The Starbucks mobile app merely displays the same barcode that exists on the customer's plastic Starbucks Card. That means there is no wireless transmission, nor are any meaningful changes to the POS or card-swipe required. It does, however, require a change-of-behavior from the customer, and that might be the hardest and most valuable element.
What Starbucks is delivering is a clean, seamless experience for its shoppers, one that can be used constantly, given the always-there nature of most people's mobile device behavior. Whether it's more convenient or faster than pulling out the plastic card is arguable. With the plastic card, there's no need to turn on the card, wait for its icons to display, deactivate airline mode (assuming it's on, to save power and minimize radiation), click on an icon, wait for the app to load, login to the app and then navigate to the page where the barcode will be displayed. The fact that Starbucks has gotten consumers to do that 26 million times is indeed an accomplishment.
The more consumers use the phone in any way to help along a transaction, the more comfortable those consumers will be with real mobile transactions (think the wallet apps from PayPal, Google and, eventually, ISIS) when they materialize.
Starbucks consumers have already gotten fairly creative with unexpected ways to use the Starbucks app, such as for fee-free consumer-to-consumer payments.
Other stats released by Starbucks show a sharp increase in mobile acceptance, which seems to coincide with mobile rollouts from other majors chains this year. Said Starbucks in a statement: "In the first 9 weeks of the program, there were 3 million transactions and, for comparison, for the 9-week period starting in October, there were 6 million transactions."
A figure not released was how many consumers are reflected in those 26 million transactions. If that number is being dictated by a relatively small number of mobile fans who constantly inhale their caffeine via an Android or iPhone, those transactions—which appear to average $4.25—might mean less in terms of consumer acceptance.
To compensate for the slower speed (see the mobile steps referenced above) of using a mobile device, a discount for using your card via mobile could easily send the numbers percolating upward. We know that times are tight, but there's no room in a $2.50 regular coffee for a tiny mobile discount?