Some Starbucks customers no longer have to fight with other patrons for a table near a wall socket to ensure their cellphone stays charged while grabbing a $3 cup of coffee.
Starbucks is rolling out free wireless charging pads at locations nationwide this week. Though the move is one of the first mass roll outs of wireless charging stations, it does highlight some of the challenges facing the nascent technology.
The wireless charging pads are made by Duracell and look like small round coasters placed throughout the coffee shop. Customers simply place their smart phone on the charging mat, and the device will start charging via magnetic induction.
The program was tested in Boston and parts of California, and this year will debut in San Francisco Bay Area stores and extend to major markets nationwide in 2015. When the program is all rolled out, more than 100,000 wireless charging mats will be placed in more than 7,500 Starbucks cafes around the country.
“We are thrilled to offer our customers that next level of convenience with Powermat wireless charging,” says Adam Brotman, chief digital officer at Starbucks in a release. “Rather than hunting around for an available power outlet, they can seamlessly charge their device while enjoying their favorite food or beverage offering right in our stores.”
However, the hunt for outlets may still exist for some customers. In order to charge on the mats, the device must be compatible with Duracell Powermat technology, or have a compatible case.
This need for comprehensive compatibility across the industry is one of the reasons wireless-charging technology hasn’t yet been widespread. Essentially, industry players couldn’t decide which company would create the technology that everyone could get on board with in a fair way. In response, two wireless consortiums have emerged, the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) and Power Matters Alliance (PMA), in order to get a large number of companies with interest in the technology on board in order to create more cohesive technology.
The consortium that Duracell is a part of, PMA, has more than 100 members, including several major smart phone makers. Already, about five-dozen devices have Duracell Powermat compatibility built in, such as the Nexus 5 and LG G3, plus customers can purchase compatible phone cases to outfit their current device. The iPhone does not yet have the capability built into the phone, but there are rumors that it is coming on the iPhone 6.
Starbucks isn’t the only company to get on board with wireless charging. Airports and hotels have begun installing the chargers, GM has agreed to add wireless chargers to certain new models, and Toyota has already debuted wireless chargers based on WPC standards in certain cars.
That being said, Starbucks actually played a major role in a previous wireless watershed movement: Wi-Fi. The company debuted wireless Internet in its coffee shops way back in 2001, which many say pushed the industry to innovate devices and Internet hot spots.
“When Starbucks introduced WiFi in their stores in 2001, 95 percent of devices didn’t have WiFi, and multiple standards hampered the industry,” says Stassi Anastassov, President of Duracell at Procter & Gamble, in the release. “The rest is history. Starbucks plans to offer Powermat nationally is likely to settle any lingering standards question, and usher wireless power into the mainstream.”