Pay For Your Starbucks Addiction With Your iPhone

Starbucks CardIf you’re addicted to Starbucks and have an iPhone, you can now pay for your caffeine-related purchases through the company’s iPhone app. Called Starbucks Card Mobile, the app has actually been in limited availability since last Fall at 16 standalone stores, and now lets you pay for cafe purchases at over 1,000 Starbucks-within-Target locations in the U.S.

There’s a lack of clarity over technical details and conflicting information besides, but what I can piece together is that the system uses either or both traditional linear barcodes and/or 2D images known as QR (Quick Response) codes. Starbucks’ own details show both being types of codes being used. (QR codes are being used on some websites to digitally provide contact info, geo-location and other data to phones, for mobile applications.) The Starbucks Card Mobile app ties to your Starbucks Card, making your phone the Card. When you make a purchase, “[your] iPhone/ iPod Touch displays a barcode that you use just like your Starbucks Card…” The cashier then scans your iPhone screen instead of the associated Card, to debit the purchase from your balance.

Starbucks’ entirely too fast-running video about the app (iPhone app download link there) doesn’t make it any clearer about how your Starbucks Card actually gets associated with the app, so some live testing is in order here, especially to see if QR codes are being used in the payments process at all, and whether this could be rolled out to other phones. The fact is, you need a camera on your smartphone to scan either barcodes or QR codes. My own scanning experiments show that my iPhone beats my Palm Pre Plus for accuracy consistently — so some phones may not be suitable for this method of mobile payments. Some Asian and European countries have allowed for mobile payments for several years now; the U.S. and Canada have lagged behind. However, those solutions use other technology that do not necessarily rely on the quality of a smartphone’s camera.

It’ll be interesting to see how readily people use this method of payment, and whether it’ll be come a trend. If you want to try it out, download the app first, then use the Starbucks store locator to see if one near you accepts mobile payments, where you’ll also have to purchase a Starbucks Card. The one near me in Cupertino accepts mobile payments, so excuse me while I test this first-hand on a nice big can of Doubleshot Vanilla, then check-in on Foursquare and MyTown.

Is this a mobile payments app you’d use on your phone? Would you be willing to pay for any sort of purchase via your phone — not just at Starbucks — instead of having to carry around cash, debit or credit cards?

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