Is Starbucks Coffee the Killer App for Mobile Payments?

Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) has proven that convenience is irresistible. The coffee giant has processed more than 42 million mobile payments through its iPhone and Android pay-by-phone program since its launch in January 2011, according to a report by VentureBeat.

The mobile pay feature of the company’s iPhone and Android applications allows customers to add money to a digital Starbucks card and then use it to pay at the register with a barcode that displays on the user’s phone. Mobile pay was originally released in the U.S. and is now also available in Canada and the United Kingdom. The feature was recently made available to drive-thru customers as well.

Starbucks said that by December 2011 it had already received 26 million mobile payments, and use of the application is still growing by leaps and bounds. The Starbucks approach to mobile payments is simpler than the near-field communications technology used by companies such as Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Isis (NASDAQ:ISIS), which has yet to set the world on fire. In fact, its simplicity may have contributed to its success — success that has motivated Starbucks to continue research and development of undisclosed in-store payment technologies.

“You’re going to see us as a company that will push the envelope around mobile pay,” said chief digital officer Adam Brotman. “We want to innovate in that area before others catch up.” The mobile pay feature is one of 10 core digital businesses that Starbucks believes improves its rapport with with customers. Starbucks recently promoted Brotman to the role of chief digital officer, which is the first position of its kind at the company.