Getting The Most From Passbook

5/26/2013 11:06:46 AM

A primer on Passbook, Apple’s latest app

Apple's latest mobile software update, iOS 6, brought two new apps to the iPhone 5: Maps and Passbook. The latter is a little hard to understand at first, but it's quickly catching on, as people realize its utility and as developers integrate this feature into their apps.

Passbook, as you likely know by now, is a way that vendors can make things like tickets, coupons, vouchers, boarding passes, and loyalty cards available in a single app. It's convenient for two rea­sons: 1) all of these items are in one place on your iPhone, and 2) passes are often "location-aware," such that Passbook automati­cally produces the right pass depending on where you are and communicates with a terminal at a ticket booth or point of sale.

Getting the most from Passbook

Getting the most from Passbook

In addition, the app can also give you relevant information about the passes that it aggregates. For example, if you're using Passbook to present your ticket for a flight, not only does the app make it conveniently available, but it also tells you if there have been updates, such as gate changes.

Passbook in action

Major League Baseball was among the first vendors to use Passbook. Flere's how it works: First you download the At Bat app (free, or At The Ballpark (free, When you purchase your ticket, you select Passbook from the options for receiving the ticket. When you arrive at the game, you'll receive a notification on your lock screen. When you swipe to unlock, your ticket automatically appears. The person taking tickets simply scans the ticket on the screen of your iPhone.

A survey by Market Watch over the last two weeks of the baseball season found that a surprising 12 percent of ticket buyers chose to use Passbook as their method of delivery for baseball game tickets.

In addition to, other early vendors included Starbucks, Ticketmaster, Tar­get, American Airlines, United Airlines, Walgreens, and Fan­dango Movies.

Steps to using

Using Passbook involves several steps. First, the vendor or retailer needs to have an app to which they've added Passbook functionality. Second, you need to download their app. Third, you select Passbook as the way of receiving your purchased ticket or in-store credit. And finally, you then use the coupon, ticket, or card via your iPhone at a gate or point of purchase.

It sounds complicated. But once you use it, say for your ticket to a baseball game, you'll see how simple and convenient it will be to do future tickets this way. Note that Passbook relies on scanners, rather than near field communication (NFC), which powers Google Wallet on Android devices. With Passbook, you scan your ticket, rather than using your phone to tap and pay.

Finding apps that use

When you first open Pass­book, there will be a link that takes you to a section in the App Store with the most popu­lar Passbook compatible apps. Also, if you search for "Pass­book" on the AppShopper website (, you'll find over 100 compat­ible apps. You can narrow your search by category, such as En­tertainment, and by other cri­teria. Likewise, AppleGazette ( has a cat­egorized listing of some of the more useful Passbook-friendly apps. Again, in order to receive a vendor's passes in Passbook, you need to have their app in­stalled on your device.

The App Store contains a selection of the most popular Passbook-compatible apps.

The App Store contains a selection of the most popular Passbook-compatible apps.

Examples of how to use Passbook

Let's look at a couple more examples, starting with Star­bucks. If you have a Starbucks card, you can use it via Pass­book. First, make sure you have the latest Starbucks app, and sign in to your account. Then go to the bottom of the screen and tap My Card, then Manage, and then Add Card to Passbook. Under Select Stores, select your favorite store. Then when you walk into any Starbucks in the U.S., your card will appear on the lock screen of your phone.

Examples of how to use Passbook

Examples of how to use Passbook

You can also use Passbook to store your Walgreens rewards card. You'll first need to scan the barcode on your Walgreens card or enter the information manually. After that, you can store your card in Passbook. If you designate a particular store as the nearest store, then Passbook will automatically bring up your card when you're near the store.

Apple itself rolled out Passbook-capable gift cards last No­vember that you can email to your family and friends. When the recipient receives the email, there's a button that says, "Add to Passbook." Doing so generates a QR code, which is stored in Passbook and can be presented at an Apple Store to redeem the gift certificate.

Latest changes

Latest changes

Latest changes

Even as the app is gradually gaining popularity, Apple is trying to make clearer what it's all about. As this is being written, a beta version of iOS 6.1 includes a welcome screen in Passbook that offers an explanatory note. The first version of Passbook also had an explanation, but it disappeared once you had added a pass. In the beta version, the welcome screen comes in the form of a pass, and remains in the app until you delete it manually.

Passbook glitches

Of course, there are glitches with any new technology. When Passbook was new, some clerks simply didn't know what to do when iPhone users approached them with a Passbook app. Darrell Etherington from TechCrunch tried and failed to use Passbook to present his ticket at two movie theaters. The desk staff first tried to scan with a mobile scanner. When that didn't work, they sent him upstairs where they had a mobile ticket­ing kiosk. The machine didn't work at first, and they realized it wasn't plugged in. Once it was plugged in and booted up, it still didn't work. For some reason the bar code hadn't transferred to the app.

Why Passbook and not an NFC chip?

Why Passbook and not an NFC chip?

Why Passbook and not an NFC chip?

When the iPhone 5 was still in the rumor stage, many thought it would come with an NFC chip, which has been thought to be the next step in mobile payment systems. With the PayPass system on an Android device, you simply tap your device on a terminal, enter your 4-digit code, and tap again. The system then debits your account.

Apple's response, though, was that it doesn't solve a prob­lem. "It's not clear that NFC is the solution to any current prob­lem," said Phil Schiller, Apple's VP of Marketing. "Passbook does the kinds of things customers need today." NFC seems like a good idea in theory, and is popular in some countries, but it hasn't caught on in the U.S.

Apple's approach is much broader and more versatile, ranging from using Passbook for your Starbucks card to using it to check what coupons are available when you enter a Target store and then presenting them to receive your discount. Seeing the po­tential, many major vendors have either already added Passbook to their iOS app, or are scrambling to do so.

Yet NFC rumors continue to crop up, with some speculation that Apple's purchase last year of a company called Authentic was a prelude to offering a secure mobile payment system.

I like Apple's approach. I just wish it were available on my iPad mini.

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