Broadcasting Mobile Currency

July 14, 2011

For the past few weeks, I've been paying for things at Starbucks with my iPhone. I love the convenience of paying with my phone and I'm anxious for mobile payments to become more widespread. Just the fact that I can easily view my account balance is a huge improvement over traditional debit, credit, and gift cards.

(Author's note: This post has several updates listed at the end with date stamps)

A few things have happened since I started using the app that are worth mentioning. First, the frequency of my visits to Starbucks has increased from 3-4 times per month to 2-3 times per week. I'm not sure if this is a good thing for me, but I'm sure that Howard Schultz would be stoked to hear that his investment in mobile is sharply increasing visits to his Wayland Square location.

The second thing worth mentioning is that Starbucks released an Android version of their app, which I promptly installed on my shiny new Nexus S. Unfortunately, Starbucks only lets you associate your physical payment card with one phone at a time. So when I added the card to my Nexus, it disappeared from my iPhone.

This was annoying because it caused me to worry about which phone to leave the house with in the morning. I could have gotten another physical Starbucks card, but that seemed stupid, so I tried a workaround: after re-associating my card with the iPhone app, I displayed the payment screen and took a screenshot of the barcode. I then emailed the photo to my Nexus S and saved the image in my photo gallery.

The next time I went to Starbucks, I launched the gallery app on my Nexus S and successfully paid for my venti Pike Place with the photo. In other words, I bought a coffee with a picture. The ramifications of this sorta blew my mind. I mean, I had just paid for physical goods with a digital photo.

In a very real sense, photos are becoming a form of currency. When you consider how easy it is to transport, send, and share photos and how hard it is to do the same with traditional forms of payment, this is pretty radical.

If this doesn't seem like a big deal to you, try this... download the following image to your device and use it to pay for your next Starbuck purchase. Seriously, try it. I'm broadcasting money.

Sbux Card

I only put $30 on the card, so it's first come, first served. I'm also pretty sure that this card image will only work in the U.S., but feel free to try it elsewhere. My only requests are:

  • Please limit your purchase to around $3.00 so more people can try it.
  • Ping on Twitter to let me know how it went.

I'll update here and on Twitter when the card runs out.

From a legal standpoint, I figure this is the same as giving someone a gift card, but I guess we'll find out. Proceed at your own risk :)

Bottoms up!


UPDATE (Thu Jul 14): The original $30 was down to $1.26 by 2:16pm ET so I added $50 so my friends on the west coast would have a chance to try this out.

UPDATE (Thu Jul 14): $0.00 left as of 7:31pm ET. Thanks to everyone for your participation and interest! I'll post findings ASAP.

UPDATE (Fri Jul 15): Much to my shock, my card balance went up without me doing anything. I panicked for a second because I thought someone hacked the system and reloaded the card from my credit card. As it turns out, my bud Stephen Dolenski discovered that anyone can reload any card at as long as they have the card number displayed on the back. Cool (and thanks SD)!

UPDATE (Mon Jul 18): I wrote a bot that scrapes the Starbucks site for the card balance and posts it on Twitter every 15 minutes so you can tell if there's any money available before heading to your local store. You can follow the card here on Twitter.

UPDATE (Mon Jul 18): I posted a page that quickly describes the experiment for people who discover the card via Twitter and never read this post. There are brief instructions there for reloading the card if you're feeling generous ;)