Starbucks ditches physical iOS app cards — how will it affect app downloads?

Picking up a free app with your morning coffee is about to change, as coffee giant Starbucks(s SBUX) announced it’s doing away with redemption cards effective Wednesday. Instead, it’s opting to integrate the long-running “Pick of the Week” promotion directly into its free iOS(s AAPL) app.

This switch to digital will see the removal of the cards typically found near cash registers, instead swapping the lengthy codes for a paperless solution. Customers will now need to either connect to the complimentary in-store Wi-Fi, or fire up the Starbucks app and follow the on-screen prompts to download their latest freebie.

Starbucks and Apple first partnered back in 2007 when the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store launched. Initially offering just free music, the promotion soon expanded to offer content from outside iTunes. In 2011, free downloads from both the iBookstore and the App Store were introduced.

Speaking to CNET, Starbucks Chief Digital Officer Adam Brotman explained that the action is a “reflection of Starbucks and Apple working together to strengthen the relationship for customers.” Brotman stated that the company’s apps are now used actively by more than 10 million users, adding that this latest move is just another step in their plan to “integrate more things” into their mobile offering.

To mark the move away from redemption codes the coffee chain is currently giving away for free Rovio’s Angry Birds Star Wars, usually priced at 99 cents.

The established Pick of the Week promotion has presented a great way to get paid apps into the hands of a broad range of customers, which is not only good for Apple as a way promote iOS apps, but also good for Starbucks who gets to give out a freebie with its cup of joe.

Now admittedly, Starbucks choosing to swap the tried-and-tested paper cards for direct downloads is a good move for those regular, more savvy users of the promotion (let alone the environment). Yet it could be argued that the removal of those physical, tangible cards may result in a drop in downloads. Customers could just forget to fire up the app and grab the freebie — the little cards served as a solid call-to-action to at least look at the latest promo item. Let’s hope Starbucks keep some form of in-store promo in place for the downloads, or they may just get forgotten about.