POS 101: Proprietary Hardware VS Open Source Hardware
Republican or Democrat, team Edward or team Jacob, proprietary hardware or open source hardware? These are the questions we’ve all pondered at one point or another in our lives—am I right? Okay, maybe everyone hasn’t contemplated these exact lines of thought, but if you run a store or a restaurant, or are connected to the Point of Sale (POS) industry in any way, it is a good idea for you to understand the difference between proprietary and open source POS hardware.
Proprietary POS Hardware
I’ll give you a loose example. If you have an iPhone and you forget your charger, you’re only going to be able to use another iPhone charger—and it must be designed for your version of the iPhone. If you have an iPhone 7 and all you can find is a 5s charger, you’re SOL, my friend. The same principle applies to a proprietary POS system.
Now, in the world of POS, proprietary hardware is often considered more old-school. This is in part due to the advent of personal computers, and more recently, iPads and tablets. Until fairly recently, POS systems all used proprietary hardware. Picture, if you will, one of those ancient electronic cash registers that were all the rage in the 70s and 80s, and which some businesses still use even today. (If you’re younger than 30 you may have trouble picturing one. Do your best.) These older machines all ran (and still run) on proprietary hardware and have very limited functionality.
That being said, even though proprietary systems are generally considered outdated, technologically advanced and highly functional proprietary hardware is still being developed today.
While modern proprietary systems might cost a bit more than their open source counterparts, the fact that the hardware has been specifically designed to work with the vendor’s software makes for smooth functionality. It also may make troubleshooting specific glitches with the vendor a simpler process.
An example of a well known POS solution that uses proprietary hardware is First Data’s Clover Point of Sale systems: Clover Station (pictured), Clover Mini, and Clover Mobile. Paul Rasori, the VP of Product Managment at First Data, has this to say about the merits of proprietary systems:
“[Clover provides] all-in-one solutions that combine printers and scanners, secure pin pads, contactless readers, chip card readers and magstripe readers, etc into a single footprint. Conversely, open source solutions require the developer to piecemeal these components together from multiple vendors, which reduces reliability, increases cost and results in a cumbersome solution for the merchant.”
Open Source POS Hardware
So, now that we know what proprietary hardware is, we can discuss the alternative. Based off of its name alone, even the least technical of us should be able to discern what open source hardware means. If you guessed that it has something to do with hardware that is open for anyone to use, then ding, ding, ding! Winner, winner chicken dinner! Open source hardware (sometimes referred to as commercial hardware) is hardware that is available for general public use; anyone can modify, distribute, and use those items.
Say, for instance, you decide it’s time to upgrade your POS system. If you choose a system that allows for open source hardware, you may be able to use your own iPad, tablet, computer, or smartphone to run your POS system. Depending on the particular hardware requirements of your POS, you may even be able to use some of the other peripheral hardware you have left lying around (printers, cash drawers, etc.). Many POS companies sell hardware items individually and some offer bundle deals. These might be good options, don’t get me wrong, but if your POS works with open source hardware, you have the freedom to shop for hardware from multiple places, guaranteeing that you find the best deal.
Another perk to working with a company which offers open source hardware is that it allows the company to focus on software and the user experience instead of on creating and maintaining hardware. According to Wajih Rahman, a lead sales engineer at Revel:
“At Revel, […] we leverage relationships with industry leaders in the hardware space and integrate Revel’s POS with leading, open source hardware manufacturers. This allows us to concentrate on the experience of our end-users, allowing them to utilize high quality and cost effective solutions from our partners.”
Some companies offer POS customers the option to use either a proprietary or a commercial system. A few examples include NCR Silver, NCR Pro, eHopper, and iConnect. The great thing about this is that users don’t have to sacrifice the POS software they like simply because it doesn’t offer the type of hardware they prefer.
You now know the difference between proprietary and open source hardware and can show off your newfound knowledge the next time this topic comes up in conversation. And just in time! We all know how frequently people like to talk about Point of Sale and the hardware that comes with it!
If you still have questions and are looking for the right POS system for your business, let us know and we would be happy to help.