This fall Apple will release its annual update to the mobile operating system called iOS. It features a new app called Passbook which aims to declutter the keychain and eliminate the paper trail of tickets and coupons. Apple did not invent this idea but is attempting to sweep in and take control of an emerging market. Apps such as Key Ring entered the market in 2010 and offered freedom from the overload of customer loyalty cards. They later expanded to provide coupons and special discounts to users based on the cards in their portfolio.
Passbook attempts to take the idea of Key Ring to the next level. The new app will store four types of information: boarding passes, tickets, store cards, and coupons. The boarding pass section supports airplane, train, and bus options. The ticket section includes live events, hotel reservations, and movie tickets. The store cards section covers loyalty programs (keychain loyalty programs) and gift cards. Once these items have been loaded into Passbook the items are only a few taps away. When the app is loaded, the user can tap on the appropriate item to see a full screen view. This view provides the details about the "pass." This information can include seat numbers, remaining balance, a scannable barcode, and relevant dates/times. A few examples of these passes are available below:
Each pass has the ability to notify the user about relevant information and can be available on the lock screen. The notifications are determined by information contained within the pass, such as a date and location. The pass can also display reminder information on the lock screen at the appropriate time. These options can be customized by tapping the small "i" located in the bottom right corner of any pass. This is also where a pass can be removed from the app. When deleting a pass, a comforting shredding effect is displayed to signify its removal.
Unfortunately, Passbook has one confusing feature. Currently, when a user opens the app, a screen is displayed with the four categories mentioned earlier. At a first glance the functionality appears to be broken because the ability to add passes is unavailable. Unlike the newstand app, no store is provided to build these passes. Apple made the integrated online store concept a staple in mobile computing. If Apple chooses to let companies provide these passes, it may pose a security risk. If they are made available over the web or through email they have the potential of being hijacked. Stealing a loyalty card has low impact but a concern ticket or gift card is a different matter. How this feature will work is still unclear.
UPDATE: Apple's beta 4 release of iOS6 has shed some light on the missing functionality. A new App Store button has appeared at the bottom of the main screen. Although it does not function yet, this looks to be Apple's answer.
With passbook, Apple is taking its first step into the digital wallet arena. Although the initial offering is limited, Apple could not ignore its competition and the potential available. Waiting another year for new software might be too far down the road. Passbook could provide the bridge Apple needs to implement near field communication (NFC). This feature turns a phone into a credit card that can be waved at the register. Android has been playing with this idea and it has massive potential.
Check out the new turn-by-turn navigation in iOS6.