When the iPhone and iOS launched in 2007, Apple initially didn’t provide support for third party developers.

But not long after, Apple released its first developer SDK in early 2008. In 2014, developers have great support from Apple, and now the app store has over 1.2 million applications with 75 billion downloads.

The point of sale (POS) is experiencing a similar evolution. The clunky cash registers of yesterday are being replaced by robust, slick looking point of sale platforms. And yet, if you think about the last time you went to your favorite restaurant, chances are, your transaction was processed at an outdated looking, POS terminal. How is it almost 2015 and merchants are still bound to the chains of their age-old POS systems?

If you are a small business owner who has been in business for a decade, you have a set of systems, tools and processes you use to operate your business. Your employees are accustomed to using it. Your menu is already set up on it. Your bank account is already connected to it. Meanwhile, to manage other business tasks, such as accounting, bookkeeping and reporting, you use a completely separate system on a computer in your back office. You really like the features it provides for accounting but you hate that you have to manually pull data off your point of sale terminal and enter it into the accounting software.

This whole exercise of reconciling all your business systems with your point of sale is cumbersome, time consuming and prone to user error. But you’ve done it that way for years. To install a completely new point of sale system would be a daunting task to say the least. You can’t very well shut down business for a few days while you work out the installation of a new point of sale system. If you switch to a new point of sale system, what about all the other business software you use? You eventually come to the conclusion that the benefits of switching to a new point of sale system don’t outweigh the costs to switch. And most point of sale platforms today don’t make it easy for you to switch.

Much like the customization of apps, a typical small business merchant has a need to customize their point of sale. Everything from the type of business (i.e. retail, quick service restaurant, etc.) to operations and legacy system choices give rise to a unique set of needs for every small business user. Why try to organize your business around your POS system instead of having the system morph to your needs?  

Merchants need a POS platform that they can customize to not only meet their needs, but give them advantages. This includes everything from the hardware design to strong third party developer support. They need an open platform that is easy and fast to set up and deploy, works with other accounts and services, and invites innovation to meet unique business needs of different merchants.

An open POS system enables companies to tap outside developers who are working on solutions applicable to their specific needs, integrate those solutions, and deploy them quickly.

The wealth of data collected by an open POS can be turned into valuable insights, including sales trends, customer purchasing habits, employee performance, peak hours and more. With the ability to use that data at their fingertips, merchants can streamline their business processes, enhance internal communications with staff, and make the shopping experience more convenient and personal.

All signs of consumer behavior and the pace of technology point towards the need and expectation of a more interactive, seamlessly integrated POS system. The payments industry is changing at a rapid pace, just take a look at Apple’s most recent move into mobile payments, for example. Although merchants have been slow to adopt EMV (or NFC), it’s clear that this is the direction we’re moving towards, which means POS terminals will need to be adaptable to changes like these in order to maximize innovation.

POS systems should conform to the needs of businesses that operate them. Not the other way around. Given each small business has very unique requirements, an open point of sale platform allows third party developers to jump in the mix and address these different needs. Third party developers will supply technology wherever there is demand. Today, demand lies in the painful user experience for legacy point of sale users. With the support of a strong developer community, point of sale platforms with public APIs create a tremendous opportunity for innovation.

Julie Lowe is the user experience lead at Mutual Mobile.