Square is a very cool piece of hardware for the iPhone and other smartphones; when combined with the Square service, you can accept credit card payments right on your iPhone. TechCrunch reports that charity:water used Square at SxSW to collect donations, and other uses are already cropping up; flower carts and political fundraisers, for instance.
If you haven't seen it in action, check out our in-person walkthrough from Macworld Expo, or the official YouTube video demonstration. The demo features Adam Lisagor (creator of Birdhouse for iPhone and part of my favorite podcast You Look Nice Today) and Jason Permenter, who walk through a very simple real-life scenario: what do you do if you want to sell something, like a couch, to someone who wants to pay with a credit card? Square not only makes it possible to do that, but it adds some cool features such as showing a picture of the buyer and seller on the iPhone to verify their identity.
Square was born after Jim McKelvey couldn't sell a piece of art because he couldn't accept a credit card, a process that has traditionally been complicated and expensive. Part of Square's vision has included charitable giving, where a donation of 1¢ is made from every transaction to a cause of your choice.
When I was growing up, using a credit card meant that the clerk had to reach under the counter, pull out a device where you would carefully line up the credit card, then put special receipt paper on it, including two carbon copies (remember carbon paper?), they would push the handle across the device and it would push the numbers on the card into the carbon paper, then they would hand it to you to sign, and then the clerk would take it back, pull out one of the carbon copies, and hand it to you. If you were standing in line behind someone paying with a credit card, you'd react much the same way people do these days if someone pays with a check. Nowadays those PIN-pad credit card readers are in all the major stores and at gas stations. Being able to accept credit cards is almost a necessity in today's world.
Square could give individuals and small businesses the same opportunity, using a device that millions of people are already carrying around in their pockets. Check it out; even if you aren't a seller, you may want to sign up for Square to be registered as a buyer once it's out of private beta.