iPhone apps: Find a Starbucks, pay for lattes with your cell phone

| September 28, 2009

National coffee peddler Starbucks has officially gotten in the mobile phone game now, with two free iPhone apps that let caffeine junkies do everything from finding the nearest location to making purchases with their cell phones.

myStarbucks app
myStarbucks offers a variety of fun and handy features for fans of the brand. They can save and share favorite Starbucks drinks with friends, look up recipes and, in an indecisive moment, use the flavor selector to narrow down choices by desired flavors, like earthy, balanced or nutty. Users can also look up nutritional info and calorie counts of their drinks of choice. I find that a little baffling, though, because they’re not exactly great for business. (Let’s face it: If you knew exactly what went into those grande caramel macchiatos, would you still order them?)

But the star of the show is the store locator. There’s nothing worse than needing a caffeine fix, and not knowing where to go. Better yet, specific amenities are searchable, which makes finding one with a drive-thru or changing station easy to find.

To get this app, click here to go to the App Store page.

Starbucks Card Mobile app
Starbucks Card Mobile is like a digital version of the plastic gift or pre-paid cards. Patrons can use their phones to look up card balances, add more money to their accounts and, best of all, actually pay for store transactions. Just flash the onscreen barcode, and the barrista scans it to debit the amount from the card account.

Sounds great, but there’s a downside: Although the app is available everywhere, the pre-paid card function only works in a few places for now. It’s on a limited test run in Seattle and the Silicon Valley (CA) area, including Cupertino, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and San Jose. (Hmmm. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple rushed this through approval, just so its Cupertino-based office jockeys could get juiced in a hurry. But hey, that’s only conjecture…) Click here to grab the app.

Forget the wallet, take the cell phone
I’m not sure why these apps weren’t combined into one awesome program or, for that matter, why it took so long for the coffee purveyor to come out with a mobile phone app. Regardless, these two new entries offer some handy functionality for Starbucks fans. And, it’s just one more step on the road to cell phones replacing wallets.

Many technologists think this is inevitable, and I tend to agree. In my own life, slowly but surely, I’m relying on the phone more and the wallet less. For example, the CardStar app has replaced most of my loyalty cards. It displays UPC barcodes that work with scanners about 80% of the time (at least for me). Not perfect, but not bad. Starbucks and other apps are using 2D barcodes, which some think offers better accuracy.

Airlines have also started looking into mobile phone–displayed barcodes. They’re experimenting with them for use as boarding passes.

Pay-by-phone may be the wave of the future at home here, but it’s already a reality in Japan. Instead of bar codes, though, the predominate technology is near-field transmitters, which send signals to terminals 4 inches away. You just wave your phone at a receiver to pay for things.

That may be my dream scenario. Imagine future versions of Starbucks and other apps allowing pre-orders, combined with a wave-and-go payment process. Long lines would become a thing of the past.

[via NYT’s Gadgetwise blog]

CORRECTION: The BlackBerry app was mentioned in error. While there are Starbucks-themed wallpapers, and even a third-party Android app, there is no BlackBerry app that I know of that offers the same functionality as the iPhone app above. The post above has been edited to reflect that.

Sorry if I got your hopes up. But you know, Starbucks ought to take note in the interest and launch one. Apparently, from comments at Crackberry.com and other places, BB users seem to be quite the Starbucks fans.