Stockholm-based iZettle — a company that is building a payments system not entirely unlike the much-heralded Square — is taking a big step forwards today by coming out of beta.
The system, which consists of a plug-in device and app, goes live today, with approval from Visa, MasterCard and Europay, and focus on helping small merchants and individuals — many who don’t currently take card payments.
The full commercial launch only covers Sweden right now, but now it’s officially up and running after a trial period that started in August, it’s ready to grow quickly. The company recently took $11 million of funding to help exactly that expansion.
According to MasterCard’s Matt Taraldsson, the card provider will be helping it roll out across the continent soon.
“Since its launch in Sweden in August iZettle has proven to be a big success, and has clearly shown that small businesses and individuals appreciate the convenience and security of taking card payments anytime, anywhere. We are proud that iZettle continues to build on MasterCard’s expertise – and as they now initiate their commercial launch across Europe we think it’s great news that millions of merchants for the first time will be able to take card payments”
There’s clearly an opportunity here, and Square has been making a lot of noise — not least because of CEO Jack Dorsey’s zen-like appearance at GigaOM’s RoadMap conference last week.
But no doubt skeptics will no doubt look on iZettle as little more than a clone of Square: yet another example of a European company copying an American rival in order to corner the market first. Pricing, for example, fits the bill: just like Square, iZettle takes a 2.75 percent cut of each transaction for processing. But iZettle also takes a fee of €0.16 (22 US cents) per transaction on top, making it slightly more expensive to use.
The clone argument is a little unfair to iZettle, however, since it has had to build an entirely different technology for processing payments. Its gadget is slightly larger than Square’s box, and it’s one which plugs into the bottom of an iPhone, rather than the headphone jack at the top. This isn’t just a matter of looking different for the sake of it, however: it’s practical.
The simple magnetic swipe system used by most American cards (and therefore by Square) is pretty antiquated to Europeans, who largely used chip-based PIN entry to verify their purchases.
That means payment devices need to have a card inserted into them, rather than using a quick swipe-and-sign approach. It also means, theoretically, that the services are more secure by design: something that could be useful as iZettle looks to expand into new territories.
The bigger point is that both companies are working to change the payments industry, one of the largest markets around, and one of the least dynamic. Yes, there are plenty of similarities between the two — but there’s more than enough room for several players right now.