Starbucks Powermat Support Could Sway Wireless-Charging Standards Battle

Starbucks is rolling out Duracell "Powermat Spots" in its U.S. cafes to let customers wirelessly charge mobile devices, with one notable caveat. The move is a big win for Duracell and the PMA charging standard.

Today, U.S. java giant Starbucks announced that it is rolling out a new wireless charging option for mobile devices to its collection of coffee shops in the San Francisco Bay area.

Powermat Spots at Starbucks
Powermat Spots at Starbucks

The company is installing "Powermat Spots" in some tables, counters and communal areas in its shops so customers can drop their compatible mobile devices on the spots and charge them while they sip their lattes -- the key word being compatible.

Duracell's Powermat uses a proprietary charging technology from the Power Matters Alliance (PMA), which means you need a special Powermat-compatible accessory to use the charging spots, and you can't just drop your phone on the spots and juice it up.

[Related: 8 Great Lightning Charging Gadgets for iPhone Aficionados ]

The move is a big win for the PMA and for Duracell, because it levels the playing field a bit with the perhaps more popular, at least among mobile device makers, Qi wireless charging standard. Starbucks is the most popular coffee chain in the world, with more than 20,000 stores in 64 countries, and its support of Powermat is a significant coup, because it should build consumer awareness of the standard and lead to a lot of Powermat accessory purchases.

Duracell offers Powermat cases for various iPhones and Samsung devices, and they start around $20. Personally, I'm not deterred by the price of the charging cases; $20 isn't much to pay for the potential convenience. I am, however, turned off by the awkward bulkiness of the wireless-charging cases.

iPhone and Powermat Rings
iPhone and Powermat Rings

Powermat President Daniel Schreiber told The Verge that Starbucks customers will be able to purchase charging "rings" that plug into your phone if they don't want to use cases, and these may prove to be the most unobtrusive option. These rings do not appear to be for sale yet, but I did find a Powermat product page that describes them. From that page:

"A uniquely designed, compact ring that connects your phone with wireless charging. The Ring comes with three different connector options Apple Lightning for your iPhone 5/5C/5S, Apple 30 pin for your iPhone® 4/4S, and micro USB for other devices."

These rings could solve the awkward-case problem, but again, they're useless if the customers don't have them when they need them, which means Starbucks will have to sell them at its stores that have charging spots. Powermat's Schreiber wouldn't say if Starbucks plans to sell them directly, but that seems likely.

As for timing of the rollout, San Francisco areas shops come first, followed by a larger rollout next year. Some Boston and San Jose Starbucks apparently already have the spots from an early pilot program. And a full U.S. rollout to all Starbucks stores and Teavana tea bars is "planned over time." European and Asian pilots should also begin within a year, according to Starbucks.

AS

Al Sacco covers Mobile and Wireless for CIO.com. Follow Al on Twitter @ASacco. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

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