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The Apple Watch is a hot cup of convenience

"Close enough," I tell him, and order a grande coffee with cream. He orders a breakfast sandwich. It's a Saturday morning and our family is headed to the beach for the day, about an hour and a half west of Portland.

That's right: we live in Portland, Oregon, hipster capital of the Pacific Northwest, where you can find some of the best coffee in the country. And yet, sometimes, we go to Starbucks. My husband, Neven Mrgan, asked me to please leave his name out of this article.

In most cities, Starbucks is a perfectly acceptable place to go for coffee (or tea, if you're into that sort of thing). But in Portland, it's controversial. On the one hand, the company itself hails from Seattle, so it's semi-local; it also strives to ethically source the coffee it serves. But on the other hand, it's a massive chain, which is inherently uncool in this indie-loving, D.I.Y. city, and the coffee it serves isn't great. Some of it barely even resembles coffee (cough "S'mores Frappuccino" cough). But, on the whole, it's fine.

Yes, coffee nerds: I think the coffee at Starbucks is fine. While Portland is home to a ridiculously high number of small-batch roasters and I prefer almost everything about the Stumptown that's a few blocks from my house, I go there just about as often as I go to our local Starbucks. Now, let me drop some truth about why.

The magic of ordering ahead through iOS

I've been using the Starbucks app for a couple of years, because it's well-designed, tracks my rewards (buy 12, get 1 free!), and lets me reload my card and pay via the app. Pretty cool. About six months ago, though, I also began using the "order ahead" feature, which is still in beta; Portland is the test market.

So far, it's been great. I can choose my Starbucks (yes, I have a few "favorite" locations saved, including the one nearest our house), place my fully-customized order in advance, pay within the app, and then just pick up my coffee at the chosen location. I have two kids, a job, and too many hobbies, so this is incredibly handy.

While I love the Stumptown that's down the street, I usually only treat myself to coffee there when I'm working (I work remotely, designing Mac and iOS software), or if I happen to be taking a leisurely stroll over the weekend.

Because here's the thing: Stumptown, like a ridiculously high number of independent coffee shops in this town, serves great coffee. And great coffee takes time. There's almost always a line. And if I'm in any kind of hurry, as I often am, I'm not likely to stand in it. Stumptown does have an honor-system collection can for self-serve drip coffee ($2 for a 12 oz. cup), but I rarely carry cash. So even if I just want a regular cup of coffee, not an exquisitely-crafted latte or a Chemex pour-over, I'm looking at standing around for 7-10 minutes to get it.

Since you're reading this on iMore, you can also likely appreciate that tingle of nerd-pride I get when I walk into a Starbucks directly past the line of people waiting to order, asking for my coffee at the the pick-up counter and notifying the barista that I ordered via the app. I am insufferable.

Super Value Combo: Apple Watch and the Starbucks drive-thru

While the order-ahead feature is really great, I don't always have the foresight to use it. That's where the combination of the drive-thru and the the Apple Watch really shines.

The Apple Watch component of the Starbucks iOS app only shows you information about your account and recent purchases — like all third-party apps, it's very limited for now. But you can use your Starbucks card via the Passbook app, and the result is almost exactly like using Apple Pay.

Instead of double-tapping the side button and then holding your Watch near the reader, though, the barista just scans the bar code on your watch face. You can even leave a tip via the app on your phone when you get a chance; I've done it up to an hour later. It's super fast and really, really convenient.

I'm often driving around with one or both kids in the car, and being able to just pull through a drive-thru and pay with a scan of my wrist, without touching my wallet or even my phone, is amazing. The appeal of higher-quality coffee from Stumptown (or Coava or Water Avenue or Heart) drops substantially when I consider parking the car, extracting a four-year-old and an 11-month-old from car seats, and standing in line for ten minutes.

When it comes to convenience, the coffee is fine

So back to that Saturday, at the drive-thru: I get my coffee, Neven gets his sandwich — which he admits is "actually pretty good" — a woman scans my watch, and just like that, we're on our way to the beach. The coffee is fine.

Christa Mrgan has a background in video compositing and graphic design, and has been designing user interfaces since 2008. She’s passionate about creating software that’s functional and friendly, and brings that passion to Rogue Amoeba, where she designs audio software, and to App Camp for Girls, where she teaches teen girls about icon and interface design. She lives with her husband and two children in Portland, Oregon.

35 Comments
  • Every other article on iMore is about the Apple Watch nowadays. Enough already.
  • Every other comment on iMore is about the Apple Watch articles nowadays. Enough Already.
  • I want an iMore Apple Watch app so I can read comments complaining about Apple Watch articles.
  • Oh dear. An article about the newest Apple product on an Apple focused fan site.. How DARE THEY! /s
  • I know, right?
  • Hey, Here is an idea. If you don't care about the Iwatch then don't read the article and shut the fuck up. Imbred
  • I see the idiots are out early today.
  • "Every other article on iMore is about the Apple Watch nowadays. Enough already." Any other first-world 1-percenter problems you'd care to complain about?
    If so, then maybe you should go smash some windows in downtown Oakland.
  • Troll-ville galore! Jeez... Imagine if I had said someting negative about the watch! What then! PS: wtf is Oakland?
  • "Jeez..." Ha - Can't take it as well as you can dish it, eh? Sent from the iMore App
  • That's an interesting last name. How is it pronounced? "Mer-gan"? "Mor-gan"?
  • You're exactly right about boutique coffee places. Great coffee, but very difficult to wait for the perfect pour if you're working on the go. (Stumptown is really good, though)
  • As another local to the area around PDX, fully agree. The small shops do have amazing coffee, but sadly, I don't have the time 9/10 times to wait. The new order ahead feature is amazing. I never realized just how used to it I was already until I visited a friend near Seattle. Went to get coffee, and was shocked I had to wait in line. As for Starbucks coffee, I think people are prone to making it out to be far worse than it really is (maybe its hip to be a hater?). Its not great and knock your socks off amazing, but its decent, and fine. You can get better, but you can also get a lot worse.
  • I've been doing this with 'bucks for sometime now but I went through McDonalds drive thru the other day and I saw a sign saying I could use Pay in the drive thru but the way the payment terminal was positioned I'd have to reach my wrist in the window to be able to pay with my watch. Sent from the iMore App
  • I've done it at a McDonalds. They actually pick up the Contactless payment terminal and move it near the car window. It's fine. Sent from the iMore App
  • For whatever reason, only some McDonalds have a terminal that moves freely while others are immobile or are too taut to reach near car windows. It's always a gamble when I'm visiting new McDonalds.
  • On a side note, this is a terrible piece of writing. Come on Rene, get some real writers on this. Fuck
  • Can you be more constructive?
  • It's Friday Jreg... iMore as a special column on Fridays with guest writers/bloggers. And it seems to be up to the author to do what they please and how it suits them. My advice to you would be to skip those columns every Friday going forward. (personally, I love those Friday columns and look forward to them, but I can imagine some people might be better off not reading them for some reasons)
  • remind me never to move anywhere that labels itself hipster capital of anything. Hipsters as a whole are complete douchebags.
  • Peet's forever.
    F Starbucks.
  • Or said another way:
    It's true that Starbucks isn't the be-all end-all coffee on the planet earth, Pete's is certainly good - but if you really want to start drinking coffee I would recommend beginning with this website - gocoffego.com. Once you find "your coffee", all other coffee will begin to pale in comparison. Kind of sad actually because I really used to look forward to going to Starbucks, and, Pete's was a rare treat since the closest store is two hours away, but, they pale in comparison. There are some great domestic, [USA], roasters that provide truly excellent cups of coffee and espresso.
  • I love Starbucks, but this article is OLD NEWS. While I do have an Apple Watch (and I love it), I've been paying for my coffee via my watch in the drive thru for well over a year on my Pebble that I had previously. This isn't new(s).
  • My iPhone is a hot cup of convenience at Starbucks. No Apple Watch necessary.
  • Well written article.. And funny. Sent from the iMore App
  • Not sure if it's widely used in the U.S. yet but Beanhunter for iOS is a great way to find a decent cup of coffee.
  • Funny and interesting article. Well written by my college English professor's standards. :)
    But wait a second, we've got some awesome coffee up here in Pugetropolos too, ya know. Lol!
    Enjoy the coffee and the watch, young lady. Sent from the iMore App
  • Small coffee shops can offer their Starbucks like Passbook loyalty offerings with a PassShop iOS app
  • Very nice funny article I also totally relate as a cofee geek apple nerd and father of 5 year old twins;). Please dont get discouraged by some of the comments above and keep writing it is one of my favourite this month on imore!
  • Nice article. Very upbeat. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I was sick and tired of hearing about Apple Watch before it came out, but, now that it's here, let it be proclaimed!
  • The way you badmouth Starbucks, you didn't have to tell me you were from Portland. You're obviously a douche.
  • Ever consider buying a coffee maker? You could probably save enough money to get another Apple Watch or two with the savings. I much prefer brewing my coffee at home. I even bought a $20 coffee grinder so I can buy whole beans and make it taste even fresher. Starbucks and its ilk charge a lot for something you can make very cheaply at home.
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    http://jeuxhack.net/clash-of-clans-hack/
  • "that tingle of nerd-pride I get when I walk into a Starbucks directly past the line of people waiting to order, asking for my coffee at the the pick-up counter and notifying the barista that I ordered via the app. I am insufferable." Sure. Until everyone and his mum have such a thingy. Then there'll be a line at the "apple watch take-away".