By December 23, 2007

Order Coffee From Your iPhone?

So you walk into your local Starbucks and stand in line. Reaching the counter, you ask the cashier for your usual half double decaffeinated half-caf with a twist of lemon, and hand over your credit card. And then wait for your order to be filled.

Typical beginning of a typical day.

But if Apple has its way, someday soon you won’t need to speak to the cashier. Nor will you need to hand over your credit card. Nor even stand in line.

Just walk in, pick up your hot cup of java, and go on your way.

All thanks to wireless communication system patent number 20070291710.

Simply put, the patent lets you use your WiFi-enabled iPhone or iPod to order things from participating vendors, much like the song-of-the-day iTunes linkup Apple is rolling out in conjunction with Starbucks.

An example…

Walk towards the right store, and it and your iPhone start communicating, identifying and authenticating themselves to one another and trading information in bursts of encrypted packets.

Once the initial handshake is complete, a new icon appears on your phone.

Let’s say—just as an example—it’s for Starbucks.

Select it, and you see a list of your regular orders plus a couple of related specials.

Hit the button for that half double decaffeinated half-caf and your order is instantly placed, automatically appearing on the attendent’s “to-do” list of orders to fill.

And billed to your personal account, naturally.

Time things just right, and that half-caf could be ready just as you enter the store and reach the counter.

It’s that simple.

The Starbucks connection…

In Japan one can use a phone to make purchases and buy food and drinks from vending machines. Is Apple busy bringing that concept here to the US?

Starting with a vendor with whom they’ve already forged a relationship?

Of course, Apple files a lot of patents, and not all of them see the light of day.

But answer this question: Do you really think that Starbucks is busy rolling out an advanced wireless communication system nationwide… just so they can sell a few extra tunes?

Looking at the numbers may help.

An iTunes track sells for a buck, of which the label gets 70-cents. So Apple and Starbucks get to split the rest, with Apple probably taking the lions share as they still have deliver the content. This leaves roughly 5-to-10 cents for Starbucks to drop into their tip jar.

Sell fifty or so tracks a week, and they could afford—maybe—to buy a cup of their own coffee.

With this technology, however, Starbucks can cut the time we spend waiting in line, improve service, lock in a few more customers, and perhaps even reduce staffing levels to boot.

And Apple gets to skim some milk off the top.

Food for thought.

Oh, and bonus points for identifying the “half double decaffeinated half-caf” quote.


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  1. John Jacobs says:

    “half double decaffeinated half-caf with a twist of lemon”?
    LA Story, of course.

  2. The details of what you refer to as “billed to your personal account” remain a mystery. See for some thoughts.

  3. Luis Alejandro Masanti says:

    “But answer this question: Do you really think that Starbucks is busy rolling out an advanced wireless communication system nationwide… just so they can sell a few extra tunes?”
    Wasn’t the “advances wireless communication system” already in place to provide T Mobile data access points?
    They are “upgrading” or “adding” intelligence (it could be only software) to their net.
    But, the whole idea is 100% convenient and they could have evaluated not only iTunes but iTunes+iPurchases when considering the return in the inversion.

  4. Michael Long says:

    Luis, part of it would in fact seem to be in place. But then again, if it were just a software upgrade I doubt the rollout would be as slow as it is, upgrading just one major city at a time.
    To quote: “After its debut in New York and Seattle on October 2, the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store will continue its national rollout to 350 Starbucks stores in the San Francisco Bay area on November 7; 500 stores in Los Angeles in early February 2008; 300 stores in Chicago in March 2008; and additional markets throughout the US later in 2008.”