One of the most conspicuous new features of iOS 6 is Apple’s Passbook, an app that digitally stores boarding passes, movie tickets, coupons, and retail loyalty cards, while opening a door to easier mobile payments on the iPhone. Conceptually, Passbook is very promising, but we’ve been discussing whether it actually makes paying for anything easier, and whether the currently participating companies are appealing enough to get it off the ground. There’s also the notion—for better or worse—that Passbook is just a stepping stone to eventual widespread adoption of near-field communications technology, rather than an app that will be kept around under its current name for years to come. We asked our editors to offer their early opinions on Passbook.




Jesse Hollington, Applications Editor: I think that it’s important to realize that Passbook goes beyond merely “storing stuff;” it’s actually useful because it leverages iOS location services to improve the quick availability of passes and related information. Having a Starbucks card available on the Lock Screen once you arrive at a location saves a great deal of time — basically one swipe-to-display gesture versus a half-dozen or more taps. Similarly, the ability to have information such as airline gate changes updated in real time with Push Notifications, with the corresponding “pass” automatically revised, is another huge benefit.

That said, Passbook would likely be much more effective in my opinion if retailers stop requiring users to install iOS applications to support their passes. For example, I use the Starbucks iOS app for little other than mobile payments and balance information, both of which could be provided by a Passbook app and eliminate the need to install the actual iOS app on my device. Companies such as American Express and Porter Airlines seem to “get this” in regard to issuing web-based passes, and I definitely hope that others will follow suit.

Lastly, I think that Apple needs to publish a listing of non-app-enabled Passbook providers to ensure that this information is easily available to iOS users, thereby expanding the usefulness of Passbook. Right now, the only way to discover Passbook providers is through the App Store, or if you come across the information on your own.

Nick Guy, Accessories Editor: I’m really looking forward to Passbook’s growth. Right now, it doesn’t offer any true value for my daily life. Starbucks is the first pass that I’ll use regularly, and while there’s some convenience to having it pop up on the Lock Screen, that’s not totally different than using the regular Starbucks app. Given some time to develop and add some creative ideas, I think it’ll become a very valuable tool. The American Express pass is also pretty interesting as it doesn’t quite fit into any of the categories Apple has listed, but provides useful information that I wasn’t otherwise checking out.
Phil Dzikiy, News Editor: The launch was lacking, but that’s mostly because I don’t love the way most retailers are using Passbook thus far. Downloading an app, then loading it into Passbook—while the app remains on your Home Screen—isn’t ideal. I’d prefer instant integration from within Passbook itself, rather than the runaround to the App Store, through the app, then to Passbook. Passbook-only apps do exist—see BillGuard, for instance—there just aren’t many of them yet.

But it’s early, and I’m optimistic. Further integration is inevitable for better ease of use. As for ease of payment, well, personally, that’s not all that important to me in these early stages. I went to Starbucks this afternoon and scanned my iPhone solely for the rewards. Sure, it wasn’t much different than taking two separate cards out, but I don’t have to add to the bulk of my wallet, which is a plus. Boarding passes that update in real-time? Big plus. Adding tickets to sporting events and concerts to my phone, without worrying about where I put my tickets, and nervously quadruple-checking my pocket on the way to the venue? Huge plus. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait too long to get more of the good stuff.

Jeremy Horwitz, Editor-in-Chief: Apple so typically releases fully-formed, forward-thinking iOS apps—iPhoto and GarageBand, to name just a couple—that its unfinished software just feels wrong. Passbook obviously isn’t finished. It’s really just getting started. So judging it now is akin to asking how useful an empty backpack will be; you can make some educated guesses based on what’s there and your past experiences, and maybe try stuffing things inside as a test, but until you’ve really used it for a while, the jury’s still out.

So far, using Passbook hasn’t been as easy as I’d hoped when the feature was first announced. Apple’s initial “go to the App Store and grab apps” screen sent the wrong message about how Passbook would work—hinting that it was merely another place to access apps that would live elsewhere on your device. That’s not really true, but many users don’t understand that. Then, what should have been a simple “add to Passbook” button within apps, synced through iCloud, too often involves multiple button presses, account registration, and perhaps multi-device confusion. Some Passbook-supporting companies don’t put you through this, but for things I’d use, it has been a common theme. And the companies I’m most excited about aren’t yet on board, either, so a lot of the value is theoretical right now.

Current companies are supporting Passbook in a variety of ways that range from ultra-smart/exciting (pop-up airplane boarding passes) to semi-interesting-but-not-personally-appealing (coupons). Passbook is a fantastic alternative to printing out and carrying around paper tickets, but the payment side is still a question mark for me. I don’t want to buy coffee by handing a cashier my iPhone when I can as easily pull a card or cash out of my wallet. If Apple builds fingerprint recognition and wireless transaction technology into future devices—secure payments without handing over or holding up my iPhone—these objections will most likely disappear.

Passbook is going to take some getting used to, simplification of the initial setup process for passes, and maybe some incentives that aren’t there yet. Assuming these issues are addressed, it’s going to become really popular. And a really good prelude to a proper digital wallet.

Readers, what do you think about Passbook? Share your thoughts on this new iOS feature in the Comments section below!