Starbucks may have foisted the fabricated need for half caf soy no foam lattes on the American populace, but now that the country is accustomed to making finnicky caffeine orders, the company is trying to reassert its dominance on the caffeine market. And today the company announced an iPhone app that may help it get ahead of the curve when it comes to technology.

While Starbucks may be late to the iPhone app party, the company is making up for its tardiness with some caffinated leaps forward in the field of mobile payments.

The coffee giant is launching two apps. MyStarbucks lets iPhone owners use the phone’s GPS capability to find nearby stores, check menu items, hours and amenities. It’s a pretty standard app with no major surprises. But the second one, the Starbucks card mobile app, allows iPhone and iPod touch owners to make purchases in the store with their mobile devices.

Customers can check their balance on gift cards, add more money to them and pay by showing a barcode to the cashier.

Starbucks is gauging customers inclination to use these new features
before rolling out nationwide, but if people like it this could be a
game changer for the company.

Starbucks has fallen on its own sword in a way lately. After almost singlehandedly promoting the status of the ordinary cup of joe to a $3.00 plus daily purchase, Starbucks is suffering from backlash and quality control issues. 

For the first time ever, many Starbucks locations have been shuttered in the U.S. this year. The company has responded in some strange ways. Opening a chain of shops branded to look like mom and pop cafes is a strange kind of brandwashing.

But this move plays to the company’s strengths. Previous text service allowed customers to find nearby locations, but MyStarbucks will increase consumer interaction with the brand and the gift card app could go a long way to continuing Starbucks’ stature as a permanent fixture in people’s lives. Beyond the product consistency that comes from purchasing coffee from an international chain, seamless payments could also become an expected and integral feature in the coffee buying experience for Starbucks customers. 

Many brands may be trying to go upscale with their coffee offerings — McDonald’s efforts with McCafe recently went so far as to sponsor Fashion Week in New York this year (likely confusing many fashionistas who have never set foot in a McDonald’s before).

But using the ubiquity of a brand to make customers’ lives easier is a great way to create recurring business. And if iPhone users start making payments with their phones at Starbucks, this could change the way people spend money in retail shops.

The U.S. is still lagging behind other countries when it comes to mobile payments. Some airlines have phone barcode scanning options for flight check in, but Starbucks’ large dedicated base of Starbucks card users could go a long way toward making the usage more mainstream.  

It’s still not certain that Starbucks will rely on barcode payments in a serious way — and that technology may not be the most viable mobile payment option going forward — but getting customers in the habit of paying wih their phones could be very good for Starbucks’ business.