Passbook is the iPhone's ugly ducking - but it won't stay that way for long

Passbook is the iPhone's ugly ducking - but it won't stay that way for long

Summary: Passbook has been touted as one of the most innovative new features in iOS 6. Right now, there's not enough to get excited about — but could that be about to change?


Apple has taken a lot of criticism over the iOS 6 Maps app fiasco, but for some Passbook is — at least at the moment — a greater disappointment.

Passbook allows iPhone users to keep tickets, store cards, coupons and boarding cards in one place, and is seen by some as Apple's first step into the extremely complicated but potentially very lucrative world of mobile payments.

Passbook for iOS 6 lets iPhone owners store retailer coupons and cards.

But while there are a number of services in the US that use the new iOS 6 feature, right now in the UK your options are limited: there are only four 'Apps for Passbook' listed on the local App Store. And as three of those are United Airlines, Lufthansa and American Airlines, they will only be of any use if you are leaving the country.

Starbucks has just updated its iOS app to work with Passbook, but not in the UK (although according to the coffee shop's local Twitter feed, it is "working on bringing this to the UK"). Similarly, if you're in the US you can use Gyft to add giftcards to your Passbook account, but currently the Gyft app is not available in Britain.

In the UK, Odeon Cinemas is offering a money-off voucher that can be downloaded into Passbook, but otherwise there seems to be little else out there yet.

While iOS 6 has been available only for a matter of weeks, Passbook was previewed long before, which is why the lack of UK apps is puzzling.

Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, blamed Apple's secrecy for the lack of Passbook apps so far. However, he is bullish about its future.

"To integrate into Passbook requires a certain amount of effort and testing," Wood said. "I have no doubt that we are going to see a flurry of Passbook integration emerge over the next six to eight months. It's going to be a big thing."

Wood said he was aware of lots of companies that are working actively on Passbook integration. "It will happen, and it will become one of the signature apps on iPhone," he told ZDNet.

"My long-term view of Passbook is that is still remains incredibly disruptive and is yet another vehicle for Apple to lock users into the platform. Any retailer, restaurant owner or airline that isn't actively trying to integrate into Passbook is making a big mistake: it's going to play big."

Ecosystem essential

According to Rob Bamforth, principal analyst at Quocirca, mobile wallet apps need a driven and promoted software developer community — and it takes a lot of effort to get the ball rolling. And it's even harder, when you have to get the corporate agendas of mobile operators, handset makers and credit card companies in alignment.

Passbook dodges some of these problems, he said, because it's a convenience app first rather than transaction revenue generator. But he said those investing in it — such as airlines and retailers — "will still need to be convinced that there are savings and brand awareness benefits for them."

"It is here that Apple should be using the halo effect of its own brand — at least to win over those whose egos and brands are not at the same level as Apple," Bamforth said.

But the so-far underwhelming debut of Passbook reflects a bigger problem with mobile wallets and mobile payments in general — consumer apathy.

Retailers are keen — they get to cut out cash, which is expensive to handle, and can get more information about customers, which they can then use to hone their business strategy.

Handset companies are keen to offer new applications, and adding mobile payments is another way of locking in customers. And banks and credit card companies are keen to grab a bigger slice of the billions of transactions that people make every day.

The big problem is that most people are quite content with the combination of cash and plastic cards that they are using today. The benefit to the shopper on the high street is the vital element that no mobile wallet has really cracked yet.

While Passbook is steering clear of mobile payments right now, it's an obvious option for the future. Wood also sees Passbook as a first step by Apple towards mobile payments, with near-field communications (NFC) replacing the barcodes it currently uses, over time. "I think Passbook is an application that is beautifully designed for evolution to NFC in the next-generation iPhone," he said.

The trick for Apple, he said is to get past the initial disappointment at the lack of apps. "Overall I'm very positive about Passbook, though I'm disappointed it hasn’t fired on all cylinders out of the box."

Apple had not responded to a request for comment on Passbook at the time of publication.

Topics: iPhone, Apple, EU, United Kingdom

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  • Can't wait..

    To get rid of a ton of my rewards cards which I hope is part of this. Used my Starbucks for the first time through passbook, worked great. But it appears as though I still need the Starbucks app.. Well at least to get it into Passbook. For those who haven't done it yet. Download the Starbucks app. Go through the create the account process. At some point it will ask you if you want to add it to passbook. Be patient it takes a bit. Then voila it's there! I haven't tried to remove the app yet, but I know you need it at least for now to get it in there.
    • Starbucks Passbook

      You can convert your Starbucks card to Passbook here without downloading any app
  • Anyone touting this is wrong, it's not innovative at all.

    androids wallet is better and WP8's is the best of them all. And both of those have NFC as well. iphone will be behind the curve hardware wise until at least the 5s and software wise even longer.
    Johnny Vegas
    • Passbook is truly innovative -- there is nothing like this elsewhere

      Crippled leaky insecure NFC that no one really needs for more than a year can not provide the level of service that Passbook solution offers.

      If the NFC technology will be more secure and mature, then maybe businesses will support it more and it will become useful; but not now yet.
      • Nice try at spinning this, but not good enough.

        I'm guessing you're in Apple's legal department, or politics.
        William Farrel
      • NFC

        Your comment is entirely moot as Google Wallet does not require NFC and the technology can be disabled on phones that do have it. All it does for the iPhone is ensure that you will have to buy a new iPhone in a year when everyone is using NFC
        • We have a winner

          "All it does for the iPhone is ensure that you will have to buy a new iPhone in a year when everyone is using NFC"

          Just like Apple did by withholding 3G from iPhone 1 and withholding the front camera from iPad 1. Apple regularly withholds really standard hardware functionality so that next year, they can add it and claim to have invented it while asking us to forget that just a day earlier, their script readers were busy telling us about how much that technology sucks and everyone who has it is stupid.
        • I said nothing about Google Wallet

          So there is nothing "moot" in my argument.
  • Passbook is a joke, not intuitive at all

    Before Passbook: walk into Starbucks, pull up my card on my iPhone, they scan it, my coffee is paid for.

    After Passbook: walk into Starbucks, pull up my card on my iPhone, they scan it, my coffee is paid for.

    "But Todd - Passbook puts your pass on the lock screen, innovation."

    Innovation is not defined as blocking everyone else's ability to do something and then coming in and doing what everyone else wanted to do but was unable because you had blocked it. Starbucks doesn't have access to the lock screen.

    It would be like saying Apple innovated the ability to install OS X on a Mac while Dell is dumb because they couldn't innovate a way of installing OS X on a Dell.

    NFC is the future of mobile payment, not this passbook joke.
    • The innovation is in scale

      There will be many thousands of services that will use Passbook -- contrary to "before" way when every willing party had to create its own application.

      Passbook is uniform, universal, less steps needing method that will change the way people do their everyday activities.
      • Passbook is not at all innovative

        It is actually an EXTREMELY crippled version of PayPal - a service that actually is large scale, universal, and saves every willing party from having to create their own payment application.

        This has all been done before, far better than what Apple is offering. Like Maps. Like Ping.

        Speaking of Ping, whatever happened to that? I went to "ping" my music preferences today and it didn't work. Do you know what might be wrong?
        • Though I am a Mac head, I never used Ping, it is now closed.

        • No worries for you Todd.

          Soon you will be all warm and fuzzy on your Windows 8 phone and your Surface and we won't need to hear from you at all anymore. It's a win for everyone really! Yah!
    • It's not an ugly duckling

      It's just ugly. Gos that UI looks ancient ;-)
  • hmm

    I'd rather have something that allowed the cards I have to be ported. Logistically, I don't know how that would be done.
    • I found it pretty good

      Originally I wasn't sure what it did, since the page stayed pretty much static except for a link to the App Store.

      I've previously used the Amtrak app to display eTickets. However, the main problem was that sometimes the app was slow and it might need a restart as well as active internet access. I can still use it, but I can also preload my eTickets to Passbook, so that everything is already available whether or not I've got internet access. Passbook comes up immediately every time, doesn't require internet access, and the eTickets stored to it look nicer than the plain QR code.

      It may not be revolutionary, but it's not really meant to be a payment system. We live in a world where everything is scanned for barcodes, QR, and PDF417. It's not much different than printing out eTickets or gift cards and placing them all in one electronic location that's easy to access and comes up every time.
  • no

    it is being changed because they are being sued .
  • Yeah, we're quite content.

    "The big problem is that most people are quite content with the combination of cash and plastic cards that they are using today."

    Yeah - how difficult is it, really, to pull out a few bills, or to swipe a card?

    And they already work everywhere.
  • Passbook is absolutely innovative!

    Passbook is an amazing app that companies and developers should take advantage from. It's
    got great potential, in terms of new marketing possibilities for big companies and small business...and also for final users, who can take advantage of it, because they can finally have a complete and updated wallet on their smartphones.
    It goes without saying that some great companies are already implementing this system, and many others will do in a few time.
    Both retailers and consumers will surely embrace it, as soon as they get the huge potential of the digital wallet.
    That's why we of the Passdock team are working hard with our web application, a simple and intuitive app that allows you to design, manage, delivery and update passes for iOS Passbook app, and helps you to better understand all Passbook features and potential.
    We hope to have some feedback if you wanna try pass creation at
    • We're sorry

      But Passbook requires you to own a iPhone. If they expect Passbook to take off they better make it multi-platform. I seriously doubt anyone would make a purchase of a over-hyped, over-priced, under-spec'd phone just so they could use a single application. Your argument is out of order.