Coffee-sipping, mobile phone-toting consumers are a typical scene at your local Starbucks. But there are only so many electrical outlets to go around.
Now, Starbucks customers in the San Francisco Bay Area don't have to compete for those outlets, thanks to a new partnership that will bring wireless charging to the stores.
Starbucks has partnered with Duracell Powermat to start a national rollout of Powermat wireless charging in its stores. Plans call for Powermat to expand to more markets in 2015, with a full national rollout in both Starbucks and Teavana stores over time. Starbucks is also starting pilots in Europe and Asia within the year.
Chicken or Egg
Adam Brotman, chief digital officer at Starbucks, said customer response to the pilot tests was positive. The move might be welcomed most by mobile workers who use Starbucks as a quasi office. Here's how it works: Stores will be equipped with Powermat Spots, which are special areas on tables and counters where customers can place their compatible device and charge wirelessly.
"Powermat Spots in Starbucks are the result of almost a decade of scientific research spanning material sciences, magnetic induction and mesh networking," said Ran Poliakine, CEO of Powermat Technologies. "The two-pronged power-plug dates back to the era of the horse-drawn carriage, so that today's announcement marks the first meaningful upgrade to the way we access power in well over a century."
The question is whether or not handset makers are ready to help lead the charge. The good news is Powermat Spots comply with the open standard set by the PMA. PMA members include AT&T, Blackberry, HTC, Huawei, LG, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Samsung, TI and ZTE.
"Many of our newer devices have compatible technology either embedded or available as an added feature to give consumers the freedom to charge wirelessly," said Jeff Howard, vice president of Mobile Devices and Accessories at AT&T Mobility. But Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics, is not so sure this will catch on as fast as Starbucks and Powermat hope. He told us handsets that work with inductive technology are still not mainstream.
"This technology has somehow suffered from chicken-and-egg syndrome. Some smartphone makers tried this and it didn't catch on," Entner said. "With phone manufacturers fighting for every cent of profitability, they are not going to push for induction, which costs more, if consumers are fine with cables. It would take an industry giant like Samsung or Apple to really push this forward."
Is It Inevitable?
Stassi Anastassov, president of Duracell at Procter & Gamble, is convinced that this initiative will help prime the pump for inductive wireless charging the same way Starbucks helped push Wi-Fi forward as a standard amenity in public places.
"When Starbucks introduced Wi-Fi in their stores in 2001, 95 percent of devices didn't have Wi-Fi, and multiple standards hampered the industry," he said. "The rest is history."
Entner does agree that wireless charging is likely to catch on over time because it's another step toward eliminating cables. The same logic that applies to Wi-Fi, which is inherently slower than wired Internet connections, applies to wireless charging.
"The convenience of not having to use a wire trumps the speed delta for most people using Wi-Fi," Entner said. "If you can go to a Starbucks and lay the phone on the mat to charge while you sip on your latte, it's uniquely convenient."