Mobile

Why Square wants to replace TVs with tablets in New York City taxis

Almost all of New York City’s iconic yellow cabs now have a TV in the back seat playing a loop of local news and entertainment. But if innovator Jack Dorsey has his way, those taxi TVs could be replaced with tablet computers that use his company Square’s technology to accept credit card payments.

Square recently met with the Taxi and Limousine Comission, according to CBS, to discuss a pilot program that would put tablet computers into 50 cabs in place of the current Taxi TV system. The company will have an official meeting with the TLC on March 1 to hash out the idea.

As an interesting historical sidenote, Dorsey has been fascinated by urban transportation and dispatch systems since he was a kid. The open source software he designed in high school is still used by many cab companies, and the kernel of his idea for Twitter came from his work on dispatch software for taxis and couriers.

Putting tablets into taxis would allow riders to make purchases during the ride, for example buying movie tickets while driving to the cinema. Square would process the credit card purchase and take a cut. The city hopes introducing Square into the mix will increase competition and drive down processing fees, benefiting both drivers and riders.

Another New York service, Foursquare, has also been mentioned in the press coverage of this initiative. It’s not clear if Foursquare is getting in on the ground floor or is just a relevant hometown example of an app that riders might use while in a taxi.

Having a tablet connected to the web in a taxi does have a lot of risks. How do you keep people from surfing to adult only sites and installing spyware onto the device. What happens when a rider logs into their Gmail and forgets to log out before leaving the cab. These are important details. Still, a tablet is clearly a much more flexible (in the software sense) and interesting platform for creating new and interesting apps that add value to a trip, when compared to a traditional TV.

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