Apple's Passbook feature, which allows iOS 6 users to store boarding passes, movie tickets, loyalty cards and more on their mobile devices, will require the participation of "middlemen" companies to connect the small and midsize businesses (SMBs) to the platform so that the service can take off in Asia.
This was the view of Andrew Lowe, co-founder of customer loyalty service provider Pointpal. He told ZDNet Asia in an interview Thursday the Passbook service was a "very clever" initiative by Apple that validated consumers' demands for a means to store their loyalty cards and retail promotions on their mobile devices.
It also enables retailers to enter the mobile commerce arena as the service is on a trusted platform--iOS--and consumers are starting to get comfortable using their mobile devices to redeem purchases and loyalty discounts, Lowe noted.
He did acknowledge the limited rollout of the service as well as the small initial number of retailers participating in the program, meant Apple had its work cut out to scale Passbook to be successful.
Some of the notable international brands currently onboard include Lufthansa and American Airlines, as well as retailers such as Target and Walgreens. Starbucks also rolled out its Passbook-supported iOS app today, three days later than the projected Sep. 30 release.
Middlemen crucial for Asia
The difference in Asia is the large number of small and midsize brick-and-mortar retail outlets across diverse markets, and getting them to participate with Passbook will be one of Apple's main challenges for the region, Lowe noted.
This is why he thinks Pointpal is well positioned to help expand the usefulness of Passbook and "do the legwork" for Apple to sign up retailers to the platform, as it is constantly in contact with regional brands to promote its customer loyalty business. Explaining the value of using Passbook to extend their consumer reach and retaining their patronage is just part of the sales process for the company, he added.
Pointpal is headquartered in Australia, but has an office in Singapore. It currently has some 400 merchants on its platform, and plans to expand into Malaysia and Hong Kong next.
In terms of functionality, Lowe noted Passbook only supports limited barcode types for scanning purposes.
Given that Passbook redirects users to a participant's dedicated iOS app, Pointpal is able to extend retailers' reach without having to invest in new hardware with the right barcode scanners as its app supports 98 percent of the 12 to 15 barcode types used in the market currently. It also makes use of QR codes to verify redemptions, the co-founder explained.
Having a dedicated app to conduct the mobile redemptions and purchases provides another boon for retailers: they get to own the data. For Passbook participants, information such as where customers redeem their promotions and what redemptions are being made and when is owned by Apple and it is not known whether Cupertino reveals such data to retailers.
By engaging third-party service providers to customize their Passbook-based mobile commerce push, retailers own the information and are able to get better insight into consumers' purchasing patterns and have more targeted marketing campaigns as a result, Lowe stated.
Ultimately, he said these are early days yet for Passbook and Apple is likely still working out the kinks to the service. But once technical and marketing issues are ironed out, and middleman partners start coming onboard to showcase the benefits of the program, Lowe believes the platform will do well here given the high number of smartphone users in the region.