For better or for worse, the United States is slowly catching up to the rest of the world when it comes to cell phone-based utility that goes far beyond mere voice calls and text messages. A recent patent filing detailed by Forbes magazine hints at the possibility that Apple and Starbucks may be leading the charge when it comes to consumers using their handsets to pay for small purchases - starting, of course, with grande lattes and maple scones.
According to Forbes:
Apple's application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office describes a process for placing an order and then notifying customers when an order is ready to grab at a pick-up station. One goal, the patent application notes, is to avoid an "annoying wait in a long queue if the purchaser arrives before completion of the order."
In September, Apple and Starbucks announced a partnership to give iPhone and iPod Touch users free Wi-Fi access to the iTunes Music Store inside of select coffee shops, with special considerations given to the songs in Starbucks' rotation. Taken on its own, the partnership wasn't much to get excited about. But, as with most things Apple, it seem to only hint at some much larger possibilities. Seriously, just imagine the revenues Apple could generate by taking a cut all those cups of coffee purchased at Starbucks across the country each morning. A few pennies per cup adds up pretty quickly when you consider the kind of volume that Starbucks does.
Japanese consumers, of course, have been buying all kinds of stuff from their cell phones for awhile now. This Business Week article from 2005 details Japanese carrier DoCoMo's then-new plan to enable cell phone-based credit card transactions and also mentions how subscribers had, at that point, already been using their handsets to pay for drinks from vending machines, groceries at convenient stores, and admission to movies and clubs.
Read more about Apple's patent at Forbes.com from here.