As noted by Wired, Square's new ultra thin card reader was developed under the direction of Jesse Dorogusker, who was Apple's Director of Engineering for iPhone, iPod, and iPad Accessories up until 2011, when he left to become Square's VP of Hardware.
Before leaving Apple, Dorogusker headed the development of Apple's Lightning connector, the two-way plug that replaced the 30-pin connector in Apple products beginning with the iPhone 5.
To develop the thinner card reader for Square, Dorogusker was forced to move away from stock components and develop proprietary hardware such as a new custom read head that is able to read two bands of data from the magnetic stripes on credit cards, resulting in greater swipe accuracy.
Dorogusker and his team concentrated on improving the "feel" of swiping, incorporating additional tension in a spring that attaches to the read head for a more satisfying credit card swiping experience. They also developed a custom chip, allowing the team to shrink the Reader's size while improving its performance.
In terms of the design of the internals, though, the chip offered another fantastic advantage: an opportunity to ditch the Reader's battery. The old version relied on a coin cell, which added around two millimeters to the overall thickness of the device. With their own chip, though, Square was able to be much more efficient in their use of power, to the point that they could draw all they needed from the smartphone via the audio jack. As a result, the new Reader dropped the battery and two millimeters along with it. "For the nerds on the team, that is crazy awesome," Dorogusker says.Wired has a full rundown on the design process behind the new Square Reader, which is well worth reading.
It shows how a smart approach to a single component can yield all sorts of advantages. "It cascades through," Dorogusker says. "Designing our own electronics got us better performance, got rid of the battery and got rid of our biggest field issue all in one go."
The new Square Reader can be purchased from retail stores beginning next year, but it is immediately available for free from the Square website. The accompanying Square Register app can be downloaded from the App Store for free. [Direct Link]