Free wireless device charging comes to Starbucks

The coffee chain has teamed up with Israel-based Duracell Powermat to offer wireless charging stations across the US, with European and Asian trials on the way too.

A Powermat charger in use at a branch of Starbucks
A Powermat charger in use at a branch of Starbucks. Image: Duracell Powermat

Back in the early days of wi-fi, the Starbucks chain of coffee shops took a bold step: it began offering free wi-fi while most mobile devices in the market were yet to support it.

Yesterday, Starbucks and Duracell Powermat (a joint venture of P&G and Israel-based Powermat) announced they were teaming up to do something similar: offering wireless charging spots in Starbucks branches all across the US, with the rollout scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015. The pair also plan to expand wireless charging to Europe and Asia, aiming for a global reach.

According to Ron Rabinowitz, CEO of Duracell Powermat, 500 Starbucks branches in the San Francisco Bay area will be equipped with Powermat spots in their tables and counters over the course of this year. The rollout will eventually extend to 100,000 wireless charging spots all over the US before the end of next year, while trial deployments will also take place in Europe and Asia over the same timeframe.

How's it going to work? Although the two companies are considering different monetisation models, Starbucks and Duracell Powermat will offer the service free for now.

Any Starbucks customer will be able to come in, put their smartphone or tablet on the wireless charging spot, and let the device satisfy its thirst for electricity. AT&T, a member of wireless charging body the Power Matters Alliance (PMA), is already selling smartphones that are compatible with Powermat's technology, which relies on magnetic induction.

For devices that don't support the PMA wireless charging standard by default, Duracell Powermat is offering an alternative — an external adapter, called Ring, that can be attached to the device's regular charging socket (be it MicroUSB, or Apple's Lightning and 30 pin connectors). Ring will be sold at Starbucks for a few dollars.

"Our ideal scenario is whenever you find yourself with a weak battery, you will be able to open Duracell Powermat's app, find a nearby Starbucks branch and charge your phone," Rabinowitz said.

Beyond looking to eliminate the "weak battery scare", as Rabinowitz calls it, Duracell Powermat has something for the supplier too — the ability to manage a wireless smart grid solution.

Duracell Powermat allows Starbucks' IT staff and any other company implementing its system to manage all of the wireless charging spots remotely, via a cloud service.

"It lets the company monitor usage, [to check] if everything works and monitor malfunctions. It also allows a new customer relationship, leaping from 'dumb charging' to 'smart charging'," Rabinowitz said.

"Our goal is to allow wireless charging everywhere. We have a global vision. Every workplace, every coffee shop, every car. Anywhere where you will be stationary you can put down your phone on a spot and charge it."

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