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Starbucks picks Boston for pilot test of wireless charging, in partnership with Duracell Powermat

Posted by Scott Kirsner  October 29, 2012 08:00 AM

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If you've deemed yourself a non-essential worker and are riding out Hurricane Sandy at your neighborhood Starbucks, you may get a chance to be the first to try something new today: juicing up your phone with a wireless charging system made by Duracell Powermat.

The caffeine purveyor has chosen 17 locations around the Boston area for a "limited time in-store trial for wireless charging," in the words of Starbucks chief digital officer Adam Brotman. "We're building the Powermat technology into some of the tabletops, just to get a sense for how our customers will react, compared to having to plug their mobile devices into the wall."

And if you don't already own an accessory for your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy that allows it to soak up electricity via inductive charging — the same technology that may already be keeping your electric toothbrush powered up — Starbucks may have a few freebie and loaner connectors. "A few weeks into the test, we'll do some in-store giveaways, and we will have some behind the counter available to loan out," says Brotman.

The first three stores where the technology is being installed are all in the Financial District: One Financial Center, 125 Summer Street, and 101 Federal Street.

Starbucks rolled out free WiFi in all its stores two years ago, in mid-2010. While the chain hasn't yet made the decision to roll out wireless charging everywhere, Brotman says that "customers are coming into our stores every day with mobile devices, and putting them down on the table. If they could be charging their device at the same time, then we've connected with that customer and met their need, maybe even before they realized they had a need for wireless charging."

I asked Brotman whether wireless charging, along with free WiFi, might encourage customers to hang around even longer in Starbucks stores. His response: "We want people to feel welcome and stay as long as they want to."

As for selecting Boston for the test, Brotman says, "Boston is a hotbed for early adoption and tech-savvy customers." Starbucks plans to test the technology through the holiday period, and then "early in the year, we'll talk to our customers and our store partners" — that's Starbucks lingo for employees — "and regroup with Powermat to figure out the next steps."

These are the 17 stores where Starbucks plans to install the Powermat technology. (Not all are up and running today.) There will be about eight charging pads in each store.

Store #/Location

#869 Federal Street
#7377 One Financial
#10599 Summer Street
#7702 Commonwealth Avenue
#870 Newbury
#883 Steaming Kettle
#16439 Cleveland Circle
#7535 School Street
#875 Devonshire
#7224 Beth Israel
#7234 Mass Avenue
#7804 Children's Hospital
#801 Charles Street
#7102 Harvard Yard
#7502 Davis Square
#7338 Central Square
#7805 One International

(Photos provided by Duracell.)

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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