By Roy Furchgott
Starbucks is introducing two new applications for the iPhone that will make it easier for java junkies to get their fix — and make it possible to pay right from the phone, which has broad implications for mobile commerce.
The myStarbucks application has a slew of features that make it easier to remember your friend’s favorite drinks and to locate nearby Starbucks stores. More interesting is a test of a Starbucks card, which will allow people in select West Coast stores to pay for coffee using a bar code on a phone’s screen.
The myStarbucks app, which is usable anywhere, lets you store the recipe for your favorite coffee concoction and to share it with other people. You can send your request for a grande skinny caramel macchiato with two sugars to the office coffee gofer and be assured that they get it right.
Don’t know what you want to drink? A flavor selector helps you choose a coffee based on flavors like earthy, balanced or nutty. You can also look up the nutritional information, like the calorie count of your drink (you’ll soon be switching to skim).
The app also has a store locator that searches by amenities, in case you need a Starbucks with a changing station, for instance.
The Starbucks card mobile app is being tested at select stores in Seattle; Cupertino, Calif.; Mountain View, Calif.; Sunnyvale, Calif.; and San Jose, Calif. It works just like a regular Starbucks card, in that you buy credit then use it against your orders. When you want to buy a drink, turn on the app, and your screen will show a barcode. The store will scan the barcode and the dollar value of the drink will be subtracted from your purchased credit.
The Starbucks card app is a test only, said the company. It did not say when it would roll it out to other stores or in what areas.
Some airlines have experimented with using similar barcodes as boarding passes. If the Starbucks test is successful, it may lead to other pay-by-phone services, like gift cards that could be sent directly to the phone, or perhaps phone-based debit cards.
“Increasingly consumers are centered around their phones, and more of the functions of the wallet are migrating there,” said Ross Rubin, an analyst for the NPD Group.
Mr. Rubin said that while bar codes, like those Starbucks is using, work on a wide variety of handsets, a technology called near-field communication, which is in use in Japan, is a more realistic model for commerce, he said. Phones with near-field transmitters, which can transmit about 4 inches, are held near a terminal to complete a transaction.
Mr. Rubin said that transactions by phone do seem to be on the way. “It may not happen by bar code,” he said. “Longer term, near field technology is probably more expedient.”