NCR, Square face off in dual-screen hardware race

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The influx of mobile point of sale systems created an odd situation for retailers that now had to turn their screens around or hand over their smartphones to consumers to scribble an on-screen signature or type an email address or PIN. More manufacturers are addressing this awkwardness by giving shoppers their own screen.

But innovation comes at a price.

The dual-screen NCR Silver Quantum, which combines point of sale, mobile wallet acceptance, customer display, loyalty scanner and Samsung Galaxy tablet, sells for $283 per month or $1499. It launched on Wednesday and joins Square Register, which launched this month and sells for $1,000.

Either product is a hefty investment for merchants that may have originally begun accepting payment cards through what used to be a free dongle attachment for their phones. In exchange for their investment, merchants get an assurance that their dual-screened devices will be future-proof.

"In a year from now you won't have to replace the 'all in one,'" said Chris Poelma, president and general manager of NCR Silver. "It's upgradable in the coming quarters and years ahead without having to replace the entire unit."

The NCR Silver Quantum, as it's called, can be easily updated through a collaboration with Samsung, according to Poelma. As new technology such as retinal scans or facial recognition take hold, merchants will be able to do upgrades on the fly.

Jack Dorsey, Square's CEO, emphasized in a Wednesday earnings call how the dual-screened Register device fits into Square's growing multichannel ecosystem.

"One of our strengths in addition to self-serve and speed, is our cohesiveness," Dorsey said. "You can come into Square through one channel, online or through Register, and you get a whole set of tools that serve your needs."

Other POS providers are also making moves. First Data's Clover earlier this year entered a collaboration with ShopKeep to add more functions, such as HR and inventory management for Clover terminals and to expand ShopKeep's merchant reach. And Verifone's Carbon uses a cloud platform to allow merchants to customize the functions and apps that run on the system.

"The point of sale is undergoing strain from a number of different directions from the 'all in one capabilities' of Verifone Carbon, Clover and now Samsung and NCR, to the pressure from simpler online solutions like Stripe," said Thad Peterson, a senior analyst with Aite Group. "The concept of a standalone payment device is slipping away."

The manufacturers are operating on the premise that merchants require links to sales and service staff and inventory through the tablet point of sale system. Also, they're serving customers who have become accustomed to online and mobile commerce. So all of these tablet moves include merchant services that "background" the payment, and add mobility with the larger screen.

"Every brick and mortar store has to manage its labor. How many college students? Or part-time workers? What are the labor laws in different states? A business has to be able to capture all of that data," Poelma said, adding Silver Quantum has access to hundreds of apps that retailers commonly use, such as compliance programs and marketing apps like LevelUp.

In a PayThink column, Ben Wagner, director of solutions at Ingenico Group, North America writes merchants are now looking to combine a mobile card reader with a tablet device instead of a smartphone. This is because a tablet POS solution provides a larger user interface to run applications while still giving them the mobility they prefer, according to Wagner.

"A merchant can take the tablet out of the store and have a flash sale anywhere there's wifi or cellular access," Poelma said, adding the benefits of a tablet over a smartphone include the ability to show high-definition video content on the "consumer side" of the screen. "The smartphone can be limiting in some ways," Poelma said.

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