Apple and Starbucks to Boston: Drop Dead (When it Comes to Music)

My, Apple makes life fun. Every week there’s something new to awe at, or argue about; something kindly or incredibly innovative that the company has done, and something crazy-making.

Today I’m feeling grateful to Mr. Jobs for offering $100 in store credit to people like myself who bought the 8-gigabyte iPhone for $599 two months ago, only to see the price drop yesterday to $399. It’s a nice gesture that will help to offset the wait-a-few-months-to-see-if-the-price-drops attitude that’s now certain to deter some future Apple customers.

But I’m also feeling slighted for apparently having the poor taste to live in Boston—which isn’t even among the first five cities where Apple and Starbucks plan to roll out their brilliant new “Now Playing” service.

Here’s what happened. At yesterday’s press event, Jobs announced that owners of the iPhone and the new $299 iPod Touch will be able to walk into a Starbucks, hook up to iTunes free via the in-store WiFi network, and immediately purchase the tune playing at that moment in that store. (It will work on laptops too.) It’s another master stroke of cross-marketing: Starbucks has already proved that coffee and music are a natural combination. Apple knows that there are plenty of caffeine-addicted urbanites (again, like myself) who load $50 a month onto their Starbucks cards and almost always have their iPods or iPhones with them when they visit a Starbucks cafe. If I’m already spending $1.95 on a venti coffee, then I’m not going to bat an eye at buying a song on impulse for $0.99. Frankly, I can use the help keeping up with pop culture.

Classic headline from New York Daily News (Oct. 30, 1975)By the way, a note to Starbucks: Thanks! I really appreciated the free “Off the Clock” CD you sent me in the mail last month as a reward for my loyalty. And I think it’s great that you’re promoting the bands formed by your own employees.

But geez, guys! Are you telling us that Boston is a less musical city or a less important market than New York and Seattle (where Now Playing will debut on October 2, according to Starbucks), San Francisco (November 7), Los Angeles (early February 2008), and Chicago (March 2008)?

Granted, each of those cities has a distinguished musical history and, perhaps more importantly, lots of Starbucks stores. But come on! Boston is the hometown of Aerosmith, the Cars, the Pixies, the Fleshtones, and, of course, the unforgettable band Boston (founded by an MIT grad who worked at Polaroid)—not to mention Berklee College of Music, one of the nation’s best symphony orchestras, and hundreds of thousands of music-hungry, latté-slurping college students.

According to Starbucks’ own store locator, there are at least 130 Starbucks within 20 miles of downtown Boston. But we’ve been unceremoniously lumped in with the “most major metropolitan areas” where Now Playing will arrive “by the end of 2008.”

Is no one at Starbucks or Apple aware that the end of 2008 is more than 15 months and three or four product cycles away? In technology time, that’s roughly, oh, 250 years from now—so far in the future that I’m tempted to think that the rollout will actually be much faster and that both companies are merely padding the schedule, so that they can surprise us by bringing the program here sooner.

Of course, I’m not going to die of ennui while I wait for Now Playing to hit Boston. It’s just funny and strange when Apple makes such a big deal out of a new product or project, then rations it out so parsimoniously—and chooses to overlook a city that, arguably, is second only to San Francisco in its concentration of iPod-toting, wireless-savvy early adopters.

I’ll try not to take it personally. But hey, Steve, can you put that $100 in store credit on my Starbucks card instead?

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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4 responses to “Apple and Starbucks to Boston: Drop Dead (When it Comes to Music)”

  1. Dennis says:

    If anything, at least Boston has a Hard Rock Cafe unlike Seattle. :)


  2. Merrill Peterson says:

    what sort of extra hardware does this “rollout” take, per store. Is seems that once they rolled out a few cities (each with hundreds of stores), the rest is seamless. no maintenance other than the minimal extra hardware, and simple employee training.

    Boston has 130 Starbucks within 20 miles. Here’s the stats for the chosen ones:

    LA 410
    NY 328
    SE 316
    CH 260
    SF 201

    makes sense they go for the highest densities first. I’d bet on an early rollout for many more stores. where are the highest concentrations of iPhones?

    the panther strikes in October. i want an VW/Apple iCar for xmas!

  3. Peter says:

    Part of the problem is that Boston is infested with Duncan Donuts and nobody seems to mind.

  4. Nate says:

    ipod + dunkin sounds better for boston. or Fenway + iPod where they broadcast the sports announcers over shoutcast directly to the ipod.