Atari 520ST and TRS-80 Model 4

The Fascinating History of POS Systems

The customer experience has been a fundamental focal point for any good business since the world of commerce was introduced. The customer experience can be the difference between completing a transaction and the customer opting to shop elsewhere. Today’s super-slick, seamless transactions through electronic devices come as standard, but as with everything, POS had to start somewhere, and things weren’t always so state of the art.

Here, we will be enlightening you on the fascinating history of EPOS systems and how previous developments are helping to guide the industry into the future.

In the Beginning

During its humble beginnings, POS systems weren’t much more than rudimentary typewriters laced with calculator-style functions, but the POS was set for its much-needed overhaul during the mid 1970’s. IBM released the IBM 3650 and 3660 systems; these were effectively a set-up of terminals that were all wired back to a central mainframe, or controller. It was the mainframe that took care of all the processing, while the systems’ terminals were there purely as a visual display. Notably, it was this system that saw the first commercial use of technology such as local area network (LAN), remote initialisation and peer-to-peer communication.

IBM firmly set the standard for the time, with increasing numbers of businesses opting to introduce these expensive and somewhat clunky POS systems. Dillard’s department stores, along with Pathmark stores in America claimed the stake as the first retailers to install these ground-breaking systems. The up side of this was that they were instantly catapulted above their rivals in terms of having a huge advantage over the competition who trailed in their wake.

A short time later, the world’s biggest fast-food chain of today – McDonald’s -decided to cash in on the idea of having the first microprocessor-controlled cash register systems installed in their restaurants. By 1976, McDonald’s had served 20 billion hamburgers, and system-wide sales exceeded $3 billion (£2.3B)!

The microprocessor system was developed by a man called William Brobeck in 1974. This POS device offered it users a physical button for every single item on the menu, providing a fast and efficient ordering service for customers, which also meant customers turnover was drastically enriched. Furthermore, this was the founding set-up that made it possible to connect as many as eight devices to one of the interconnected computers. This meant that everything from prices, taxes and printed reports were able to be managed with little effort. There’s little doubt that, looking back, the boom in fast food helped the EPOS industry launch into previously unchartered heights.

Black and White Be Gone!

The next big development that the EPOS world saw came during the 1980’s when businesses were able to install EPOS software/solutions that offered graphical interfaces. The first user interface to provide a colour-graphical and touch screen function came from Atari’s 520ST system in 1986. This model featured a widget driven interface that allowed configuration of the software without the requirement of advanced programming knowledge. As a result, this need for technical knowledge was reduced (and welcomed!) meaning that it was far more appealing to businesses who weren’t tech-savvy.

Next up came the developments in the power of computing along with a fall in the cost of computer parts. These changes paved the way for increased numbers of businesses to find it viable to consider integrating a POS system to assist in building their overall customer service. This wasn’t just restricted to the bigger enterprises either, as the SME’s were getting in on it now too.

Enter the 1990’s

The 1990’s came around, and the history of EPOS systems entered the start of more new advancements, which was thanks largely to the accessibility of local processing power, quicker networking and local data storage. The operating of these POS solutions most frequently came through Windows and Linux platforms, and slowly but surely, systems began to find themselves becoming accessible as an off the shelf product. The result of this meant that prices lowered again, and for the business, systems didn’t have to be exclusively tailor-made to suit individual needs.

The influx of POS systems continued, and the 90’s saw the standardisation of POS coding language as a way of helping compatibility and uniformity with these systems. The two stand out initiatives were JavaPOS and OPOS, both of which followed the standard of the UnifiedPOS.

JavaPOS is for Java what OPOS is for Windows, and thus largely platform independent. It allows the suppliers and brands to work with each other, and the history of EPOS systems with it.

Reach for the Clouds

The introduction of cloud-based computing has utterly revolutionised the modern-day computing landscape. The benefits mean that the reliance on local hardware is removed and instead allows for the uploading and carrying out of essential tasks to be achieved remotely. More recently, the cloud-based systems have created an avenue for opportunities to push POS systems even further, namely providing users with access to fundamental information from practically anywhere in the world, on a host of devices from smartphone to tablet and laptop, for example.

What’s more, start-ups are now able to harness this modern technology, using barcode readers through the inbuilt camera on the smart devices, and making card payments through Near Field Communications tech. The upside to this is that monetary outlay and technical proficiency when it comes to a POS system has been slashed drastically over the years.

We’ve come a long way, that’s for sure, and if you are looking for more help and information on POS systems for your business, CES Software is always on hand to give you the assistance you need.


Image: Blake Patterson under Creative Commons.