Barista, There's an App in My Latte!

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Free apps may sound like a happy hour promotional offer at your local Applebee's, but they're now coming to a Starbucks (NAS: SBUX) near you.

The premium java chain is teaming up with Apple (NAS: AAPL) to offer walk-in customers access to free iOS applications, just as the two have been pairing up to offer free iTunes music tracks in the past.

The first giveaway -- as originally reported by CNET yesterday -- is Shazam Encore, a premium version of the popular Shazam ad-supported freebie that identifies music with surprising accuracy. Shazam Encore sells for $5.99, so these "Pick of the Week" cards available to Starbucks customers are more valuable than the single-track downloads that are typically made available.

It remains to be seen whether this will be a permanent offering or if Starbucks and Shazam Entertainment are simply working together for a one-off promotion.

Ideally Starbucks will keep these weekly picks coming. It would be a win-win as app developers would receive some welcome publicity, and Starbucks should benefit from an increase in foot traffic now that latte sippers will be getting more value out of their steaming slurps than $1.29 song downloads.

Digital delivery is a cost-effective platform. Barnes & Noble (NYS: BKS) has excelled in tying in-store freebies with its Nook e-reader, encouraging both more Nook sales and the incentives for more e-reader-toting visitors.

Bricks-and-mortar chains better embrace the concept. Why Best Buy (NYS: BBY) isn't offering free Napster-branded downloads to physical shoppers is a mystery.

As smartphone owners grow in number, real-world chains have every right to worry. Barcode-scanning apps and easy access to comparison shopping sites make it easy for in-store patrons to make sure that they're getting the lowest prices possible. Since retailers can't get smartphone owners to turn off their devices the way air carriers do, they may as well engage them.

Starbucks has had the right idea for years. Now it's simply raising the stakes.  

Would you go to a physical retailer just for a virtual freebie? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

At the time this article was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Starbucks, Apple, and Best Buy. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Best Buy, and Starbucks. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz isn't much of a coffee drinker though he does have three Starbucks locations within walking distance of his home. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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