Starbucks will begin offering free WiFi in July, CEO Howard Schultz announced at the Wired Business Conference in New York yesterday. (Currently you can only connect through an AT&T card.) What's more, the coffee shops will allow free access to partially paid content like the Wall Street Journal and a free Apple iTunes download every week.
So, four reactions:
1) It's about time! Cosi, Panera, Einstein Bagels, countless mom and pop coffee stores and even McDonald's offer free WiFi already in more than ten thousand locations nationwide. If you're an urbane Seattle-based suit-and-tie hot spot behind the Golden Arches in tech savvy, something's wrong.
2) TechCrunch's analysis -- "Starbucks wants to create proprietary way to give access to new sources of information and content that you can get only at Starbucks" -- sounds interesting in a vague and mostly unsatisfying way. I wonder if "proprietary way to give access blah blah" is just Starbucks' way of spinning the fact that it's behind the WiFi curve by making up an excuse that it wanted to do something special with white mochas and wireless. But there's little reason to think anybody wants to use Starbucks -- or any non-home, non-work, third location -- as anything more than a change of pace venue to focus and work.
4) Just because a move is obvious and overdue doesn't mean it isn't smart. And this move is smart. When college students and wired professionals want to grab a bite alone, they (well, I'm projecting here) want somewhere to park their laptop and browse and click and respond to email. Now Starbucks offers that. Good move.