Juice with your latte? The wireless charging at Starbucks isn't that simple

starbucks lead image

What do you want from your Android smartphone? According to a study by IDC, Battery Life is more important than any other feature. Perhaps that, combined with the desire to get more people to hang out in its stores, is why Starbucks recently announced a plan to add wireless charging stations to nearly all of its cathedrals-to-predictable-coffee.

Supposedly, you’ll soon be able to grab an environmentally friendly, organic, fair-trade wireless-charge next time you’re pondering rain-forest sustainability on one of its urban-chic velvet sofas.

Seductive? Maybe. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There are a decent number of devices with wireless charging built in, but they use a different standard than the one Starbucks has chosen. For some phones, you can spend a little money on a special case to get your charge on, but for most phones, you'll still be plugging into the wall.

Powermat technology

Starbucks has chosen Duracell’s Powermat technology, based on an standard set by Powermat’s Power Matters Alliance, or PMA. You just place your compatible phone down on a specific spot on the Starbucks counter or table, and your phone charges. Simple!

But don't expect to be able to do this anytime soon. Right now, the Kyocera Hydro Vibe, available from Sprint, appears to be the only widely-available Android smartphone that supports the Starbucks-implemented PMA standard right out of the box.

If you’re into antique phones, you can buy an add-on case for the Samsung Galaxy S3 for $20 at Duracell’s Powermat website. Incipio sells a $50 PMA case for the Moto X, and a thirty-dollar cover for the Galaxy S4. PMA partner AT&T will sell you a PMA standard swap-out case for the GS5. It’s $35 at its website. There are cases for every flavor of iPhone, too.

If you have any other brand or model of phone, you're pretty much out of luck. There really aren't very many cases available to add Powermat charging to the preponderance of other Android phones on the market. Sure, portable battery power packs are also available for PMA, starting at $60. But lugging around a separate battery pack isn't much better than lugging around your wall plug.

AT&T and GM say they are supporting the standard, and that’s pretty much it. Verizon has a deal with the vastly more popular Qi wireless standard, the one available in a host of phones already (and a lot more accessories and cases).

Is there hope?

Carriers love their exclusives and deals, and they can't agree on anything. So as long as Verizon is tight with Qi, you can be sure AT&T isn't going to jump on board. It would rather push a paltry array of accessories to add Powermat charging to a small handful of phones than actually push wireless charging forward. And it appears the Starbucks deal wasn't made with an eye toward broad compatibility, either.

There's a small ray of hope, though. Broadcom has a power management chip for wireless charging that supports all three major wireless charging standards - A4WP, PMA, and WPC (Wireless Power Consortium, the Qi people). If it catches on, you may be able to buy a single case, or phone with built-in wireless charging, that will work almost anywhere. But so far, we haven't seen any real products using the chip.


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