SAVANNAH, Ga.--A flip of the wrist, and the card slips quietly
through the tiny, antenna-like iPhone/Android plug-in.
Type in the cost, the tip and it charges your credit card
immediately. Want a receipt? Click "yes" and it its sent a
split-second later to the e-mail address on file with your card
This is Square, the latest incarnation of technology feeding on itself and
making the world a more well-lubricated, productive place to live.
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Cabbies are all over the technology because it's easy to use
(they're already throwing out their dashboard GPS systems in favor
of iPhone and Android phones with the same functionality). Remember
those card-reader systems on the dashboard or behind the front seat?
If you didn't have a number of nightmarish experiences trying to use
your card with one of those, consider yourself lucky.
This is how the future is getting a lot more interesting -- a lot
faster. Not long ago, semiconductor vendors moved into the
platform era, building FPGAs, SoCs and ASSPs that would support
multiple applications, not just a discrete function. That mindset is
now catching fire uptown, at the corner of embedded systems, mobile
technology and open-source software.
What does this mean for design engineers? Well, if you're in the
consumer space, more pain because it's all about cost. Square gives
the device and app away for free. Its model is a 2.75 percent charge on all
transactions. (If you're curious about the technology, check out these
Flickr photos from Adam Davis of his Square reader
teardown and what it sounds like running the card through the reader on this short YouTube clip).
If you work in other areas like industrial or automotive, it should inspire possibilities, but sometimes our imaginations seize up. Talking earlier this week with Ian Chen, senior vice president with
Sensor Platforms, he's even unsure where things are headed -- and he's at the heart of the Internet of things.
featuring Chen as a technologist to watch in our upcoming EE Times
40th anniversary issue and app. I tried to push him into the
future. Will the phone, as it's currently evolved--that is, into
something other than a "phone"--be supplanted as a multi-functional
platform by some other device? He said:
"Even Star Trek has a communicator badge. That's
still a phone! I think it's probably still going to be a
human-to-digital device. The only other device is an implant, and
I'm not sure I like that too much. It may not look like a phone.
It might look like your belt buckle."
Technologies like Square's reader and its application are so
forehead-slappingly obvious that it's amazing we all didn't come up
with the same idea last year. We're smart people, right? Right....?
In any case, a switch has been flipped. Technology is now feeding on itself at a
much faster rate thanks to smartphones and open-source software,
wireless systems and Al Gore's baby. We've now enabled millions of
people to design their own solutions.
How do we keep up with that
pace in electronics, where quickening design cycles still have a certain cadence: from specification to design
to manufacture and test to Moore's Law itself?Related stories
--Sensor Platforms extends library to mobile apps
--Sensor startup closes $6.6 million VC round