Trying The Starbucks Digital Network On An iPad

A few weeks back Todd tested the Starbucks Digital Network on his iPhone and wrote about his experience, and since then I have been curious to try it on my iPad, so this past weekend I spent some time at a local Starbucks. I was interested to see what content is available and how well viewing the content works on an iPad.

The Starbucks Digital Network is only available within Starbucks stores via their free WiFi Internet access. While Starbucks provides full access to the Internet for free, the Starbucks Digital Network provides free access to content that you might otherwise have to pay for from the Internet.

After buying a drink I sat down, turned on my iPad, and encountered the first problem. How do you access the Starbucks Digital Network? I was expecting to see it automatically load when I connected to the Internet, similar to the startup screen you see at Panera or at hotels, but instead my iPad connected directly to the WiFi network and I had access to the Internet. I don’t know if this experience is because I had connected to the Internet at Starbucks before, but if users have to seek the Digital Network out, they won’t do it. After some searching, I found the URL at starbucks.yahoo.com.

In the screenshot above you can see the first page of the Digital Network, and on it you swipe left or right to scroll through the content. I first tried the The New York Times shown in the middle of the screen and was redirected to a page prompting me to install the Times Reader, which runs on a Mac or Windows PC, and is not useful on an iPad. I also encountered a few instances where Flash was required, such as for USA Today or to see local bike riding paths. I was, however, able to access the full copy of the Wall Street Journal online, as well as the Bookish Reading Club.

The Bookish Reading Club provides three eBooks that you can read for free while in a Starbucks store. What I found interesting is that it doesn’t require eReader software, rather it displays the book pages within the Safari browser. To turn through the pages you simply swipe left or right, just like you do in iBooks or the Kindle app.

Perhaps one of the more desirable reasons to access to the Starbucks Digital Network via an iPhone or iPad is to obtain free music. I was able to download the three Elvis Costello tracks that Todd wrote about, and the download process works directly within the iTunes app on the iPad to download the music to your iTunes library.

You will notice in the screen shot above that the home page has a link to a featured free song of the week. A new song is provided every Tuesday for free, and it is the same song as provided on the little song cards that Starbucks has been providing for a few years. Unfortunately, when I tapped on the featured song on the home page the link was to an entirely different song that was not redeemable via iTunes.

In all my experience trying the Starbucks Digital Network was a mixed bag. It was too difficult for me to find and if my experience is consistent with everyone elses, I don’t know how Starbucks expects many people to access the content. It did not occur to me until after I left the store to look at Todd’s post and I noticed that he used a different link at m.starbucks.yahoo.com, and it may be that link points to a site that is more optimized to the iPad. Unfortunately, requiring users to remember specific links is not very useful and really not necessary. Starbuck’s web server should automatically detect the browser that I am using and automatically serve up the correct pages.