Gone are the days when everyone took cash, but are conventional card machines also phasing out in favour of the latest smart POS terminals?

First, the basics: what does smart terminal mean? The term has been around since the early days of computing, so the explanation is not exclusive to card payment technology.

Originally, it refers to any electronic terminal rendering graphics or with some microprocessing capability independent from a host computer.

Smart terminal definition

Card payments context, 2019: Card payment terminal with additional functionality added to enhance point of sale (POS) operations.

Original definition: Any terminal (computer, card machine, etc.) with internal processing capability independent from external host computer.

In the context of card payments, the best way to explain is to compare with the still prevalent simpler card machines.

Traditional card machines

A traditional card machine is also referred to as POS (point of sale) terminal, PDQ machine, EMV terminal or EFTPOS (Electronic Funds Transfer at Point Of Sale) machine – many names, same thing. It’s still the most common kind of terminal, although it comes in different sizes, shapes and produced by different manufacturers.

This type of card machine is only there to accept payments by chip, contactless or magnetic stripe. The terminal reads the credit or debit card (or mobile phone with the card saved in a digital wallet), then processes it over a secure internet connection. It typically finishes off by printing a receipt for the transaction to confirm the payment was successful or that it had failed.

EFTPOS machine

Traditional payment terminals are popularly called “card machines” because card payments are their sole purpose.

There may be other features on a traditional card machine, such as manual entry of card details for over-the-phone payments and the ability to print Z reports at the end of a trading day, detailing sales totals by card type, failed transactions, refunds and so on.

But the point is – these are all features related to card transactions.

Until recently, you didn’t depend on the card terminal to perform all of your point of sale (POS) operations in the same device.

While some equate “smart terminal” with any electronic card machine (because it uses “smart” technology to accept cards electronically), the definition in today’s world is leaning towards the unfolding trend of touchscreen card terminals.

Now that more people are used to iPad and other tablets, smartphones and touchscreen interfaces in e.g. supermarkets and check-in terminals in airports, it comes as no surprise that this should extend to card payment terminals.

Poynt smart POS terminal

Poynt smart terminal (61B model) has a cashier- and customer-facing screen. Photo: Elavon

Smart terminals can do much more than accepting cards

While internet sources equate “smart terminal” with any electronic card machine (because it uses “smart” technology to accept cards electronically through a machine), the definition in today’s world is leaning towards the unfolding trend of touchscreen card terminals.

Similar to a “smartphone” characterised by its amplitude of app functions packed into one touchscreen device, “smart terminals” have the capability to do many things apart from card processing through an integrated app market with features you can download specifically for the terminal. Some of these features are enabled through hardware technologies like an inbuilt camera or weight scale support.

Since card payments are part of the point of sale operations, it is natural that the smart functions relate to POS features. Hence the name smart POS terminals, or SmartPOS terminals as some avid techies call them.

Talking about tech specs, smart terminals may:

Ingenico Move 5000 terminal

Ingenico Move/5000 has a touchscreen, but looks like the familiar-style EFTPOS machine.

  • Have 1-2 touchscreens for the navigation of POS features and/or customer-facing display
  • Have an inbuilt receipt printer
  • Have a physical keypad or use the screen for both PIN entry (“PIN on glass“) and signatures
  • Accept contactless, chip and swipe cards
  • Have an inbuilt camera for barcode scanning and more
  • Function through WiFi, 4G or 3G

Just like simpler card machines are made by different manufacturers, smart payment terminals come in different shapes and brands, e.g. the Spire SmartPOS terminals, Verifone Carbon series, Clover POS by First Data and myPOS Smart series.

Clover Station, handheld Flex and Mini can all take cards and navigate features through the touchscreen – and work together. Photo: Clover

The software features available to the terminals are offered through the manufacturer’s own app market, usually with the option to integrate other software or build new applications for the terminals.

Examples of features include offers displayed on the terminal screen, customer loyalty functions, barcode scanning, product library and registration of parcel deliveries for couriers.