This laptop for writing sales slips at shows might be replaced soon by the tablet computer on the left.
Computer Column #292
John P. Reid, firstname.lastname@example.org
The world is periodically turned upside down by new technology, such as Gutenberg’s printing press and Watt’s steam engine. The automobile, airplane, radio, television, and computer radically changed things in the 20th century. Some say that we are going through another upheaval. Michael Saylor’s 2012 book The Mobile Wave is subtitled How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything.
Last year, 93% of Americans owned a mobile phone, and for 50% of Americans that phone was a smartphone. People can instantly amplify their knowledge by Internet lookups and contacts. This is not limited to Americans: 4.6 billion people worldwide are said to own cell phones, and the percentage of smartphone users among them is increasing.
If there really is a new world order brewing, the newest tablet computers are part of it. They are like oversized smartphones except that they usually cannot make phone calls. They browse the Internet and run apps (software) as smart phones do, but they do these things on a larger, easier-to-read screen, with a larger, easier-to-use on-screen keyboard. Tablets are the preferred mobile device for many of us. One survey says 25% of American adults own one.
Last month we introduced Apple iPads and Android tablets. (Windows 8 tablets were mentioned too, but this is still an emerging field.) Tablets are inexpensive portable computers that do many jobs well.
I set up at local antiques shows with a 15-year-old laptop and an old inkjet printer for writing sales slips. It may soon be possible to replace this antique computer with a tablet, but it is hard to find point-of-sale apps for Apple and Android tablets.
Part of the problem is the choice of search words.
Searching your device’s recommended app store for “point-of-sale,” “pos,” “sales slip,” or “cash register” finds apps for coffee shops and beauty parlors. Searching for “invoice” produces more useful apps for antiquers. One of the well-established ones is Invoice2go for both Apple and Android devices.
A free demonstration, Invoice 2go Lite, is available at any Android app store but not at the Apple App Store. Both app stores, however, show the many features in detail. You can even add your logo, and inventory lists can be entered. The app calculates totals and sales tax. Estimates and purchase orders also can be prepared. The one-time charge for the full version of Invoice2go is $9.99 for Android devices or Apple iPhone and $14.99 for Apple iPad. A dealer could operate indefinitely using just one of these apps.
There is, however, another level worth looking at on the Invoice2go Web site (www.invoice2go.com) after installing the free Invoice2go Plus version. Invoices can be backed up on the Invoice2go Internet “cloud” site by paying a monthly or annual fee. Records can be synchronized with your desktop computer and other mobile devices, and various reports and utility apps are available. Fees range up to about $150 a year. The lowest level limits invoices to 100 a year. The highest level allows unlimited invoices and multiple users. Sign-up can be done on the Web site or through your mobile device app. There are other good invoice apps available. Search your app store.
If you use Windows QuickBooks ($249.95) for accounting (http://quickbooks.intuit.com/pro), a mobile input can be added for $9.95 per month (http://quickbooks.intuit.com/microsite/quickbooks-mobile). Zoho (http://www.zoho.com/invoice) provides an on-line invoice system free for up to five customers. Upgrading to 500 customers and three users costs $15 a month.
Sending e-mail and using cloud storage require an Internet connection. When a Wi-Fi hotspot is not available at a show, smartphones can fall back to their cell phone 3G or 4G data network. Few tablets have cell phone data connections, and those that do are more expensive and have monthly charges. Dealers can ask show promoters if free Wi-Fi can be made available at their venues.
If the customer has a smartphone, an e-mail invoice can be sent to it. But there are going to be customers unhappy about getting their invoices that way. Some may not have e-mail, so dealers should have a sales order book on hand. The handwritten sale can be transferred to electronic form later. A sales order book should be on hand anyway in case the electronic system fails or there is no Wi-Fi.
Until recently, tablet computers and smartphones could not connect to a computer printer. There are several methods to print from a mobile device by sending the document over the Internet to a distant desktop computer. That does not solve the problem of printing sale invoices at antiques shows.
Computer printers now, however, are available with Wi-Fi inputs. Documents can be sent to one of these printers directly from a nearby mobile device. A local Wi-Fi Internet connection is not even needed. Setting this up is complicated by the great variety of printer brands and mobile devices. If your current printer is not clearly labeled as accepting Wi-Fi, a new printer may have to be purchased. Fortunately, compact Wi-Fi printers are available, a few for under $100.
For the iPad and iPhone, the information is in one place. Apple defined its AirPrint standard, which many printer manufacturers adopted. A list of compatible printers is available at (http://support.apple.com/kb/ht4356) along with well-written instructions for setting up the mobile device. The help files of your invoice app may have additional suggestions.
For Android mobile devices, the help is a bit more scattered. If you already own or have chosen a Wi-Fi printer, go to your mobile device’s recommended app store and search for an app for that printer brand. It is usually free. If there are any problems with the app, uninstall it and try one of the universal printer apps from the app store. For example, PrintBot ($4.49) claims to be compatible with 2800 printer models.
It is possible to accept credit cards with a smartphone or tablet. A card scanner that plugs into the device is usually supplied free with the account.
As a disclaimer, we have not installed and tested any of these services, though we have seen some of them in use at shows. Therefore, investigate such products thoroughly. Especially investigate fees. A “swipe” is one credit card transaction on a major card. Keying in card numbers manually may cost more. Fees seem to vary month-to-month and dealer-to-dealer. There may be deals available, or financial market forces may affect fees.
A credit card merchant mobile account for QuickBooks mentioned above (http://payments.intuit.com) advertises a swipe fee of 2.75% with no monthly charge or a 1.75% swipe fee with a $12.95 monthly charge. QuickBooks is an established company and one of the largest suppliers of accounting software for small businesses.
One of the more popular smartphone and tablet apps for credit cards is Square Register (https://squareup.com/register). The firm advertises a 2.75% swipe fee with no monthly charge or no swipe fee with a $275 monthly charge. The app is available for both Android and Apple mobile devices. We saw three dealers and a food vendor using Square Register at a recent show, and all were happy with it. It also gets positive reviews on line and in print.
There are other mobile merchant accounts worth investigating, and operation with PayPal is also available.
Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest