Square redesigns Reader, making it thinner and more efficient

Square Reader has always been a handsome and functional piece of hardware, but the designers and engineers at Square have been on a constant quest to make it just that little bit more handsome and little bit more functional. On Monday, Square released a new version of the Square Reader, which has both a sleeker, thinner design and a completely overhauled electronic interior.

Square has basically replaced the off-the-shelf components in the card reader with its own custom-designed parts, Square head of hardware Jesse Dorogusker said while giving me a preview of the new device on Skype.

In previous generations of the Reader, Square was using the same magnetic read head – the sensor that grabs data from a credit card’s magnetic strip – that you would find in any tape deck built since the 1980s, Dorogusker said. Square felt it could do better, so it redesigned the read head, optimizing it for Square’s tiny form factor. The new read head and a redesigned card-gripping spring allowed Square to make this new Reader 45 percent thinner than its predecessor.

Square Reader Gen 4 with iPhone

Why is that important? Dorogusker said Square wants Reader’s design to compliment the smartphones and tablets and tablets it is paired with. He pointed out that the new reader is now as thin as the iPhone.

But Square didn’t stop with the read head. It also created a custom chip which runs all of Square’s card data interpretation, encryption and transfer functions. The previous generation of Readers used dozens of components to accomplish these tasks, Dorogusker said, while the new reader now uses three (the chip and two screws).

Companies the size of Square usually don’t go the custom silicon route, especially when the components it needs are readily available, Dorogusker said, but by designing its own chip, Square accomplished several things. It cut down on power consumption, allowing it to discard the internal battery slotted in all previous Readers – it now takes all of the power it needs from the phone’s headphone jack.

The chip also makes Square’s card reading and transfer much more efficient. Though individual users won’t notice a difference, the Reader will work with a greater number of devices without problems and get more valid card readings on the first swipe. “It will work on more Android phones and even the most dinged up credit cards,” Dorogusker said.

The new Reader is officially the fourth generation of Square’s iconic device, though in truth Square has created at least a dozen different iterations of the Reader, not all of which made it to its merchant customers. The new Reader is available on Square’s website today, and will make its way into stores starting next year.