Normally, I'm careful about not stealing other people's work, but the Android logo isn't exactly an original work.

Normally, I’m careful about not stealing other people’s artwork, but the Android logo isn’t exactly an original.

You know what’s weird? The Android operating system. While Apple dominates brainspace in the mobile market, Android is busy killing it as the world’s most popular mobile OS. Halfway through 2015, Android had 82.8% of the smartphone OS market. And no wonder: it’s a flexible OS, compatible with all kinds of hardware and doesn’t lock you into a single app marketplace. It does all the things that smartphones and tablets should do–texting, email, web, social media, replacing a lighter at a concert–and it’s highly customisable. So it makes perfect sense that Android should find itself as a tool for businesses beyond easy communication. But I don’t need to sell you on that idea: you’re here reading this, right? You’ve already decided that you’re ready to take your relationship with your Android device to the next level, and it’s going to run the POS for your retail business. But it can’t just be any point of sale app: it needs to be the right one, capable of exploiting the best of what mobile and Android have to offer. Some companies get it right (ahem!) while others miss the mark. Here, then, are ten key features to look for in an Android POS app, listed in no particular order:

1. A Beautiful, User Friendly Interface.


Like it or not, when it comes to software looks count for a lot. For any number of reasons, the screens we need to look at all day for work ought to have something we want to look at. But an app also needs to be useful–in the way it’s laid out and in the feedback it gives. With Android, computing is boiled down to the tip of your finger; you’d almost have to try to make the user experience a frustrating one. Still, a lot of developers manage to do just that, and the best software will distinguish itself with seamless, immersive experiences.

With a POS, that means the dance of button taps and swipes when ringing up and cashing out an order. Like any good dance partner, your POS needs to keep up with and respond to you, and do so in a way that feels like a natural part of the process. That may sound like crazy hippie talk, but it’s also the truth–the super groovy truth, man.

2. Offline Functionality.

The cloud is what makes it possible to run your business on a device smaller than a legal pad. With server and storage hardware, backups, and security being taken care of, your tablet or phone becomes the powerful front-end to a whole mess of unseen IT. But access to the cloud requires an internet connection, while your customers’ ability to give you business shouldn’t. Not being able to withstand an outage also puts a damper on the “mobility” part of your Android solution, doesn’t it? You want to move around with freedom, even if it’s just in your store and out of wi-fi range.

3. Inventory Management.

Image by Jordy Zipdash (Flickr)

Image by Jordy Zipdash (Flickr)

Most point-of-sales offer some kind of basic inventory feature at the least, but again: an Android phone/tablet is meant to be a portable thing. It’s got a camera, it can read bar- and QR-codes, and with POS software it’s as if all the backoffice data is stored in your pocket. Imagine doing a stocktake without pen and paper, never having to make a trip back to a computer to enter in data, and having auto-generated purchase orders for low stock items ready for you as soon as you’ve scanned the last item.

4. Hardware Compatibility.

Part of the appeal of Android is that it’s an open system–it works with a wide variety of hardware from just about all of the top electronics and peripheral manufacturers. So make sure your POS does, too. There’s no sense in limiting yourself through software, especially if you’ve already got equipment you’d like to repurpose.

Image by N. Seal (Flickr)
Image by N. Seal (Flickr)

5. Emphasis on Security.

Being mobile and wireless is fun and all, but with great freedom comes great insecurity. That’s the law of nature at work. Your Android devices come with great security features, but that’s not worth much if the software you’re using on top of it doesn’t. From your data that’s hosted in the cloud to the customer data that’s transmitted during credit card transactions, the importance of security cannot be understated. The highest levels of encryption for your company’s data, compatibility with EMV chip cards, and aggressive backup strategies are the minimum you’d want to see from your POS provider to ensure your data is safe.

6. Data Accessibility.

Again, it all comes back to being a mobile platform. You can’t take your business with you, but your Android phone goes everywhere. If you can’t access every last bit of your point-of-sale–from the register to the customer database to the reporting and beyond–from wherever you are, what’s the point? Watch out for a POS that offers scaled back versions on mobile devices, or ones who focus all their development efforts on iOS compatibility.

7. Customer Database.

Since you don’t have to worry about managing any software, or adding storage to accommodate data growth, you should be able to just throw as much information as possible at the POS. Beyond inventory and sales histoy, the next big dataset to save is a list of your customers. Having their contact info helps you stay in touch with (read: market to) them and knowing everything they’ve bought helps you stay in touch more effectively. It also helps get the most out of certain integratins.

8. Highly Customisable via Integration.

Android can adapt to any situation.Photo by Uncalno Tekno (Flickr)

Android can adapt to any situation.
Photo by Uncalno Tekno (Flickr)

Your POS can do a lot, but it shouldn’t have to do everything; it’s better to have the choice to find the best app for you and make sure it works with your POS.

Besides, if you wanted to be locked into a closed software ecosystem, you wouldn’t be running on Android. Make sure the app you’re looking at plays well with some of the major cloud business/retail apps available–accounting software, loyalty rewards apps, employee scheduling, online ordering, to name a few.

9. Advanced Reporting and Analytics.

What’s the use of hoarding all this data if you can’t learn something from it? This is another one of those features that every app is going to have in some basic form or another, so it’s good to look into exactly what kind of reporting you can get. The ability to filter, tweak, and analyse your sales, inventory, and customer histories, alone or in combination, is a valuable one. Don’t just settle for a platform that spits out 5 or 10 canned reports.

10. Constant Improvement and Updates.

Android is a dynamic platform. New releases and versions are always in development–always–so make sure the company whose POS you end up going with has the same mindset. It’s not enough to stay on top of bugs and issue fixes quickly. It’s not enough to add new features and improvement of old ones. Developers also need to show that they’re in tune with the features and improvements of the OS itself, so that new versions of the software don’t fall into obsolescence by virtue of not being OS-aware.

This may seem like a lot of ground that developers need to cover, but there are some who cover it all. Rather than throw a couple of links out to you, I figure it’s more helpful to just point you to some of the better examples of point-of-sale for specific businesses. Find yours, follow the link, and check out how these solutions will make the most out of your Android.

Restaurant Point of Sale
Bar Point of Sale
Hospitality Point of Sale
Retail Point of Sale
Coffee Shop Point of Sale