Passbook: Not Perfect, But Paves Way to Mobile Payments
Apple's Passbook app may not be the mobile payment answer that many were hoping for, but the service has plenty of room for growth.
The first iteration of Passbook lost any chance at being revolutionary the very moment Apple announced the iPhone 5 wouldn't have a near-field communications, or NFC, chip. This keeps it from being a direct competitor with Google Wallet or the wireless carriers' joint-venture known as Isis, which both allow users to store charge on their credit cards using their mobile devices.
However, that doesn't mean the app isn't valuable and worthy of being used much like an electronic wallet. Apple has set the bar so high with its products that anything that doesn't completely reinvent the wheel is considered a failure, but there's something to be said about ideas like Passbook, a strong foundation for a potential future revolution.
If you're looking to compare Passbook to services like Google Wallet, you're bound to be disappointed. The more-ambitious Wallet requires an NFC chip and allows users to store digital versions of their credit cards and pay for products just by scanning their phones at special pay stations at supported retailers. This is simply not what Passbook is all about. It takes a more cautious approach to mobile payments in its first iteration, focusing on the convenience of storing virtual tickets and vouchers. In this light, Passbook isn't a failure -- it just has a different function than what many customers anticipated it would have when it was first announced by Apple.
Passbook is actually very good at what it's meant to do: store things like virtual tickets, reward cards and gift cards from retailers in one place. The software works very well and once you have your items in the app, it is very easy to use. Storing movie tickets and boarding passes is a nice way to get customers familiar with the interface and works as a stepping stone to potentially introduce credit and debit card storage in a later update. Considering that on of the major hurdles to ubiquitous mobile payments is a lack of consumer trust in an infrastructure that is still in its infancy, Passbook could be a small but important first step in getting consumers used to taking out their iPhones and opening up Passbook as a secondary e-wallet -- and priming them for larger transactions to come.
Whether it's a coupon or a ticket, there are three ways that users can save the items in Passbook: by downloading a supported app, saving from a URL or through an e-mail attachment. For example, if Best Buy sends its Reward Zone certificates via e-mail attachment, they can be saved on the iPhone through Passbook, or if a user purchases airline tickets, they can choose to store their digital boarding pass using the app. When it's time to redeem the certificate or ticket, it's as easy as booting the Passbook app and pulling up the necessary QR code to be scanned.
A Rocky Intro
Perhaps Apple's biggest misstep with Passbook was in its initial presentation of the service. The company showed off the app as everything it hoped it would be, rather than for what it actually is: a good idea still being developed into something that people will find useful in their everyday life. Beyond this, Passbook's debut was riddled with minor issues.
The main problem occurs in the process of actually getting items into the app. It didn't help that Apple initially stumbled out of the gate with Passbook when it launched iOS 6. Navigating to the Passbook app for the first time redirected users to the App Store to download apps that support the service, but early-on this redirect would fail, leaving customers with a bad first impression. Apple addressed this problems, but there are other hurdles for Passbook to clear.
One of the biggest issues facing Apple's Passbook app right now is a lack of support. There are some major players currently on board like Major League Baseball, United Airlines and Fandango, which make the app something worth navigating for a wide variety of people. However, Apple's vision of Passbook can't be fully realized unless it has an onslaught of support from major retailers and other virtual ticket retailers. The company wants customers to view Passbook as their second wallet, the place where they store all their goodies from coupons to retail chains to tickets to every event someone could possibly attend. Passbook has potential, but it's just not quite there yet.
What Apple Needs to Do Next
Not everyone is going to have a Starbucks gift card, a boarding pass for their trip to Jamaica, tickets to a MLB game and a Genius Bar appointment concerning their new Mac stored in their Passbook. If you do, then congratulations -- your Passbook is very exciting. What everyone does have? A reward card to every retailer they frequently shop at, tickets to a show at their local playhouse and various other everyday items.
In order to make sure these simpler things are offered in Passbook, Apple will have to strike hundreds of deals with retailers and companies across the world, and that's going to take time. For now, there are enough companies supporting Passbook that it can be something which some people use some of the time, but a lot of work needs to be done to make it a great tool everyone uses all of the time.
Pass or Fail?
But let's get back to the original point. Is Passbook a failure? It all depends on what your expectation of the service was. If you were expecting it to revolutionize mobile payments without an NFC chip, then Passbook is a train wreck. You can bet Apple doesn't see it that way, because that's never what it envisioned the app to be in its first outing.
Right now here's what Passbook does: it saves you the trouble of printing out boarding passes and movie tickets, and keeps you from carrying around coupons when you shop at certain retailers. That's pretty cool, but it's just not revolutionary. While some may look at Passbook as a shallow offering, it could actually be a master stroke -- starting small to entice customers to use their smartphones for trivial, less risky transactions and priming them for the mobile revolution that is sure to come. ♦
Categories: News Desk