One week-plus into owning an iPhone 3GS — and more than a year into reading, writing and editing iPhone app stories — I couldn’t think of an app announcement that would grab my attention, but Barnes & Noble has done it. The free B&N Bookstore iPhone app isn’t the flashiest but flash it at a B&N Cafe barista in one of its stores and you can get a free tall cup of Starbucks coffee. It’s not a bottomless cup — each app download comes with a one-time coupon code — but it is a good gimmick to claim a few minutes of attention in a very crowded field. What will really make it work: if B&N starts delivering all its coupons this way, in addition to the e-mail that I never remember to print out.
As for the app itself, it seems to be well thought out when it comes to what a book shopper might want (yes, people who buy books still exist): a discover feature to pitch books, make recommendations and serve up multimedia from the B&N Studio, including videos of author interviews; a search feature that works from a toolbar or an iPhone snapshot of a book, DVD or CD and brings up reviews, details, ratings then let’s the user reserve it at a nearby store; and a store locator that provides mapped directions and shows which ones have free AT&T (NYSE: T) WiFi access.