Upgrading a mobile point of sale device developed in the magstripe era to EMV could be a hassle for the merchant and the vendor alike. Or it could be as simple as replacing the battery.

Ziosk didn't want to risk alienating or losing customers of its tablet-based mobile point of sale system by urging them to upgrade to EMV. Its solution was admittedly unconventional.

"We didn't want to bring all of those tablets back for upgrading or have to send our engineers out in the field," Ziosk CEO Austen Mulinder said. "We had to do an in-market upgrade, and everyone looked at me like I was crazy, but our team worked it out."

Ziosk CEO Austen Mulinder
An EMV battery?
"Everyone looked at me like I was crazy, but our team worked it out," said Ziosk CEO Austen Mulinder.

Its solution is a "smart battery," which is simply a trimmer battery with EMV and NFC acceptance hardware attached. This new battery can be popped into the same tablets that Ziosk's restaurant clients have used for years. For newcomers, it's also launching the Ziosk Aurizon, which has EMV and NFC acceptance built into a smaller, thinner model.

Ziosk serves clients like Olive Garden, Chili's and Red Robin, which can now start accepting EMV cards and contactless payments at the table without changing their procedures.

Overall, the restaurant industry has been slow to move to EMV payment acceptance, due to concerns over how to implement a pay-at-the-table model while also questioning the security value EMV brings to their environment. Alongside these concerns come a heightened attention to EMV alternatives, such as order-ahead apps.

Ziosk's solution eliminates some of the risk that its clients will see the EMV migration as a reason to consider other vendors, said Richard Oglesby, president of AZ Payments Group and a senior analyst at Double Diamond Payments Research.

"Being able to retrofit a hardware solution on existing hardware and making it so user friendly that the business owner can do it themselves with a built-in battery — that's just smart," Oglesby said. "They've solved the fact that current Ziosk devices don't have EMV, so this is big for them."

Even though Ziosk launched its magstripe tablet before an EMV migration timeline was in place, the company is not viewing that timing as any type of setback, Mulinder said. Mostly, Ziosk has benefited from the extra time it has had to develop the upgrade capability and design a new tablet to accept all payment forms.

"We have 200,000 devices out there, so millions of hours of experience has unfolded in what it is like to have a portable, guest-facing device at the table in a restaurant environment," Mulinder added. "We are now perfecting that tablet in all aspects, taking the benefit of our know-how and the mechanical engineering know-how of our partners."

It also makes Ziosk stand out in that it does not rely on clip-on or Bluetooth-based addon readers for EMV.

That's a process Square went through with its separate EMV reader that users must keep fully charged to operate through a wireless connection with a phone that would still have the mag-stripe reader plugged into a headphone jack.

While Ziosk has been in business the past decade, its tabletop POS devices have been in the market for about five years, with interest rising in the past three years, Mulinder said. The company continues to separately sell point-to-point encryption for its terminals and operates as its own acquirer, not working through resellers.

It will launch its newest model slowly with testing in controlled markets, as Ziosk intends to have a full launch later this year. Ziosk currently serves more than 3,000 restaurant locations.

The competition for table-top POS devices will continue to heat up, as more merchants and diners see the benefit in having tabletop tablets that serve as both a payment acceptance device and as entertainment for patrons.

Major terminal and technology providers like Verifone aren't likely to sit on the sidelines as this market heats up. Verifone announced last week it was partnering with Eigen Development, a provider of point-to-point encryption solutions, to enable pay-at-the-table service and payment processing for the Keg Steakhouse & Bar restaurants, common in Canada and with locations in Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Washington in the U.S.

Other companies are looking to develop POS business through tabletop hardware in part because restaurants view the tablets as a cheaper option that alleviates many of the security concerns that arise when servers take payment cards away from the table.

"The price points continue to drop and the functionality continues to increase," Tim Sloane, director of emerging technologies advisory services for Boston-based Mercator Advisory Group, said of the growing trend in tabletop payments. "It is inevitable that we will all be going to those mobile devices over time."

Ziosk already had a tablet well-suited for the restaurant environment, and the ability to upgrade and accept all payment types will help the company and its clients, Sloane said.

"Their solution is custom designed for those types of restaurants and really take into account the operations inside of a restaurant," Sloane said. "It is nicely tuned to the use case and delivers some interesting functionality, like a light on the tablet that alerts the consumer that the transaction is done and they can leave."

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