Starbucks Offers Free Wireless Charging, But Who Can Use It?

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Starbucks begins rollout of wireless charging points in its stores, but some argue it has backed the wrong specification

Starbucks is to begin offering free wireless charging in its coffee shops, upgrading a two-year old trial service to a more widespread rollout. But it faces criticism for backing a technology which is trailing in the market, and cannot be used by the majority of devices equipped to power up without wires.

Wireless-charging

The American coffee giant is to allow customers to charge their phones without wires for free, while ordering their lattes or cappuccinos, or the slightly more exotic Triple, Venti, Half Sweet, Non-Fat, Caramel Macchiato.

Starbucks said it had begun rolling out the wireless-charging mats in its stores in Boston and San Francisco. There is no word yet on when this initiative will reach British Starbucks stores, but over the next three years, it intends to install more than 100,000 wireless chargers in its 7,500 company-owned stores in America.

Customers simply place their phones on charging mats embedded into designated table areas and counter spaces within its stores. The drawback is they need a compatible mobile phone with built-in wireless charging, or attach it to a phone accessory that provides the same capabilities.

Nokia Lumia 920 Wireless ChargingAnd here’s the problem: Starbucks has opted to install Duracell Powermat’s PMA technology, which means it is not compatible with most wireless charging enabled devices.

Major Drawback

Whilst PMA is backed by the likes of HTC, LG and Samsung, it does not have much of a real-world presence. The competing Qi standard is built into the Nokia Lumia and Nexus 5 phones – so those users can’t charge on the Starbucks mats. Users of the iPhone are still waiting for a wireless-charging handset from Apple.

Starbucks has backed PMA since  2012 when it announced trials in Boston.  Google has also expressed support for the PMA.

Starbuck’s decision left analysts scratching their heads: “With more than 8,000 company-operated stores in America, this will create a substantial network and infrastructure for wireless charging in the hospitality sector and shipments of over 100,000 Powermat wireless chargers,” said a statement from researcher IHS Technology. “Despite this, nearly all mobile handsets and consumer devices currently in use that incorporate wireless charging technology will be incompatible. Of the 20 million consumer devices we estimated shipped in 2013 with wireless charging capabilities nearly all were built with the competing Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) Qi specification.”

Despite being no use to anyone, the mats were welcomed by IHS as, it says 80 percent of consumers want wireless charging in public places.

“The same study revealed that 70 percent of consumers charge their mobile phone at least once per day, with 30 percent charging more than once. This emphasises the growing importance consumers place on having access to power outside of their home,” it said.

So, why did Starbucks choose a standard that no-one uses? According to Qi, the answer is money. Back in 2012, the chair of the Qi-backed Wireless Power Consortium, Menno Treffers told us coffee shops would only put in a charging pad when enough customers have phones to use it, unless it is paid for by the company making the chargers. “You have to think of this from the point of view of the coffee shop owner,” he said.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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