Starbucks in their Ipods


Yesterday’s keynote from Steve Jobs was, as usual, a great show, full of amazing new products and product innovation. The Nano got even smaller and got video, the shuffle got more memory, the standard iPod got a new name (“classic”) and more storage, the iPhone became a lot cheaper, and he launched the new iPod Touch, an iPhone without the phone bit.

Fascinating to watch and I wouldn’t like to be working at a competitor today, as Apple proves it is relentless in staying ahead of the game.

However, the bit at the end of the presentation was equally intriguing.  Steve Jobs gives up the stage to Starbucks’ founder and chairman Howard Shultz to explain in detail the companies’ new partnership.

Walk into a Starbucks (some time in 2008) with your iPhone or wifi-enabled iPod Touch and new button will turn up on the screen, a Starbucks button! This is so close to one of those Google April Fool’s jokes that it takes a second to realize that a) they’re serious b) what they’re talking has potentially huge impact.

Click (or rather tap, of course) on your new Starbucks button  and via free connection to the Starbucks network you can see what the currently playing song in the restaurant is (and the last ten tracks), and buy that track (from iTunes of course).

Both Apple and Starbucks have always understood the importance of experience design, and this points the way to a whole new generation of experiences that merge the boundaries between physical and electronic.

Shultz describes Starbucks as “a place to discover music”. So while HMV, Virgin et al are licking their wounds and shutting their stores, Starbucks and Apple marches in and takes what’s left of their market. How?, by making something of the experience.

How long before iTunes is the number one music store in the world (currently number 3 in the US)?

In case anyone missed it, Shultz punches home the point:

To build a great enduring company, you can’t embrace the status quo, you have to keep pushing for re-invention and self renewal, and no one has done that better than Apple.

Quantity over quality: weak thinking and disgusting coffee

Coffee shop sign in Union Square, NY 

There’s an absolutely fantastic post from Richard at AdLiterate about the worthlessness of brainstorms. Richard points out that many years spent in his own career attending and facilitating brainstorms have simply failed to create good ideas – not  a single commenter disagrees.

(UPDATE: dissent has since erupted).

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that this viewpoint hasn’t come out with such vehemence in the past. Encouraging loads of people who know nothing about anything to sit around a room and express their opions without any onus on being thoughtful or self-critical produces excaclty what you’d expect, comments like “why don’t we have a square circles” or “we’re all about being professional”. It is a plain and simple waste of time, and should be eliminated, unless it’s a team building exercise, in which case, it should be made more entertaining and possibly involve cheap red wine. If AdLiterate could now just do a piece on the pointlessness of bullet-pointed PowerPoint presentations, we’d all be living in a better world.

With a level of tenuousness normally reserved for politicians’ answers on Newsnight, I would like to take the same approach (shooting sacred cows) to the much more important battleground of coffee on the go.

At some time at the end of the 70s or in the early 80s – when I was too young to campaign actively (being 10) – it sems that it was decided by royal decree that Italian coffee (or indeed, any substance that had been forced at high pressure through any other substance), was better than any other way of making coffee. This was around the same time it was decided that it was easier for customer to add their own sugar to coffee, preferably while carrying two mobile phones, a bag and a newspaper, rather than this function being carried out by the coffee shop “server”. 

Follwing the royal decree, the poshest cafes would buy hugely expensive and often very beautiful espresso machines which would hiss and steam to produce a small very strong little cup of coffee. The machines themselves looked like something recast from the industrial revolution via the italian fashon foothills. I can almost see where the romance came from, especially if the alternative were stewed tea or something out of a jar.

Espresso Coffee

But the whole thing has stuck, and not just stuck, it has kind of displaced reality. If you go into a Costa Coffee today and ask for a filter coffee, they look at you like you’ve asked for a glass hammer or a cup of smoke. Then they shrug and make you an “americano”. Completely straight-faced they will charge you £1.50 for an espresso shot and a pint of boiling water. Of course, it would taste better if they went back to the 70s and added the water to a teaspoon of gold blend.

Italy may still be in the 70s but we should have moved on. We’ve invented the personal computer and the internet for heaven’s sake. We should stop being impressed by the ability to have compressed steam indoors. That’s not even what you’re getting now anyway. You’re getting a cup of magic froth from some machine that has a fake tub of coffee beans glued to the top and can make anything you like, so long as it’s not tea or coffee.

I mention this because I checked every outlet in King’s Cross this morning for the presence of a single filter coffee machine, and it was all big magic boxes ready to produce burnt coffee taste with water.

coffee machine with one of those coffee bean compartments which normally bodes badly

So brainstorms produce nothing like ideas, and coffee machines produce nothing like coffee. The antidote? A visit to the London’s best coffee shop for a quiet chat (ask for a filter).