Apple Files Patent App To Allow Wireless Ordering At Stores

Apple has applied to patent a wireless ordering system that would allow shoppers to place orders from, for example, their iPhones as they approached, oh, let’s say a Starbucks, bypassing an ordering line altogether and going straight to the pick-up counter. The system would also allow stores to keep data on repeat customers to speed up future transactions.

Customers might tap a button to order their favorite drink, say a double-shot mocha, as they stroll up to the nearest coffee shop. When the drink is ready go to, the device–such as an iPhone–would chime or blink to let the thirsty one know it’s time to scoop up the order at the counter.

The patent puts Apple’s partnership with Starbucks in a new light. The technology promises to morph Apple from the business of simply selling gadgets and music and movies that can be played on those devices into an intermediary in all kinds of exchanges.

We’ve seen various schemes to work cellphones into the transaction space over the years, and so far nothing’s caught on. But considering how much market share the iPhone has already grabbed, we wouldn’t be surprised if by this time next year we go into a Starbucks and see iPhones chiming like upscale versions of those wireless pager coasters restaurants use.

“Apple’s Piping Hot Innovation” [Forbes via Dealerscope]

Patent Application For “Wireless communication system” [US Patent Office]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Imaginary_Friend says:

    This should prove interesting. Personally, I’m seriously wary of trusting any cell phone to store my credit card data or any other sensitive information. We’ve all seen how careless U.S. businesses have been with our private information thus far.

  2. I know someone who would blow a lotta money on this real quick…

    friggin 140 degree mocha lattes at the tap of a [touch] button. yeah, you know who you are

  3. cde says:

    I know a way of doing this. Take the regular in-store pickup transaction, but add a SMS/txt when ready. Boom, you just negated Apple’s patent (on a non-detailed level. I’m sure the patent describes a more precise way of doing it)

  4. Shadowfire says:

    The folks who are waiting in line in the store would be bullshit when they see some schmuck skip the line and pick up their coffee before them.

    Of course, with some of the Starbucks crowd, I might enjoy that…

  5. Copper says:

    This just further turns our society into lazy, fat and materialistic people.

    It is cool though.

  6. canerican says:

    I think that’s really neat. Say you are out and you pass by Best Buy and instead of having to find whatever gadget that you need (you have to figure that someone with an iPhone is someone who likes gadgets) you go to the site, find it, and get a message when it is ready. Of course CDE’s way would be more effective, and its best application would be in a place where you go often and that doesn’t have alot of variety… like Starbucks (they have what, 30-40 different drinks, a menu would be easy to read on an iPhone) or another fast service restaurant.
    I also thought that it would be neat at Blockbuster – a list of new releases, and you just walk through show your iPhone with a confirmation number and whammo! It would really be useful anywhere that new items come in often, you could have a simplified iPhone website, Barnes and Noble could use it.

    I really think its great. Who cares about materialism, materialism fuels capitalism, if you want it and you can afford it, buy it. This just makes the buying step easier. It’s America we love making buying overpriced coffee too easy.

  7. haimtime says:

    that starbucks icon. Oh I see what you did there.

  8. overbysara says:


  9. goodkitty says:

    More patents for obvious combinations of existing things, oh boy. Didn’t Amazon already fail with their one-click thing?

  10. dreamcatcher2 says:

    By patenting existing technology and tying it to a locked-in device, Apple has yet again succeeded in innovating and increasing consumer choice. And when they sue everybody else, that will also be helping us… somehow…

  11. Imaginary_Friend says:

    Canerican said: “I think that’s really neat. Say you are out and you pass by Best Buy and instead of having to find whatever gadget that you need (you have to figure that someone with an iPhone is someone who likes gadgets) you go to the site, find it, and get a message when it is ready.”

    I like this scenario, albeit with one modification: once you cross the threshold into BestBuy, the iPhone delivers a swift kick to your junk, reminding you to stay the flock out of BestBuy.

    Good luck on the patent for the virtual-reality/hologram, steel-toed boot, Apple!

  12. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Hmm.. Isn’t this very much like ordering a pizza on the internet? I believe Papa Johns and even Dominos has online ordering. When your pizza is ready to be picked up (or delivered), you get an e-mail confirmation.

    The patent system needs to be reformed. It’s really sad when companies get awarded patents for obvious things such as this. And the worst part is that they make the patent so broad and generic that it allows them to sue anyone that offers a product/service that is remotely similar.

    I’m tellin ya.. If any of you have kids, send them to law school. Patent trolling will be the only profitable industry left in the United States.

  13. deserthiker says:

    So instead of a phone order, it’s an iPhone order. Sweet!

    This is a great idea. About the least favorite thing anyone has to do in life is stand in line. I can see this working for fast food and lots of other things. As for paying you could pay through your iTunes account and have it deducted from your balance. And as one who owns aapl I can see this as a nice little source of revenue for Apple.

  14. Scazza says:

    Dunno about the whole “not catching on” thing. In Canada, Bell offers ordering movie tickets from you cell. It hasn’t caught on like wildfire, but its more of a convenience tool that seems to work well.

  15. humphrmi says:

    I have an iPhone, but I already order tickets online before I go to the theater. Does that mean I’m anti-Apple? Am I violating a patent? Is Steve Jobs going to come and kill me in my sleep?

  16. stevebmd says:

    @Shadowfire: The folks who are waiting in line would be bullshit when they see some schmuck skip the line and pick up their coffee before them

    No, they’d see the schmuck’s iPhone and realize that “schmuck” is not a schmuck at all, but a cool, hip trendsetter who clearly deserves his mocha before the rest of us. After all, the iPhone does make you a better person, doesn’t it?

  17. Buran says:

    @Shadowfire: So you’re a schmuck just because you use a service the restaurant offers. I can pick up carryout at the local Italian place and not have to wait in line — same at a lot of other places — I’d only think they’re rightly a cheater if they were really getting special service that is unavailable to anyone else.

    I don’t see this as any different than call-ahead takeout/reservations.

  18. Buran says:

    @Imaginary_Friend: I don’t think it would do that, or if it did it’d probably pull from a paypal style service — more like, you call your order in ahead while sitting outside the restaurant or in the waiting area, go up to the counter, swipe your card, get your food. It’d probably be like how you can authorize specific merchants at specific times to debit your paypal account via a payment method you choose.

  19. PassionateConsumer says:

    I wrote a blog article, actually two, on this topic, which broke Dec. 27th after a Forbes writer brought it. My first point was that I am much more concerned with having friendly staff, great tasting drinks, and clean tables/stations/bathrooms, than I am skipping a line, which opens up a plethora of other potential issues: longer waits for others who were there first, as iPhone orders come in and ‘jump the line’; what happens when the order is incorrect, and you have iPhone waving people at the Barista counter, asking for their drink to be remade, or was it a softare problem, or I pushed the wrong code and ordered the wrong fu fu drink …

    What I really wonder is why Starbucks would not take a path like Papa John’s, the only national pizza chain with text message ordering. Anyone can text in one of four saved order codes to Papa John’s, get a confirmation from the nearest outlet, and pick up their pizza or have it delivered. Why would Starbucks want to super serve a segment of consumers, and not the whole lot? If Papa J can implement its own system, so can Starbucks, and invite everyone, not just the iPodders.

  20. MelL says:

    @PassionateConsumer: I would assume because Starbucks wants to have their name associated with a popular device.

  21. PassionateConsumer says:


    Good point, as Starbucks already has a relationship with Apple, where iPhone users can do a one-touch download of a song playing in the background at a Starbucks they’re visiting. I’m just questioning whether Starbucks would create a much wider sense of excitement if it promoted the fact anyone … anyone with text message capability, could pre-order and skip the line.

    Some 5 million iPhones have been sold. Goldman Sachs estimates 14 million by the end of 2008. Solid numbers. But the total number of cell phones in use numbers far above that.

    Starbucks attracts a GenY/GenX demographic, so a higher proportion of their customers use iPhones. But I think – in a pure numbers sense – Starbucks should implement its own ordering system, and have it open to any device.

  22. ShadowArmor says:

    Its an interesting idea, and I’m sure most of the concerns being voiced here were similar to the ones voiced when telephone ordering was introduced.

    I think the resource thing will solve itself once the idea is solidified as culture. Think of it this way — you walk into a pizzeria, you order a pizza, you are told “15 mins”. You sit and wait. During that time, 10 other pizzas are made, and people walk in and get them. You complain, and the guy says “they ordered over the phone”. End of story.

    That being said, PC made an interesting point about when the drink is made incorrectly. When the doppio mocha-choca-yo-yo is missing its extra valencia flavor, someone gets left holding the bag. Fourbucks usually just gives the drink away to someone else and remakes, so maybe fault isn’t an issue. At least with this digital system, the exact order is recorded so blame could be found if necessary.

    I also agree about shutting out non-apple users. I don’t do starbucks, but it’d be kickass to order my fajita from chipotle this way. I don’t want to have to buy an iPhone just to do that.

  23. ophmarketing says:


    You CAN just fax your order into Chipotle and have it ready to go when you walk in. A bit old school, I know, but for those of us who work in offices, it still gets the job done…

  24. jreno3 says:

    This would require POS integration. I know Stabucks’ POS vendor very well (Xpient/Progressive) and this will probably be about 2 years off.

  25. MYarms says:

    Imagine gaining remote access to someone’s phone and ordering them food all over the place. That sounds like fun!

  26. Buran says:

    @Copper: Riiiight. Honestly, since this is no different than takeout/callahead, why the sudden hate for it since it involves something ne?

  27. Buran says:

    @ShadowArmor: Tying a service or bonus to a particular device is a sales tactic to get you to buy that device. That sort of thing isn’t new.

  28. Televiper says:

    I can understand skipping the line for large orders, but for one fancy cup of coffee?

  29. PassionateConsumer says:

    The fun scene will be the office lacky who has to run to Starbucks to fill an order for the boss and nine others in a meeting. He uses his iPhone while walking – quick thinking – but the poor schmuck who just ordered his double whip caramel ralph machio (non fat), is wondering why since he’s the only one standing in line, his order is taking forever, and the barista is engulfed in a steamed milk vapor cloud.

    Technology’s great, but Starbucks needs more than an army of iPhoners to bring the luster back. Its founder and CEO even admitted in a memo that the company had lost it’s way. Ditch the auto espresso machines (let the baristas actually ‘pull’ espresso shots and grind fresh beans in front of you). Focus on great coffee, orders made right, superior and friendly customer service, and stores that are so clean and inviting that you want to roll around naked on the floor. Maybe not the bathroom floors, but you get the drift. They need to get a handle on Brick before betting on Click to save them.

  30. Rusted says:

    Ah, that great Apple innovation. Just add an “i” to any noun. Wonder if that’s already patented.

  31. rabiddachshund says:

    “The system would also allow stores to keep data on repeat customers to speed up future transactions.”

    I can see it now: someone’s walking past a Starbucks in the mall and it automatically orders their favorite drink, which may or may not be the $13 monster.

  32. The_Duke says:


    First of all, applying for a patent is not the same as being granted a patent. Anyone can apply for a patent.

    Second, it’s hard to say this patent is “obvious” without seeing the application. Sure the general idea seems obvious, but the actual technology and innovation of integrating the backend Starbucks system with an iPhone SMS service is not trivial. For example, the idea of transporting a person from one state to another sounds really simple, but there are thousands of patents relating to the implementation…

  33. parnote says:

    Hmmmpf! I take exception to granting any further “benefits” to iPhone users. If I were a business owner, I would be hesitant to offer special consideration for iPhone users that couldn’t be extended to my other customers. To tie this “rush ordering” concept to an already privileged group of wealthy yuppies alienates an overwhelming majority of people who, either by choice or design, have no access to a proprietary (and high dollar) “access device” on a proprietary network. The only thing that would make it better would be if the iPhone kept ordering Lattes and other FooFoo drinks every 10 minutes, just like it keeps checking email when traveling abroad and generating $$$$ bills from the evil empire of AT&T. Now, they can also enjoy generating $$$$ bills from StarShnucks!!! Can’t wait to see that one come across The Consumerist!!!

  34. theblackdog says:

    Don’t they already have systems like this in Europe and Japan for stores?

  35. jwissick says:

    Just as long as my phone does not ask me if I want a coffee every time I pass a starbucks or if I want a Whopper every time I pass a Burger King.

  36. cde says:

    @jreno3: There is nothing to say that the order is payed for with the phone, or payment info stored on it. Just, order, drink made, and a message saying ready to pickup/pay. Like ordering pizza for carryout.

  37. MelL says:

    @PassionateConsumer: I would think the exclusiveness would add a bit of mystique to the iPhone. Can you do things with plain ol’ text messaging? Sure! But this is exclusive to the iPhone! *cues fireworks and marching bands* But yeah, I totally understand how they could reach a larger market if they stick to texting. I just see it as two brands trying to feed from each others popularity. Sounds kinda dirty, heh heh heh…

  38. Buran says:

    @parnote: Seems like passing up the chance to make it easier for affluent people to buy your products/services may not be a great idea… it’s your choice, of course, but still, generally most businesses do whatever they can to get money.

  39. FLConsumer says:

    Gee…Japan’s been doing this for years now. ::Yawn:: Next?

  40. Buran says:
  41. savvy999 says:

    @FLConsumer: Yes, in Japan you can stand next to a Coke/Pepsi machine, call it up, and it will charge a single beverage to your credit card. I’m not sure if it’s bluetooth or infrared or actual cell communication, but who cares, it works.

  42. parnote says:

    @Buran: I view it more as creating a special class of customer out of those who are already privileged and have all the perks of life – and this is something I oppose. While the money is nice, I wouldn’t want to exclude those who are not as privileged. At any rate, we are talking about a company that caters to those who are more privileged.