easily accommodate those processing solutions because CardFlight acts as a switchboard."
At just three months old and with only three employees, CardFlight has the potential to fill a void left by companies such as Apple.
While restricting payment options for digital goods, Apple has traditionally permitted payments for real-world goods to go through a variety of payment channels. However, the Apple App Store still restricts the send and receive functionality for Bitcoin wallet apps on iOS. Conversely, the Google Play store does not place the same restrictions on Android Bitcoin wallet apps.
As a development tool provider with an open platform, CardFlight suggests potential uses for its technology such as apps for event organizers that need to sell tickets at the door, CRM apps to enable field sales and medical-practice management apps to collect a copay while keeping the rest of the details available for insurance billing.
It's interesting that the company has recently partnered with Stripe, which offers similar application development tools for 'card not present' transactions, because together the two companies can present a combined offering that is essentially a customizable version of Square and PayPal. Online and offline, they have you covered.
"We're proud to be working with CardFlight, as they share our developer-friendly approach to payments," Stripe Business Development Manager Cristina Cordova said in a blog post. "CardFlight provides tools to any Stripe user looking to incorporate in-person payments into their mobile apps, while still taking advantage of Stripe's simple pricing and seamless setup."
Sure, Stripe could extend into CardFlight's space at some point or vice versa, but for now the partnership is valuable to both.
Jon Matonis is an e-money researcher and crypto economist focused on expanding the circulation of nonpolitical digital currencies. His career has included senior posts at Sumitomo Bank, Visa, VeriSign, and Hushmail. Currently, he serves on the board of the Bitcoin Foundation. Follow him on Twitter.