These are tablet-based systems that run on Apple’s iOS platform. Each system has apps that you download to your iPad, and some work on iPhones as well. The iPad either connects to or is used alongside the credit card terminal provided by your payment processing company. The POS app records your transactions and generates a variety of sales reports that you can use to analyze your business’s performance. Many iPad POS systems also include inventory and customer management tools. You can create a countertop checkout station by connecting the iPad to a tablet stand, receipt printer and cash drawer. Additional peripherals such as barcode scanners can also be connected to the system.
Many POS companies offer systems for either retail businesses or restaurants, though some offer solutions for both and can also be used by service-based businesses. All of the iPad POS systems we reviewed are suitable for retailers, and many can be used by counter-serve restaurants as well. Four of the systems also can be used by full-service restaurants. You can see more options for restaurant POS systems in our review. Most iPad POS systems give you a choice of processor; you can learn more about these companies in our credit card processing review.
Every iPad POS company offers a different combination of features, equipment and processing. Many also offer ancillary features such as accounting, employee management and marketing in the attempt to create a one-stop solution. This variance between systems means that you can’t simply compare pricing to determine overall value. Rather, you need to calculate the costs for all three components as you evaluate systems.
Additionally, you want to decide which ancillary services you need so you can figure out whether it’s more cost-effective to choose an advanced POS system that has these features built in or a more basic system that offers these features in a higher service tier or as add-ons or integrations that would cost extra.
Although most iPad POS companies offer service on a month-to-month basis, some have multi-year contracts. Before you sign a contract with any POS service, you want to read the contract in full and make sure you understand what terms and obligations you’re agreeing to. Pay particular attention to term length, all costs and fees, and the cancellation procedure, including any penalties, such as liquidated damages, for early cancellation. If the POS company will also provide your credit card processing service, you want to verify that you have the full contract (this is typically a three-part document: application, terms of service and program guide).
Leasing Contracts & “Free” POS Hardware
Whenever possible, you want to purchase your POS equipment upfront, as it can be significantly less expensive than leasing. It’s also better to buy than to accept “free” POS hardware or participate in a “free placement program” provided by your payment processing service so you can avoid being locked into the noncancelable contract that often accompanies such deals. These contracts are problematic because if your business closes, you’re personally responsible to fulfill all obligations.
Contracts can be as short as one year or as long as five, though most are for three years and automatically renew for additional one- or two-year terms. If you wish to cancel your account, you usually only have a 30-day window at the end of the term to submit written notice.
If you accept “free” POS hardware in exchange for signing a lengthy contract, you want to find out if you’ll own the equipment when the term ends, if you’re required to return it or if you must to pay more if you want to keep it. If you’re required to return it, you want to ask about wear-and-tear penalties and restocking fees.
While some POS systems are compatible with either iPad or Android tablets, many only work on one platform. If you prefer iPads, chances are you won’t be satisfied with a system that only works with Android tablets. If you want to use the iPads and iPhones you already own, platform is an important consideration as you evaluate systems.
iPads are well known for their user-friendly interface and stability, as Apple designs both the hardware and the operating software. iPads also have superior security because iOS is a closed platform, making it a less attractive target for hackers (though it isn’t immune to malware attacks and it’s important to keep your devices updated). However, iPads tend to be more expensive than Android tablets because they’re produced by a single company rather than multiple manufacturers.
We began our evaluation with a list of 21 companies. We looked for iPad-based POS systems designed for small businesses. We removed from our list systems designed exclusively for restaurants and retail niches such as clothing, jewelry and flower shops. We then chose the 10 POS systems that performed best in our testing.
We evaluated iPad POS systems based on the following aspects:
The best iPad POS companies don’t require long-term commitments, offer customizable configurations and provide reliable customer support. These systems give you an impressive mix of features, a choice of payment processing companies and integrations for core business management programs. The best POS systems . . .
A point-of-sale (POS) system can help your store, restaurant or service-based business run more efficiently. In addition to recording sales data, it streamlines sales-related tasks such as reporting, tracking inventory and capturing customer contact information. Our iPad POS systems review can help you identify which iPad-based options are in your budget and include the features you need most.
The best iPad POS companies in our review give you a choice of payment processing companies, which can save you money. They also have a robust selection of features and can grow with your business, whether that means adding another checkout station to the system, augmenting it with add-ons or integrations or even adding another location to your business.
Our top three iPad POS recommendations are listed below, along with some of their best features. Keep reading to see more recommendations for specific situations and to learn more about what you should look for in an iPad POS system.