On October 2, Apple’s iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store made its debut at 600 New York and Seattle Starbucks coffee shops, letting patrons browse for music while they enjoy a beverage. Starbucks locations already offer T-Mobile Wi-Fi for purchasing Internet access. Now, that same network lets the owners of Apple iPhones, iPod Touches, or any Wi-Fi-enabled computers running iTunes 7.4 or later connect to the Wi-Fi Music Store for free and shop for songs.
We tested the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store in five New York area Starbucks locations. One store was in New Jersey, so the initial rollout isn’t limited to just stores in New York City’s five boroughs. It includes the greater New York metropolitan area.
Our results were mixed, which isn’t surprising with a new and ambitious program. In two of the Starbucks, we were able to connect to the store immediately. The signal was strong and pages loaded as quickly as over our home network. In two other locations, we weren’t able to connect to the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store at all in the seating area at the front of the Starbucks, but we could further back by the bathrooms. Those stores should look into beefing up their Wi-Fi signals, because there can’t be too many people who want to shop for music in the bathroom. Finally, we couldn’t connect to the store at all in one especially cramped and busy 14th Street Starbucks.
From this screen, you can view the songs that have recently played at that location or view several collections of featured albums. You can also search the full iTunes library using the search controls already present in iTunes. It’s the browsing features, however, that are more prominent here.
In our testing, iTunes correctly displayed the currently playing and recently played songs every time, and even updated the currently playing song as soon as a new song started. Songs were the standard $.99—or $1.29 for those without DRM restrictions—and albums were usually $9.99.
The iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store at Starbucks seems meant mostly for impulse purchases, since the emphasis is on recently played songs. It lets you download a track as quickly as you might buy a chocolate bar from the counter. It isn’t a tool for researching music before you buy: while you can see the average rating for an album, you can’t view comments that people have posted. The store also lacks album descriptions or quick links to other albums by the same artist.
Previewing songs was quick in our testing. Just tap a song and within a second or two you can hear a 30-second preview. Purchases were as fast as over our home network. Songs downloaded well before our coffee had a chance to cool. When we connected the iPhone to our home computer, the purchased songs quickly transferred to our main iTunes library.
If you’re not in New York or Seattle, don’t worry—Starbucks is rolling out new locations as fast as it can. The music store will come to 350 San Francisco locations on November 7, 500 Los Angeles stores in early February, 2008, and 300 Chicago stores in March, 2008. The company will add new markets throughout 2008.
Along with the store launch, Starbucks is giving away 50 million iTunes downloads. Shoppers at Starbucks locations nationwide can get song-of-the-day download cards for free through November 7, good for downloading that day’s song. The company will give away 1.5 millions songs per day. That should give a jumpstart to the impulse purchase song market both companies are hoping for.
Troy Dreier is a regular contributor to Web Video Universe, PDA Street, Intranet Journal, and Laptop Magazine. He also writes a weekly consumer technology column, which is published in the Jersey Journal newspaper and distributed by the Newhouse News Service. His first book, CNET Do-It-Yourself Home Video Projects: 24 Cool Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do, was published by McGraw-Hill in August.