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Starbucks to let customers charge phones without power cords

Starbucks Corp. customers will soon find it easier to energize their devices while they get a jolt of caffeine.

The world’s largest coffee chain is teaming up with Duracell Powermat to let customers recharge mobile devices wirelessly, instead of hunting for available wall outlets. Customers can place their compatible devices atop so-called Powermat Spots on counters and tables to recharge them, Seattle-based Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) said Thursday in a statement.

While shops in Boston and San Jose already offer the Powermat service, a national rollout began Thursday in Starbucks’ company-operated stores and Teavana outlets. The company, which has more than 20,500 locations worldwide, plans pilot programs in Europe and Asia within a year.

Coffee-selling chains have long experimented with ways to encourage customers to stay longer -- using music, comfortable seating and earth-toned walls. More recently, free Wi-Fi and mobile payments have been key to wooing customers addicted to their smartphones and tablets. Starbucks began offering free Internet in 2010 and started testing a service this year that lets customers order items ahead of time on their phone.

Today, very few phones have cordless charging technology -- Powermat’s or a rival’s -- built in. Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) sells cases that can let an iPhone use a Powermat charging spot. Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) each sell phones that are compatible with different types of wireless charging.

Duracell venture

Duracell Powermat is a venture between Procter & Gamble Co.’s (NYSE: PG) Duracell brand and closely held Powermat Technologies. The Powermat Spots comply with a standard developed by the Power Matters Alliance, whose members include AT&T, BlackBerry Ltd., HTC Corp., Huawei Technology Co. and Microsoft Corp. They’re working to make the technology available on more phones -- either preinstalled or as an add-on feature.

In the world of wireless charging, “Starbucks is the biggest deployment, period,” Daniel Schreiber, president of Powermat Technologies, said in an interview. “We are talking about 100,000 Powermat spots being deployed by Starbucks” eventually, with an average of 13 to 14 Powermat charging spots per store, he said.

The company’s endorsement of Powermat should ensure that the technology becomes the industry standard, Stassi Anastassov, president of Duracell, said in the statement.

Setting standard

“When Starbucks introduced Wi-Fi in their stores in 2001, 95 percent of devices didn’t have Wi-Fi, and multiple standards hampered the industry,” Anastassov said. “Starbucks’ plans to offer Powermat nationally is likely to settle any lingering standards questions.”

Market researcher IHS estimates that global revenue from wireless charging technology will rise from $216 million in 2013 to $785 million this year, soaring to $8.5 billion in 2018.

The Powermat partnership is one of several tactics Starbucks is using to entice customers. It’s testing new lunch sandwiches in some cafes, aiming to get more of an afternoon crowd. And it opened a La Boulange-branded restaurant in Los Angeles Thursday that serves cocktails and dinner items such as burgers. Starbucks bought La Boulange bakery in 2012.

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