Thumbzup’s mobile point-of-sale device, the Payment Pebble, which is available in South Africa through banking group Absa, is being opened up to third-party developers.
Thumbzup founder Stafford Masie has revealed plans to release third-party application programming interfaces (APIs), allowing external developers to build apps that use the Pebble to accept payments from consumers. Masie is hoping this will stimulate demand for the platform.
At the same time, Thumbzup is releasing a number of major updates to the Pebble, including a new, internationally certified Pin-input mechanism that Masie says is easier for consumers to use. There’s also a software suite in the works to help businesses manage the device more effectively.
Market talk suggests a companion smartphone, designed in South Africa by Thumbzup, is also in development, though Masie declines to comment on this speculation.
Masie launched the Pebble through Absa in June after four years of development work.
Similar in a way to US solution Square, the device allows merchants — typically small enterprises and sole proprietors, but also large enterprises — to accept card payments using their smartphone or tablet by connected it to the audio jack. Unlike Square, however, the Payment Pebble supports chip-and-Pin-based payments.
The system is simple enough to use — users download the Absa Payment Pebble app to their device and then plug the low-cost card reader into the 3,5mm audio jack of their phone or tablet (running Android, iOS or BlackBerry 10) to swipe or “dip” cards and receive payments. It accepts Visa and MasterCard magnetic stripe and chip-based debit and credit cards.
Since launch, Masie says “many thousands” of people have bought the Pebble from Absa and Thumbzup is now in various discussions about internationalising the product. In the meantime, though, the company is pushing out a number of major updates to the platform.
First up is a suite of APIs for third-party developers, which will be released soon. Those interested in getting access can request an invitation from developer.thumbzup.com, says Masie.
“Anyone with a mobile app on any device who wants to do payments in their app can call on the Pebble to do those payments,” he says. “It will allow card acceptance in apps and create a community. Demand for this has been incredible — we’ve had thousands of e-mails from people saying they want to use the Pebble with their apps.”
The APIs will come with a software emulator, meaning developers won’t need a physical Payment Pebble to test their apps. “It will emulate the entire payment flow,” says Masie. A full software development kit is planned for later in the year.
Thumbzup is also readying the launch of a companion app suite and Web portal aimed at small and medium enterprises as well as corporate users. The idea is to allow companies to do invoice and reference number assignment, gratuity, cash-outs, line-of-business integration, and so on. The accompanying portal will offer a centralised place where all transactions can be viewed graphically.
Watch TechCentral interview with Stafford Masie:
Watch Masie demo’ing the new functionality:
“Today, the suite is comprised of a reference mobile application and a rich portal interface,” says Masie. “We intend to open-source this suite so everyone can personalise and share their works with the Payment Pebble community.”Another significant update, which is being delivered to existing users as an over-the-air firmware update, provides a new method for Pin entry on the Pebble, replacing the scroll wheel the company had used previously. Masie says the scroll wheel presented a usability challenge, but didn’t want to replace it with a physical keyboard for Pin entry.
“Physical keypads have inherent security flaws and several thousand vectors of physical attack,” he says. “We don’t believe physical mini keypads are fit for purpose in the scaled mobile point-of-sale world, so we invented this new ‘scrambled keypad’ method,” he says.
Connecting wirelessly via the “erratic” Bluetooth wireless protocol was also not an option. “It’s simply not reliable and creates immense support challenges in a scaled environment.”
Masie says the new Pin entry method is “even more secure” than the scroll wheel method and is fully Payment Card Industry certified.
Absa will push the update over the air to existing Pebble users in the next few weeks. The update will also include support for more smartphones thanks to improvements to its ability to “speak” across various implementations of the 3,5mm audio interface of mobile phones. “We can now support about 95% of all smartphones available in South Africa,” says Masie. — (c) 2014 NewsCentral Media