Starbucks Strikes Again... Wirelessly!

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Just under a year ago, I wrote how Starbucks and Apple drove adoption of WiFi. I also wrote that Starbucks was considering adopting, in its coffee shops, one of the competing wireless inductive charging standards, PMA, and not alternatives like Qi.

This is reminiscent of the old Beta vs. VHS wars in the 80s, and Blu-Ray vs. HD a few years ago. In the end, someone with enough weight and enough network impact selects one, and it locks it in.

It looks like Starbucks' trial of PMA in a few states has been a success, and they are now expanding nationwide. The idea of being able to go into a Starbucks and not look for a free power plug - there are plenty in the newest Starbucks, but never enough in the older ones (and sometimes not even the newer ones) - is extremely attractive to anyone who is hanging out in one with friends, reading the paper, or just working.

Unfortunately, many phones - including Apple's flagship iPhone 5S - do not have any form of wireless charging, and many others have an alternate form. But standard selection in a very widespread and heavily-used location should drive demand for that format in many phones. Apple has been waiting by the sidelines to see which wins out; while Apple could have taken sides, the last thing they need is for customers to say, "I paid how much for this phone and I cannot charge it at my favourite Starbucks?!?" Without a clear early winner and a split market, Apple probably was wise to wait it out.

What is next? Security. It is great to drop your phone in and charge it, but it just makes it easier for someone to walk away with it; they don't even need to unplug it. I suspect three options will arise:

  1. Alarm: An app (or built into Android/iOS) that has an option to alarm as soon as it disconnects from charging. That would certainly serve as a deterrent, especially if you have to enter your passcode/passphrase to disable it.
  2. Lock: Expect some form of Kensington-type cable lock to be built into the next iteration of Starbucks cables.
  3. Magnetic: Some type of connection between Starbucks app and your phone that creates a strong magnet that cannot be disconnected without it being disengaged.

It should be interesting...