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by Justin Guinn,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: November 5, 2015

Apple's iPad is being eagerly adopted by retailers in all segments. It's expected that by 2017, over 3.6 million iPads will have been shipped for use in North American retail and hospitality operations. Its attractive design, user-friendly interface and relatively affordable setup and maintenance costs are making iPad POS systems an appealing choice for retail operations. As a result, more and more point-of-sale vendors are releasing iPad applications for their POS systems. However, no iPad POS solution is perfect. Each type of deployment has its benefits and drawbacks. In this guide we'll cover:

Deployment Options
Benefits and Potential Issues
Market Trends to Understand

Note: This guide covers POS systems specifically with respect to Apple's iPad. For POS solutions that may work for other tablets, see our tablet POS guide; and for systems that can run on any mobile device (including smartphones), see our mobile POS (mPOS) guide.

Deployment Options

Web-based systems. With this deployment option, users access a vendor's point-of-sale application by logging into the system via a Web browser (e.g., Chrome, Firefox etc.). The benefit of this type of application is that retailers don't have to worry about software updates and backups. While many Web-based point-of-sale applications are responsive-developed to be viewable on a variety of devices at different resolutions—they may not be developed specifically for iPad, so the experience may not be flawless.

Remote access. In a remote access point-of-sale environment, the system is hosted in a central location and is accessed remotely via a virtual private network (VPN). It's important to note that remote managed applications are prone to "back door" attacks and should comply with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards, more commonly referred to as PCI compliance. This deployment option is becoming less commonplace.

Native iPad apps. Native iPad point of sale applications are developed specifically for iOS powered devices and deliver the best possible user experience. Native applications are installed directly to the iPad or other Apple device. The benefit is these applications are typically fast and reliable. The downside is they may require fees to upgrade and manual updating.

Benefits and Potential Issues

iPad POS systems are often great solutions for retail start-ups, small retail operations and mobile retailers, such as food truck vendors because they're easy to implement, scalable and affordable compared to traditional POS systems.

However, reporting and inventory management for some point-of-sale solutions, Square for example, are limited or non-existent. Retailers who handle large amounts of cash, require detailed reporting capabilities or use many external devices, such as signature pads, bar code readers and displays, may prefer a traditional POS system for handling transactions. Fortunately, many traditional providers now offer iPad applications or support via one of the deployment models mentioned above.

Retailers that adopt the right types of iPad POS software for their operations stand to benefit in many ways, such as:

Low upfront costs. Equipment and software for a single user iPad POS system can cost between $1,000 and $3,500, depending on hardware requirements and number of terminals.

Increased mobility. Because iPad devices are portable, retailers are free to move the checkout to the customer to provide faster service. This is especially important in restaurant operations and non-traditional storefronts, such as food trucks and pop-up markets, where a traditional POS system that lacks portability is inconvenient.

Improved data management. With an iPad POS system, retailers can efficiently manage receipts, credit card information and customer data. Additionally, these types of systems often include real-time tracking of sales data, so managers always have up-to-date information for making operational decisions.

Retailers that fail to realize some of these core benefits often do so because they:

  • Do not have the right infrastructure in place to support integration of software systems from different vendors.
  • Do not adequately prepare staff for adoption of new software.
  • Fail to properly train staff on how to leverage the software's full scope of features and functionality.

Markets Trends to Understand

E-payments and mobile wallet. In a Hospitality Technology report on POS software trends, 62.5 percent of respondents said enabling new payment options was a key motivator for pursuing a POS upgrade. At the same time, 35.6 percent of respondents said mobile wallet integration is a top feature they will look for when purchasing new point-of-sale software. There are many iPad POS systems available on the market which include electronic payment options.

Cloud software. From the same report, 40.7 percent of respondents said they want to centralize their POS data and will look at cloud and hosted software solutions to meet that need. Cloud-based point of sale software makes it easier for retailers to operate using new and secure technology, have instant access to sales data and scale up by way of integrating value add modules, such gift cards and loyalty reward programs. With a cloud-based system, there's no need to manage a secure server, schedule data backups or depend on administrators for upgrades.


When calculating the cost of iPad point-of-sale software, it's important to include hardware equipment costs. Make sure hardware choices are compatible by contacting the vendor. Common POS hardware components include:

Tablets iPad POS software typically supports iPad, iPad Mini and iPad Touch. Apple's tablets are often considered pricy compared to others, with costs ranging from $229 for an iPad Mini to $499 and more for iPads.
Stands and mounts iPad stands and mounts position and protect the devices. Costs typically range between $49 and $349, with high-end models reaching price points from $500 to $1,000 range.
Card reader Most iPad POS software packages include a credit card reader. When purchased separately, card readers typically have price tags between $10 and $100.
Barcode scanner iPads have a built-in camera that can serve as a barcode scanner. Retailers who scan barcodes frequently may prefer a handheld or mounted scanner, however. Costs typically range from $170 to $529 per device.
Receipt printer iPad compatible receipt and label printer costs range from $299 to $479.
Cash drawer Depending on your security requirements, cash drawer prices typically range between $100 and $299.

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