Starbucks chief unaware of nature, status, and importance of wireless network: in this financial interview, the CEO of Starbucks states of the MobileStar-partnered wireless network in their stores, "We have 500 equipped, but we haven't turned it on." Buddy, maybe your own partners and employees should tell you that it's on and MobileStar is charging?
MobileStar's own Web page lists 500 active stores - in their own words - and my own experience plus field reports confirms active, charging hot spots. Starbucks hasn't made their side of the announcement yet, which makes this a soft launch. But their partner is speaking out.
Meanwhile, Smith doesn't even mention MobileStar by name in ths interview. He cites partners as Microsoft, Compaq, "and others". That would be like saying that my cell service is provided by Motorola and others.
He also gives insight into his own lack of understanding of the primary purpose of having high-speed wireless Internet access by saying, "this will be a different experience than just Internet access." That's what they all say.
His description of what the service will be useful for suddenly shifts to what sounds like wireless cell phone use, not laptop or handheld: "I don't want to go into a lot of detail, but what will happen when a consumer comes into a store and has a wireless device is: a screen will come up that'll ask them if they want to make an order. They'll be able to order and pay for the drink. It will also provide them with things like: are you interested in a culture event, a sporting event, a movie across the road. So they'll be able to look at the entire entertainment scene, and probably buy their tickets eventually."
Has no one told this guy about Ticketmaster? Why would you order a drink via a computer when you're in the actual Starbucks? Why would you specifically buy tickets in a Starbucks location online rather than anywhere? In other countries, especially Europe as I understand it, the cell phone has become a proxy for a debit card: you can use the device in a variety of ways that simply show up on your bill. I can see ordering in person and hitting a button on the cell phone to pay, avoiding credit cards and cash entirely. (Another option is a infrared cash beam from a Palm OS device, but that's only a prototype.)
Perhaps this focus has to do with the revenue split. I've seen no reports nor gotten a clear indication from any of the players as to whether Starbucks will share revenue from MobileStar. It may be a revenue-neutral proposition for them, as MobileStar is wiring a national data network for Starbucks comprised of T1 lines. That cost, which both parties agree MobileStar is bearing, would easily run into tens of millions. That may leave MobileStar as the sole beneficiary of any revenue on that network.
Still, it's disturbing to see a CEO who cannot clearly articulate the purpose and benefit of the wireless network they're installing. It's at least threefold (and their VP of new technology has articulated this in the past): 1. it makes going to Starbucks for a travelling businessperson a destination, not an option; 2. it provides, finally, a live data network for Starbucks for their own corporate purposes; 3. it allows Starbucks to develop products for payment and interaction that rely on a high-speed network, including wireless device (cell phone) payment and stored-value cards.
Now, why can I say this more clearly than the guy who runs the company?