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With National Rollout, Will Starbucks Make Wireless Phone Charging the New Wi-Fi?


In the age of eternal connectivity, there's nothing that incites panic faster than glancing at your smartphone and seeing the low battery symbol. However, soon smartphone addicts will have an unlikely savior: Starbucks.

Starbucks is equipping all its stores with Duracell Powermat wireless chargers across the U.S. starting this week. The new service promises to be a game changer: not only will Starbucks become the automatic go-to spot for anyone whose phone is dying, but also millions of Starbucks shoppers will be exposed to wireless charging courtesy of Powermat.

The rollout will begin in Silicon Valley before expanding to additional major markets in 2015, with the ultimate plan of having every Starbucks store equipped with wireless charging. Initial pilots in Europe and Asia are expected within the year. The project has been in the works for years; Powermat and Starbucks tested their first pilot in the Boston area in October 2012.

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While having the chance to plug in your phone is convenient, there's a larger goal at stake: changing the way customers think about charging tech. Stores will be equipped with 'Powermat Spots' – areas on tables and counters that charge compatible phones and tablets without needing wires.

"We had this vision… do with Starbucks what they did with Wi-Fi [for wireless charging]," says Powermat CEO Ran Poliakine.

When Starbucks debuted Wi-Fi in shops in 2001, most people relied on Ethernet cords at home to access the internet. According to Poliakine, Starbucks completely revolutionized what people expected in terms of Internet access and helped guarantee the success of Wi-Fi. Now, Poliakine believes that Starbucks offering wireless charging nationwide has the potential to usher in a wireless revolution.

"Just like Wi-Fi is expected to be available… cords should be eliminated," he says.

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Powermat and Starbucks' conception of widely available, unplugged power has evolved since Starbucks installed Powermats in Boston two years ago. Demand for constant smartphone access has skyrocketed. People now use their phones for more and more functions, and battery life has struggled to keep up with increased demand.

A recent study by Mintel revealed that 28 percent of people would stay longer in restaurants if charging stations for electronic devices were available. Starbucks made itself essential to millions of customers in part because it was one of the first chains to promise readily available Wi-Fi almost anywhere in the world. If 1 in 4 consumers is looking for restaurants that can promise readily available charging capabilities, Starbucks' wireless chargers could be an investment that pays off big for the company. But, will it also change how people charge their devices?  

"We expect and believe, from everything we know, this is it," says Poliakine.  "One year from today, it will be so normal that your phone is charged from the surface." 

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