Lowe's, PacSun, Urban Outfitters Go Mobile POS. Does Apple Have This Locked Up?

Will any retailer ever use a non-Apple device for mobile POS again? Last week (Aug. 15), Lowe's, PacSun and Urban Outfitters all said they'll finish rolling out in-store mobile devices to associates by the end of the year: iPhones at Lowe's, iPod Touches at Urban Outfitters and iPads at Pacific Sunwear.

To be precise, Urban Outfitters is already using them for mobile POS, while Lowe's is just doing inventory and Web site checks but not POS—yet. PacSun on Tuesday (Aug. 23) said that it has already put the Apple devices into more than 300 stores, with 100 stores slated by the end of the year. Combine that with Nordstrom, JCPenney and Gucci all piloting iPads for in-store use, and it begins to look like Apple really does have a lock on in-store mobile devices.

That may not last—after all, Home Depot's home-brew mobile POS has probably processed more transactions than all those other retailers combined. And questions remain about how well those iDevices will pass PCI muster once the PCI Council finally begins setting harder standards for mobile devices.

Lowe's CEO Robert Niblock told an earnings call last week that the 1,700-store home improvement chain is deploying 42,000 iPhones for use by associates in the U.S. and Canada this year. "Our employees will check inventory availability, access how-to videos and utilize Lowes.com from the aisles of the store," Niblock said. "This is a significant step toward simplicity and seamlessness, and we will continue to add functionality to these devices over time." Translation: We'll do POS as soon as we can figure it out.

On a different earnings call last week, Urban Outfitters CEO Glen Senk told analysts that "mobile POS is now in 107 stores, with plans to be in all stores by the beginning of the holiday." That means a majority of the chain's 176 stores are already using iPod Touches equipped with attached sleds for swiping payment cards.

That type of attached device is exactly the sort of thing that might be enough to keep in-store mobile devices out of PCI scope. If a card's data is encrypted immediately after swiping and before it actually enters the phone or tablet, it could prove a lot easier to meet PCI requirements. That's an especially thorny issue with Apple's devices, because Apple can automatically add or change what's on the phone at will.

But the advantages of using off-the-shelf consumer products instead of custom POS devices (less expensive hardware and software, wider selection of peripherals, easier to find developers for creating custom software) may outrun those security issues. And with no major retailers yet announcing that they'll use Google's Android phones for in-store POS, so far it looks like it's Apple all the way.