Are You Ready For USB Peripherals At The POS?
USB (universal serial bus) will make its mark at the POS (point of sale). What are the advantages of USB, and when will VARs be able to profit?
USB (universal serial bus) is clearly making an impact on the PC world. Most home and office PCs come standard with USB ports and it's becoming the standard of Internet connected peripherals (keyboards, scanners, audio players, etc.) because of ease of use and ease of installation. The external serial bus supports data transfer rates of 12 Mbps. A single USB port can be used to connect up to 127 peripheral devices and it supports plug and play installation. The newest advance is USB 2.0. Also referred to as Hi-Speed USB, it supports data rates up to 480 Mbps. USB 2.0 is a fully compatible extension of USB 1.1 and uses the same cables and connectors. With this type of interfacing it's no wonder that USB is predicted to eventually replace serial and parallel ports.
Serial ports provide a standard connector and protocol to let you attach devices, such as modems, to your computer. Serial ports only transfer one bit of data at a time or 115 kilobits per second.
A parallel port uses a 25-pin connector to connect printers, computers, and other devices that need relatively high bandwidth. With a standard parallel port, 50 to 100 kilobytes of data are sent per second, making it faster than a serial port. However, USB is faster than both, offering a data transfer rate of 122 megabits of data per second.
For the last several years industry experts have been pointing to USB to become the standard when connecting peripherals at the POS (point of sale). The technology is there, but replacing proprietary POS systems can be costly. However, as end users upgrade outdated POS systems, USB will be a common connectivity option for retailers.
Easy Interfacing, Increased Sales Opportunities
The cost of upgrading the end user's current POS system to make USB an option is a concern. "It is costly to replace existing POS systems so that the end user has the option of USB. Also, very few POS peripheral manufacturers have USB connectivity, so demand and the competition aren't there yet, furthering the cost factor in implementing USB technology," says Stuart Siegel, VP of sales and marketing at IEE Inc. (Van Nuys, CA). Siegel believes cost will go down dramatically in the next six months as the demand for USB-compliant peripherals at the POS increases. Until then it may be the ease of integration that drives USB in the market. "USB is easy to install, so it will cut VARs' installation times and give them more sales opportunities," explains Mike Bauhs, product and marketing manager at Cherry Corp. (Waukegan, IL). Since USB is plug and play, there is less installation time involved. By having a USB offering you are able to provide customers with a way to connect more peripherals at the POS. "Hardware cost may be the same as a PS2 [a port specially designed to use with mice and keyboards], but the VARs' service and installation costs are less. This gives VARs the opportunity to be more profitable," says Bauhs.
As shrinking form factors continue to make room for marketing tools and a more aesthetic cash wrap, many end users are looking for smaller peripherals and less networking hardware. Instead of having a PS2 connector for the keyboard and another for the mouse and a serial port for a smart card reader, a retailer can have one USB connector for all of these devices. This not only provides a plug and play installation for peripherals, it also saves space at the POS. "We are definitely optimistic about USB as far as keyboards, cash drawers, pole displays, MSRs [magnetic stripe readers], and scanners are concerned," explains Tim Becerra, director of marketing at POSIFLEX Business Machines, Inc. (Hayward, CA). "USB offers the ability to connect, it auto detects [when plugged in, the port automatically identifies the peripheral], there is minimal setup configuration, and it's easier to service as well." USB offers support at the store level. USB connectivity allows for daisy chaining, making it possible for peripherals to be connected to one another in a series.
USB Opportunities Come With POS Upgrades
Although USB-compliant peripherals make sense at the POS, end users may have a few objections to upgrading their systems. According to Robert Benavides, VP of sales at Indiana Cash Drawer (Shelbyville, IN), the growth of USB will take off as retailers upgrade their POS systems. "There is some sales opportunity, but until the majority of retailers are running new OSs [operating systems] and hardware, we won't see major opportunities to upgrade to USB interface products," says Benavides. A reason for this attitude may stem from the cost of replacing proprietary equipment to make their hardware USB compatible. "If an end user is using an older POS application in an OS like DOS or Windows 95 or NT, then a retailer will have to upgrade to Windows XP, Windows 2000, or Windows XPO. That is something VARs need to be prepared for. However, those OSs are more powerful, so there is a benefit to a retailer," states Bauhs. With an updated OS, retailers can add on POS applications that they would not be able to use otherwise. Bauhs believes now is a great time for VARs to begin looking at sales potential in customers who have not upgraded their systems since the computer buying frenzy of Y2K. Most computer technology is out-of-date after five years, making now a good time to sell upgrades. Make USB connectivity options just one more compelling reason to upgrade POS systems.
Drive USB To End Users
"The progression of USB into POS is the natural evolution of the beast, and it all really goes twofold. It goes with the changes in basic computer equipment and it goes with price performance, getting more for less," explains Siegel. Benavides believes change is possible and USB may be high in demand in the future. "It is quite probable it will change, but keep in mind the last three to five years everyone was certain that USB would have a great impact on POS. It hasn't yet, although we have seen a proliferation of USB ports on PCs," states Benavides. Advancements in USB continue. "IBM is said to be coming out with a powered USB port that will eliminate the need for a power adapter. We haven't seen it yet in POS, so for now you just have the standard USB version 2.0 ports that are starting to come out and give you a little more speed than the standard USB ports," notes Becerra. As USB continues to be driven by the PC push, POS end users will begin to demand the same technology. As the price of USB drops and it proves its efficiency and productivity advantages, USB will be a connectivity option your customers will demand.