Square Inc. is making its smartphone magnetic stripe card reader available through Apple Inc.'s retail stores and website, but its rivals got there first.

Square has distributed its smartphone card reader primarily through the mail to people who have downloaded its payment application.

The company, headed by Twitter Inc. co-founder Jack Dorsey, has pitched its product as a simpler way to begin accepting card payments than conventional payment industry channels.

Though the deal would seem to grant Square further legitimacy in the payments space, it is not a breakthrough for the startup, said Gil Luria, a research analyst at Wedbush Securities Inc., a Los Angeles equity research firm.

Many vendors sell their wares through Apple's stores, including VeriFone Systems Inc. and Intuit Inc., Luria said. VeriFone, of San Jose, Calif., has proven itself to be a strong terminal maker, while Intuit, of Mountain View, Calif., has established itself as a viable processor, Luria said.

"I have to approach Square with some level of caution and skepticism," he said.

Square has a questionable model that assumes a great deal of transaction risk, Luria said.

"The allure and the interest is mostly because of who the founder is," he said.

Square offers its reader at no charge.

Though Apple is charging $9.95 at its stores, buyers receive a $10 refund once they activate their account, according to published reports.

The Apple site describes Square as "a revolutionary service that allows you to accept credit cards, using a reader that plugs into your iPod touch (fourth generation), iPhone 4 or iPad along with a free easy-to-use app."

The Square reader connects to the headphone jack of those devices.

"There's no need for complicated contracts, monthly fees or merchant accounts," the Apple site said. "All you pay is 2.75% per transaction."

Square officials declined to comment.

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