Starbucks designed its new Yahoo-powered Starbucks Digital Network as a mobile experience, saying it was logical, considering more than half of its free Wi-Fi users use smartphones.
To that end, the site was built in HTML5 and utilizes a lot of tiles to display its wide array of content, from entertainment and news to wellness, business and local information. Too bad the portal seems designed first for tablets and laptops and less so for smartphones.
On the bigger-screen devices, the layout opens up and items expand to fill the page. You can scroll right and left to take in icons, which are sized differently. It’s not quite a digital magazine, but it feels more thoughtful and almost elegant. Obviously, the screen size provides layout advantages, which Starbucks and Yahoo were right to take advantage of.
My disappointment comes more from the fact that the experience on a smartphone is rather humdrum. It’s more a collection of scrolling menus with black backgrounds highlighted by pictures on one column. Even when you go landscape, the columns get wider, but nothing else changes, so the black background just swallows up more space. It reminds me why we don’t see more websites with black backgrounds. The icons for each selection are also flush up against each other in the list view. It makes for larger images, but it feels squished.
This is, again, not an issue on laptops and tablets. Even if you go list view on the bigger screen device, the icons are offset from each other, and the black is broken up by a light sheen of gray that lightens the heaviness.
About the only page where the page looks designed specifically for mobile was the trailer for “Waiting for Superman,” which featured a laughably small video on a laptop. You can go full-screen, which you’ll want to do because the video player is so small. On a mobile device, the video icon appears large and triggers a full-screen video player. It doesn’t work though on some devices that can’t handle HD video.
I also had problems at one point logging on with my iPhone. I tried to jump onto the portal but the site wouldn’t let because it insisted I wasn’t on the Starbucks Wi-Fi network. My laptop didn’t have a similar issue.
Overall, the site is packed with content: way more stuff than you can consume in a quick visit. The portal begins after you jump onto Starbuck’s free Wi-Fi network in any of the stores. There’s free news from USA Today, the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal while the entertainment page offers free iTunes downloads, an except from Anita Shreve’s latest book, videos from SnagFilms and games from Nick Jr. There’s a handful of wellness and health articles, along with business and career content from LinkedIn and Yahoo Finance, and a neighborhood section where you can pull up local information from Patch.com (with a big icon larger than the Yahoo image; is this a sign of some AOL/Yahoo coziness?) Zagat and Yahoo. You can also check-in on Foursquare from the portal.
Again, it’s almost too much stuff to consume unless you’re settled in for a while. Maybe that’s why Starbucks didn’t bother making the network look as good on handsets as it does on bigger screen devices.
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