Thursday, August 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm.

Starbucks’ Mobile Brilliance Goes Far Beyond Payments

Starbucks Gadgets

Starbucks has been getting a lot of praise this week for its mobile-payment savvy, including its recent deal with Square. But it’s worth highlighting how Starbucks has been doing interesting and smart things with mobile for years.

One example is Starbucks’ 2007 collaboration with Apple, in which it became the first retailer with an iPhone “app” — a special section of Apple’s then-new iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store app.

Starbucks iTunesThis included rare, free access to Starbucks’ wifi for iTunes browsing, and a special section featuring the music currently playing at that Starbucks store. (Remember: This was when Starbucks’ wifi, powered by T-Mobile, cost $10 for a day pass. And there was no iPhone App Store yet.)

“Imagine walking into a participating Starbucks, hearing a great song, and being able to instantly download it onto your iPod or iPhone,” Steve Jobs said in his press-release quote. “We think this is very cool.”

Cool, it was. I don’t know how many people ultimately used it, but its relationship with Apple seems to have been mutually beneficial. And since then, Starbucks has been one of the earliest and best retail adopters of mobile technology, including its mobile-app payments feature, which 1 million people use per week.

But my favorite thing Starbucks does is what you might call the gadgetization of the Starbucks experience.

Now and again, Starbucks sells some neat coffee accessories in its stores, such as the reusable coffee-cup sleeve pictured above. And those toys in the picture? Those are particularly neat. Japan, as you may know, has long had an obsession for cellphone charms and trinkets — I’ve seen some wacky ones over the years. In 2010, I picked up these two phone charms at a Starbucks in Kyoto, and really love them. They’re attractive, on-brand, and fit the trend perfectly.

Most retailers can’t even figure out their core business. Starbucks, too, has had its challenges over the years. But I really enjoy little side projects like this. And with mobile sure to play a huge role in the future of retail, it’s neat to see what companies like Starbucks are already doing with it.

Also: The iPhone Accessories In Tokyo Are Pretty Amazing