I left my Wi-Fi Store in San Francisco

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Apple and Starbucks brought their wireless music partnership to more than 350 Starbucks locations in the San Francisco Bay Area Wednesday, a month after debuting in 600 stores in New York and Seattle. This partnership extends the reach of the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store—available to iPhone and iPod touch users—into many of the Wi-Fi-enabled Starbucks locations, providing free Wi-Fi access to anyone with an iPhone, iPod touch, or Mac or PC laptop specifically for connecting to the Wi-Fi Store. (You’ll still have to pay to connect to the rest of the Web with one of the T-Mobile HotSpots in the stores.)

The other part of the equation, of course, is that when in one of these Starbucks locations, you’ll see a new Starbucks button after tapping on the iTunes button on your iPhone or iPod touch (or a Starbucks section in the iTunes Store if you’re using a laptop). From there, you can see the song that’s currently playing in the store, as well as the previous 10 tracks that wafted through the mochaccino-scented air before that. You can then preview and buy those songs (as long as your finger is steady enough after a double shot of espresso).

Wednesday morning, Apple invited me to the Starbucks at Third and Market streets in San Francisco—yes, there’s only one Starbucks on that corner— for a demo, so I went to try it myself. As I spoke with representatives from Apple and Starbucks, I pulled out my iPhone, tapped on iTunes, and sure enough a Starbucks button appeared. I was able to see that the Now Playing song was the same one coming out of the speakers and displayed on the flat panel monitor in the back of the store. There were also a few other Starbucks-specific playlists (many are changed weekly, according to Apple’s Eddie Cue) and I had access to the whole iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, not just a subsection.

After my noodling, the thing I walked away with (other than a sample of one of Starbucks’ warm holiday drinks) was the realization that the two companies must have put a lot of work on the back-end into making the experience seem so simple—it really did “just work.”

Neither Apple nor Starbucks representatives would talk sales numbers, but they did confirm that Apple can see which Wi-Fi purchases are made inside a Starbucks, and both have been happy with how things have gone so far.

So which Starbucks are next on the agenda for the Wi-Fi Store expansion? The two companies plan to the rest of 2007 off, waiting until February and March 2008 to bring the partnership to Los Angeles and Chicago, respectively. With impulse music buying this easy, I’m glad I’m not much of a coffee fan.

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