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Find Starbucks app developer goes it alone without brand

The developer of the Find Starbucks location-based search application for Google's Android decided to release it independently when Starbucks Coffee Co. declined to partner with him.

Find Starbucks is a location-based search application that finds Starbucks coffee shops nearest to the user. The independent developer tapped Skyhook Wireless, provider of the patented Wi-Fi Positioning System, or WPS, and the hybrid positioning system XPS, to integrate its technology into Find Starbucks.

"The Find Starbucks Android app started as a hobby to learn the Android mobile platform while producing something useful to other Android phone users," said Wenzhong Tang, Seattle-based developer of the Find Starbucks Android application. "I am glad that many people like it and use it in their daily life.

"Find Starbucks is not associated with the Starbucks corporation," he said. "We contacted Starbucks previously about possible cooperation but they rejected the idea."

Starbucks Coffee Co. does have a mobile-optimized site at that features a store locator, although the company has not released a downloadable mobile application.

Starbucks did run a loyalty program based on 2D bar-code coupons deployed via SMS.

The coffee giant tapped digital technology provider Codilink, which specializes in mobile services helping companies to offer loyalty programs to their clients.

The campaign ran in Guadalajara and San Luis Potosi, Mexico, but based on the 60 percent mobile coupon redemption rate, it is likely to be expanded (see story).

Hooked on LBS
Founded in 2003, Skyhook Wireless has developed a hybrid positioning system leveraging Wi-Fi, GPS and cell towers to deliver location data supporting the growing market for location-based services.

Skyhook Wireless offers a publicly available SDK for Android developers.

The Find Starbucks application was released in early June and already has more than 3,000 users. Find Starbucks can be downloaded for free in the Android Marketplace.

"Currently I plan to put mobile ads in my app," Mr. Tang said. "The Find Starbucks app will always be free."

The application provides store addresses, maps, driving directions and reviews for Starbucks stores both in the United States and abroad.

The application already supports the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia, Ireland and Germany.

The next release of Find Starbucks, which will be available later this week, will support all countries with Starbucks stores as long as users' phones can access the data sources through either a data plan that includes mobile Web access or Wi-Fi.

Find Starbucks is an example of a simple location-based application that is popular because it serves a large demand of smartphone users: fulfilling their daily coffee fix.

The application has the ability to provide driving and walking directions from a user's current location to the Starbucks stores nearby.

Find Starbucks is an example of an application that completely revolves around location, and therefore needs the fastest and most accurate location available.

Using Skyhook technology, users can get the exact location of the nearest Starbucks within a couple of seconds, according to Mr. Tang.

"The main reason I choose Skyhook over the built-in location provider [for Android] is its speed and accuracy, especially in cities and indoors where GPS signals are not available or not reliable," Mr. Tang said.

"Skyhook WPS uses Wi-Fi triangulation in metropolitan areas, so it does not require large open sky exposure to accurately determine the phone user's current location," he said.

The target demographic is Starbucks coffee fans and travelers.

"The application is most useful for professionals on the move," Mr. Tang said. "They often travel to unfamiliar cities and other countries.

"They would like to find their favorite coffee shop quickly so they can either relax and enjoy a cup of mocha or discuss business with their clients or colleagues," he said.

Mr. Tang is thinking big -- he has plans to support other smartphone platforms. Versions for Apple's iPhone, RIM's BlackBerry and Microsoft's Windows Mobile are in the planning stage.

Since Find Starbucks is not associated with the Starbucks Coffee Co., the marketing budget is limited.

"I don't expect they would promote the Android application in anyway and they may even develop their own version of an Android application," Mr. Tang said.

"However, I am confident that the user base for Find Starbucks application will continue to grow, because I plan to introduce more exciting features that even the Starbucks company cannot match quickly," he said.