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Thumbzup cuts through payment palaver

The Payment Blade from thumbzup is essentially a Payment Pebble and smartphone in one.

The Payment Blade from thumbzup is essentially a Payment Pebble and smartphone in one.

Thumbzup, the local tech start-up behind Absa's mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) solution, the Absa Payment Pebble, has started piloting a new locally-developed payment device with the bank.

Stafford Masie, CEO and founder of thumbzup, this morning took the wraps off the Payment Blade, which he describes as a powerful payments acceptance solution that augments the Payment Pebble, and a world first.

The Payment Blade negates the need for a smartphone, explains Masie. "It is a device that envelops the Payment Pebble, based on phone technology. It reworks smartphone components into a solution that acts as a communications device for Pebble. What the Kindle did for reading, the Blade will do for payments."

Instead of connecting via a SIM supplied by a specific service provider, says Masie, the Payment Blade is bundled with an access point name so that it connects automatically. "Kind of like Amazon did with ‘Whispernet' for its 3G Kindle. This means the device just boots up and connects, removing the complexity and the need for training."

The Payment Blade runs on a purpose-made version of the Android operating system, which enables the rendering of third-party apps onto the device, says Masie. The device will ship with software development kits with an application programming interface.

Thumbzup developed the Blade to fill a number of gaps in the market, says Masie. "It has become evident there is an opportunity to deliver a low-cost combination of payment device and dedicated host platform into the market to create a better experience for both merchants and customers."

He says the device is expected to cost from between R70 and R80 per month when it launches "early in the new year". The Payment Pebble currently costs R50 per month.

Device details

The Payment Blade comprises the dedicated host appliance (with a four-inch touch-screen) and a Payment Pebble device which it hosts embedded in an integrated package. Although it is integrated, however, the Pebble device can be removed for use on a different host, or for replacement with another Pebble device.

There are two versions of the Blade – the Payment Blade Foundation and the higher-end Payment Blade Enterprise. The latter, explains Masie, includes a 5MP camera, barcode scanner and the ability to make phone calls. "The Blade Enterprise includes a back-end service with which merchants can create a white list of numbers the device can call. Beyond that, the device has no value as an actual phone."

The Foundation version is expected to cost under R80 per month, while the Enterprise should come in at below the R100 per month mark – excluding voice and additional data options. "Other smartphone payment solutions require that the device is plugged into your expensive device, using connectivity on top of that.

"We have found that more than 65% of smartphone owners who took up the Payment Pebble had never accessed their phone's app store before needing to do so for the payment solution. So people have these beautiful devices, but they don't know how to use them. The Blade takes the need for literacy away."

Masie says the company is "absolutely" eyeing international markets, noting the US – which is in the final stages of converting to EMV standards – is a "no-brainer" market for the Payment Blade.


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