EasyPay Update Will Bring Passbook to Retail Stores

October 16, 2012

Apple is preparing to update software of its retail stores’ EasyPay point-of-sale system to incorporate new iOS 6 Passbook features into the existing mix of payment options, both modernizing its store technology and creating a high-profile test bed for the Passbook system. Sources say the update will also be accompanied by a hardware upgrade to the third-party plastic shell that contains a magstripe reader and laser barcode scanner, and possibly a switch from using an iPod touch to an iPhone. It will be the first update to the EaysPay system since it was introduced to the retail stores in November 2009. As first reported by 9to5Mac and confirmed by other sources, the upgrades could occur later this month, and will allow customers to pay for major products simply by holding up their iPhone screen, and letting a staffer scan a 2D barcode linked to a credit card.

The use of Passbook will add to the payment options available to Apple store customers, but will not necessarily offer any breakthrough features. Most people in an Apple store already carry one or more credit cards, and are adept at flipping them out to be swiped by an employee for a purchase. In the short-term, using Passbook on an iPhone could offer some measure of convenience for Apple store shoppers. Long-term, Apple intends Passbook to be a central place for payment, admission and other types of coupon and ticket applications, ultimately reducing—or eliminating—a customer’s dependence upon plastic payment cards, tickets or other paperwork.

Right now, Apple store customers have several options for making in-store purchases, either with the assistance of a store employee or by using the Apple Store app’s EasyPay option on an iPhone or iPod touch. If an staffer handles the transaction, a customer can pay with cash, a debit/credit card or a gift card. If a card is used, it is processed via the employee’s EasyPay device, either by swiping a magnetic stripe or laser-scanning a gift card barcode. Anything within an Apple store can be purchased using this method.

The Apple store app payment method is slightly more limited: you can only purchase smaller, less expensive items that are out on display, and have them billed to your iTunes account (linked to a credit card account). You can also order more expensive items within the app, and then pick them up at a retail store, and pay using cash or a debit, credit or gift card.

The Passbook app centralizes the various payment methods now available from various other apps, such as Target, Starbucks, and also offers various event or travel ticketing features. It’s now yet clear how Passbook would be implemented for Apple store purchases. However, it’s possible that a customer’s iTunes account, linked through the Apple Store app, would generate a 2D barcode, and would be displayed in Passbook. The Passbook capability would duplicate the purchase process of using the linked credit card directly, but ultimately could simplify the process.

The new EasyPay software would require an upgrade to the latest hardware shell manufactured by Infinite Peripherals Inc. The current 2009 model doesn’t include 2D barcode scanning capabilities, and doesn’t have an access port for the iPod touch camera lens. However, the latest version of the Linēa Pro device has an 2D barcode scanner option, and the hardware shell is designed with a cut-out for the iPhone/iPod touch camera lens. It’s not known which of the 2D barcode scanning techniques will be used by the updated EasyPay app.

The newest Linēa Pro model is molded and form-fit for the iPhone 4 or the iPod touch 4g. The original Linēa Pro model fit the iPod touch 3g. Many Apple stores have already migrated to the iPod touch 4G, although the cameras are disabled.

Besides the technology upgrade, the use of Passbook would create a major test system for the features, and Apple’s adoption could sway other companies to jump on-board. Apple announced Passbook as part of its iOS 6 upgrade released last month. A handful of companies announced support immediately, and several other participants have been added in the last month. Starbucks says they will begin using Passbook later this month to allow customers to make purchases linked to gift cards.

The newest versions of the Linēa Pro device includes both 1D and 2D barcode scanners. The current model used by Apple staffers has only a 1D scanner that cannot read Passbook 2D codes.

The newest Linēa Pro device has a cut-out for the iPhone/iPod touch camera lens, which might be used to read 2D Passbook codes. The 2009 model used at Apple stores does not have such a cut-out. The slot for the magnetic strip reader is to the right of the device.

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