The Best Mobile Payment Experience I’ve Ever Had—with Starbucks, JavaPay and Pebble

JavaPay Screen

JavaPay may or may not be Pebble’s killer app, but it’s an undeniably handy utility for anyone with a Starbucks card. Using the app has provided me with just about the most frictionless and altogether pleasant mobile payment experiences that I’ve ever had—and in my quest for something approximating Osaifu Keitai here in the West believe me, I’ve had a lot of them.

With JavaPay Alexsander Akers has produced an even easier alternative to the official Starbucks app for Android and iOS. All the user has to do is enter their loyalty or gift card number; when they’re done, the same code that would be generated by the smartphone app is instead displayed on the screen of their Pebble—which makes a lot more sense for a couple of reasons: (1) You can launch the app in less than three seconds without having to pull your phone out a bag or your pocket, and (2) because the Pebble’s e-paper display never dims, you can launch the app before you order and leave it on until it’s time to pay.

Now here’s something you may not have expected: Starbucks themselves should also be lauded here, for the simple reason that they’ve chosen an unencrypted industry-standard barcode format for card-based payments—PDF417, in case you were wondering. If only carriers and banks in my country had such wisdom then mobile payments might, you know, be a thing that large numbers of people are actually able to use

Is there a risk for fraud? Yes—but it’s because unactivated payment cards are front and centre at most Starbucks locations, and it’s possible for the card numbers to be recorded while the staff isn’t looking. I’m not sure how/if Starbucks would deal with payment card fraud; to their credit, though, the company has recognized just how important a convenient and (here’s that word again) frictionless means of payment is for their customers.

I’m sure an official Starbucks app for the Apple Watch is in the works. WearBucks, a similar solution for Android Wear, is no longer available on Google Play. It must be due to the name rather than the industry-standard barcode technology; JavaPay used to be known as PebbleBucks, but Akers wisely changed it.


  1. Another great app, although may only be in Boston, is LevelUp, and is good anywhere that has a scanner. It also has a tip adjuster built in to the app for pebble. I hope it makes it national it really is the best alternative payment method around.

    1. Don’t think that’s made its way up to Toronto yet, but I’ll certainly keep an eye out for it. Thanks for the tip!

  2. I’ve been using Coffee Time on Android Wear since September. It’s never had a problem at Starbucks and, unlike Pebble, it’s truly hands free. I don’t have to touch my watch if my hands are full. I simply say, “OK Google, start Coffee Time”. It sure makes me look dorky in line, but no more dorky than paying with a watch to begin with. It also keeps the screen awake until I put my hand over it.

    @Diego I used level up for about a year in Seattle until restaurants all dumped it around here. Don’t know why they dumped it, but almost all of the places that had it got rid of it.

    1. I simply say, “OK Google, start Coffee Time”. It sure makes me look dorky in line, but no more dorky than paying with a watch to begin with.

      After years of enduring people yammering on their cell phones in public, I honestly see Google Now as a regression. Neat app, though; here’s a link for any Android Wear users reading this.

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