Café Grumpy is the kind of hipster hangout that wouldn’t deign to trumpet itself. Tucked away on a quiet street in New York’s Chelsea neighbourhood, it’s easy to miss. There’s no sign out front, just a frowning face stenciled on a large shop window. And yet when I walked in for the first time, I immediately felt like one of the regulars. “Charge it to Miguel,” I told the barista after ordering a cappuccino, and charge it he did — to my phone. Not that I ever pulled my iPhone from my pocket. Seconds after the barista tapped my order on Grumpy’s minimalist register — an iPad mounted on a stylish countertop stand — my phone vibrated in my coat pocket, signaling that our transaction was complete. I couldn’t wait to check that everything had worked as promised. (It had.) For the first time ever I was tickled by the act of paying for something.
Perhaps you, too, have experienced a gee-whiz moment at the checkout counter when you used your phone to pay for a Starbucks (SBUX) latte, a blouse at Macy’s (M), or a box of screws at Home Depot (HD). Perhaps you’ve read how smartphone payments, already popular in parts of Asia and Europe, are coming to the U.S. in a big way. Or you may have read about Jack Dorsey, the Twitter co-founder, who is now disrupting the byzantine world of payments with his new company, Square. The white-hot San Francisco startup is already responsible for many breakthrough products, including the so-called digital wallet app I used for my touchless, cashless cappuccino purchase at Grumpy. (The café is a Dorsey favourite, and he steered me there. The coffee’s good too.)