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November 10, 2004

Starbucks Media Bar!

This is amazing.

I am not compensated in any way by Starbucks for endorsing this product.

I went to Starbucks yesterday and burned a couple of CDs. The experience was everything I have ever imagined a consumer technology experience should be. When I think through the complexity of a self-serve tool in a coffee shop for selecting music and creating a CD, this amazes me even more.

Now, it is trite to extol the virtues of Starbucks (and HP) in building this solution. Time and money and testing by a company that lives for “customer experience” should generate a solution this seamless. Likewise, it is a bit trite to ask why other companies can’t do anything as good.

Instead, I think it is interesting to think about how this solution can fundamentally do two things. First, it upsets the balance once again in acquiring recorded music. Just when I thought that iTunes and the iPod (which are also brilliant products) had change the game completely, the Starbucks experience made me rethink things. The best way I can describe the overall feeling I got making my CDs yesterday was “warm and comfortable”. This is, of course, a natural extension of the Starbucks “third place” philosophy. It brings back some of the feelings that a small record shop once invoked, right down to the hip cats behind the counter.

The second thing this solution does is demonstrate that technology is a tool, and as a tool it does not take a technology company to use it wisely and effectively. As a market we focus way too much attention on companies like Apple, Sony, and Microsoft and the solutions they create. That is all well and good, but what happens when a consumer company wants to demonstrate their own thought leadership around technology? Well, we mostly get lousy solutions like the weird controller in new BMWs or ATMs that still confuse users. Sometimes, however, we get brilliance. Even more so, we get brilliance through the creative and careful application of a bunch of existing technologies. I know that there were lots of technology challenges here, but they were challenges in putting together pieces of current and standard technologies. Given the right people and the right mission, those pieces come together perfectly.

Yes, there are some flaws in the overall experience; the boxes for the finished CD get easily crushed around the edges in their storage bin and the volume control was a little temperamental. However, I walked away as happy as I have been when interacting with music in a long time.

Go and make yourself some music, and get me a venti black ice tea no sweetner while you are there.

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