Starbucks the technology giant

I travel internationally 6 to 10 times every year. In the last decade or so, it has become automatic for me to navigate myself, wherever I am visiting, using proximity to Starbucks as my secondary if not primary tiebreaker in choosing hotels. This is not just because I enjoy their coffee. Don’t get me wrong; I am not one of those who refers to them as Charbucks, and am indeed a daily customer. The more compelling reason is that Starbucks has become my international ISP.

Starbucks rolled out Wi-Fi service in the early 2000’s, ranging from paid service in some countries to free in others. Today, the company offers free service in most (all?) countries where it operates, mostly (all?) for free. From North America to Europe to Japan, every Starbucks has at least a handful of travelers and other lingering transients finding their ways on Google Maps, recharging their iPhones, Messaging family and friends or Skyping colleagues, not to mention catching up on news back home.

All to say, Starbucks is a purveyor of not just caffeine but also telecommunications. It was therefore appropriate that, Howard Schultz, the founding CEO, passed the baton earlier this year to Kevin R. Johnson. Mr. Johnson is a veteran of IBM, Microsoft and Juniper Networks. One can’t help but wonder if this transition is a harbinger of deeper immersion in technology development at Starbucks. Will get develop aspirations as the next Amazon — a tech giant in s retailer’s clothing.