Tech Leaders: Google, Apple, and...Starbucks?: Page 2

Posted January 19, 2011

Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

(Page 2 of 2)

Like many people, I consider Starbucks my universal, global "field office."

At my own local Starbucks, they've recently remodeled the store to add more and bigger desks, and dozens of outlets. Rather than encourage people to pay and leave, as have many big chains, Starbucks clearly encourages loitering.

The generous invitation to use Wi-Fi and electricity for as long as you want has really changed where people work.

3. How People Discover Content

Starbucks has been a ground-breaking pioneer in integrated marketing for years. You come to satisfy your coffee addiction. But while in the store, you can buy mugs, coffee-making paraphernalia and lots and lots of media. I even noticed a lot of people doing holiday shopping while waiting in line for their lattes.

Starbucks' Hear Music brand sells music, movies and books in stores. The music playing in Starbucks locations are really marketing CDs or downloads for sale, which can be purchased via iTunes.

Starbucks’ newish Digital Network portal offers news via partnerships with the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and others, as well as games, free music and other content. The focus of the portal is what Starbucks calls "snackable" content -- fun or useful information that can be consumed quickly but that can lead to purchases.

4. How Coffee Is Made

Some Starbucks stores now offer coffee brewed by a machine called a Clover, which is an extremely precise method of brewing that has been on the market for only five years. Invented by three Stanford engineering grads, the Clover was created and sold by the Coffee Equipment Company, until Starbucks acquired it in 2008.

The Clover maintains coffee temperature during brewing to within 1 degree of the ideal using something called a proportional integral derivative controller (PID controller), which is more common to precision manufacturing. The PID controller is managed by a PID algorithm for brewing the perfect cup, which is presumably a software upgradable trade secret.

In fact, all aspects of the brewing process can be tightly controlled, including the amount of time grounds are in contact with the water. The system also uses something called VacuumPress technology, which uses a piston to create suction that controls the flow of water during brewing.

The Clover also has an Ethernet port for connecting the machine to a network that maintains precise details on every cup brewed.

Clover machines are being rolled out to all but the smallest Starbucks stores. Eventually, it's likely that all Starbucks stores -- and only Starbucks stores -- will have them.

Over time, as more coffee fans discover Clover-brewed coffee, it's likely to become a key differentiator, and a lucrative way to charge a little more for better coffee.

These are 4 examples of how Starbucks has used technology to transform how people live. And that puts it into the same rare company as tech giants Apple and Google.

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Tags: Apple, networks, Wi-Fi, Starbucks, mobile commerce

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