Starbucks hopes that when you're ready to buy a cup of coffee at one of their cafes, you'll put away your wallet and instead use the Starbucks app (iOS | Android), which lets you pay for your drinks and food by scanning your phone's screen at the register. The app also rewards you for using it, with perks such as free drinks and other discounts. Of all the mobile payment options I've used, this is one of the easiest.
While I am not on a first-name basis with my local barista, I've been heading to Starbucks at least a few times a week for the last few years. Over the last several months, I've been testing out the app to see if it's really worth using. I'll say that it's easy to use and the perks are nice, but it's not so foolproof that I don't still reach for my wallet when it comes time to pay. Unless you visit Starbucks daily (or nearly so) for a caffeine fix, the app won't really affect your experience at the coffee chain.
One of the only places you'll notice any significant difference between iOS and Android apps is in the design. There's not much to say about the Android app's design -- it's very simple, has a lot of empty space, and is a bit boring.
On the other hand, the iOS app recently got a refreshed look for iOS 7 and sports a sleek, flat design with a dashboard on information on the main screen. It looks far more polished and colorful than the Android app. I hope Starbucks updates its Android title to make it more modern.
Set up your card
Like most apps these days, you'll need to create an account to use the Starbucks apps. This is especially important, because your account tracks your purchases, which helps you earn perks (more on that later). You can create a new account with Facebook on Starbucks' website, or with an email and password in the apps.
The app is really just a digital gift card. You can either add an existing card to the account and reload it when the balance empties, or you can have the app issue a new digital card that you load up with money.
You'll want to add a payment method to the app so that you can top off your card when needed. Starbucks accepts all major credit cards and PayPal. It's up to you if you want your card to automatically reload when your balance dips below a certain amount, or if you want to manually add money. To add money, you must choose one of the predetermined amounts, which start at $10 and go up in $5 increments to $100. There's no way to enter a custom amount, which is disappointing.
One of my gripes with the app is that, if you get a bunch of new gift cards and want to consolidate them into the app, they live as individual cards in the app. You can't condense all of those balances into one card to keep things simple. The process to add a new card also feels tedious, as you have to both enter the card number and PIN from the back of the plastic card. However, while it's far easier to just whip out the plastic gift card when you reach the Starbucks register, the app has a slight leg up because it shows you the card's current balance.
Get your coffee (or tea)
Now that your card is loaded, you're ready to venture to Starbucks for your morning latte or late-afternoon Frappuccino, armed with nothing more than your phone. As you approach the register, it's a good idea to open the app and pick the card your want to use to pay (the people behind you will be grateful that you're prepared). When you tap the card you want to use, you'll get a barcode that the cashier scans to complete your purchase. Just show them this barcode, and they'll tell you where you need to hold your phone so they can scan it.