The mobile payments market is overrun with companies offering clip-on card readers in a variety of shapes and sizes. Tantrum Street is betting that it can offer the same service without any add-on hardware at all.

Tantrum's Cartwheel Register app uses a smartphone or tablet's camera to scan the consumer's card number to accept payments. "The consumer doesn't have to swipe a card," says William Cervin, Tantrum's CEO.

Though several mobile payments apps, including PayPal Here and LevelUp, use a similar technology as an optional way to read card details, Tantrum's system places much more emphasis on the camera.

Tantrum reasons that many small merchants may have only occasional need of mobile card acceptance, and thus wouldn't be motivated to carry a card reader at all times.

"A lot of small businesses, such as food trucks are not heavily invested in the point of sale," Cervin says.

In Tantrum's case, the merchant can hand its own mobile device to the consumer to complete a checkout via the Cartwheel Register app, or the consumer can hold the card in front of the merchant's mobile device to read the card. "We don't view it as taking a picture, but scanning for the card numbers," Cervin says.

Cartwheel Register is currently in beta, and will be available on the Apple App Store in early 2014, with future plans for Android and Windows Phone. The app will offer cloud-delivered electronic receipts, wireless connection to cash drawers and remote printers, analytics and integration to Tantrum Street's Skip digital wallet. The app is also compliant with the Payment Card Industry data security standards, Cervin says.

Cartwheel Register's analytics are designed to help merchants manage business performance and offer ancillary benefits to consumers based on a study of transaction volume. "The second part of this is merchants understanding their customers better," Cervin says.

While Tantrum is not using an add-on reader, it is working on a stand prototype that would hold a tablet in place while making its camera easily accessible. During the beta test, the stands will be free, but Tantrum may eventually charge for them, Cervin says. Tantrum does not plan to add a card reader to its stand.

The company will charge a transaction fee, though Cervin would not disclose the amount. Since Tantrum's system produces card-not-present transactions, it would work with EMV-chip cards without having to read the chip, Cervin says.

Tantrum is releasing Cartwheel Register into a market that includes Square, which also offers a stand for in-store use; Leaf,  which makes a dedicated payments tablet; Roam, an Ingenico subsidiary that is prepping EMV support; Intuit and PayPal Here.

"The market is very crowded, and logic alone suggests that it will become increasingly difficult to differentiate between players," says Gareth Lodge, a senior analyst at Celent.

Tantrum's camera-based approach will likely help it as the product rolls out, Lodge says. Hardware attachments cost money to manufacture and distribute, as well as time and money to set up distribution.

"[Tantrum] is just a download, you already have everything you need," Lodge says.
That also means you'll never miss a sale because you left the dongle in your other jacket."

However, Tantrum will face certain challenges, Lodge says. "I also wonder about the claim around simplification. I use a business card scanner on my iPhone, and I know that I have to check every letter and digit because while accuracy is very high, even one digit in 100 means potentially I have the wrong email or phone number," he says.

Tantrum's product has a niche, Lodge says, but it will be limited to clients with a low volume of payments. "The benefit of swiping is that you get the right data every time. Do enough swiping and actually you save time over the [image capture] approach," Lodge says.

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