2012.35 | Passbook Opportunity

When I first saw the presentation of Passbook at the iOS 6 press event earlier this year, I found it intriguing.  Apple had finally chosen to dip their pinky toe into the world of electronic wallets. I’ve watched so many other organizations with good intentions make this attempt, so why not Apple?

Passbook is intended to be your wallet on your iOS – or at least your billfold.  It’s the default Apple app where you can assemble and keep your loyalty cards, your coupons, your gift cards and your tickets.

Having all of those items in one place sounds like an improvement.  Even better, your iPhone can automatically pop up an indicator on your screen that enables a shortcut to Passbook and your usable item if you are near a store or it is time to use your ticket.

The benefit to the user here is to simplifying the process to use your mobile device as a wallet.  As mentioned many times, redemption of cash, coupons, tickets and loyalty cards needs to be dead simple and quick.

If Passbook works as advertised, one does not need to unlock the device, find the right app, and then look in the app for the ticket, coupon, or loyalty card.  For example, a person can connect a Starbucks card to Passbook and when they are near a Starbucks, they can get a reminder on their locked iPhone screen that they can touch to immediately access their Starbucks card.  If I have a flight on Air Canada, my ticket pops up on my screen when it is  time for my flight so I can use my ticket.  If I’m looking to use a gift card, I don’t have to look for some retailer app I never use and then navigate through a non-standard menu on their app to find my gift card.

That was the promise.  Unfortunately, based on my usage of Passbook over the past few weeks, I find it to be a sub-optimal electronic wallet in its present incarnation.  There are a number of reasons for that:

  • What is this thing?  Not all of the millions of iPhone users watch the keynote presentations on iOS updates.  Passbook is a lonely unexplained icon on many devices from my experience with friends and colleagues.  If an iOS user doesn’t have an enabled app, and there still aren’t many Passbook enabled apps in Canada, there is no indication of how Passbook is supposed to work.  If Passbook is selected, the user is presented with a little screen that points you to the app store that shows Passbook enabled apps.  The link is nice, but how about a link to a video or a page about  Passbook benefits at the most elemental level?  How about a link of how to set it up?  Most people are not going to try to hunt down what something is or how it works.  Why should consumers use Passbook instead of the app from their retailer?  Passbook has to have a clear and simple benefit over their current process, or consumers won’t even try it.  It’s not clear today.
  • Adding stuff to Passbook is not simple. Once users understand what Passbook is supposed to do and you  ownload a Passbook enabled app, the way to leverage Passbook with that app is not always clear.  For example, when I installed the Passbook enabled Starbucks app, I had to select my card in the app, choose Manage and add the card to Passbook.  When I did this, it asked me for favourite stores so that Passbook could provide quick access to my card, but I didn’t have time to set my parameters, so I closed the app.  When I went back into the app later, I could not  figure out how to add favourite sites.  There was no help section on Passbook within the app, so I had to figure it out through trial and error.  We can’t blame all of this on the Starbucks of the world or their app developers who are trying to use Apple’s Passbook App. There should be an ability in the Passbook App itself to scan the apps on the phone and allow users to pick from a list of potential items to add to Passbook.  There should be settings in Passbook to allow us to make any adjustments to how Passbook is used. Setting up each card you want to use and interconnecting with each retailer app is needlessly convoluted and will lose the majority of users.   At install of a new Passbook enabled app, Passbook should tell us we can use Passbook and ask how we want to do so.
  • Location based notifications are inconsistent – One of the biggest potential benefits of Passbook is that it will pop up automatically when we want it.  After I set it up correctly, it still took days before Passbook actually recognized when I was near a Starbucks store and actually gave me the notification of such.  I have an iPhone 4.  Perhaps this will be better on my iPhone 5, but lots of people use older hardware.  If the app is not consistent and accurate about bringing up the card, I have to unlock and find Passbook.  That’s no better than using the Starbucks app.  I’m not saying this happens to everyone, but I WANT to use it and I find this frustrating.   Good luck with the less nerdy demographic.
  • Accessing Passbook via popups was not explained – Once I finally got the notification that I could access my Starbucks card in Passbook, I was baffled as to how to get the card to come up on the screen.  I’m embarrassed to admit this as I’m a relatively savvy iOS user.  I swiped from the top.  I swiped across the screen.  I tapped it.  Then it went away.   After conferring with friends and looking online, we finally discovered that you have to touch the icon and swipe it across to have Passbook pop up.   This isn’t a bad system, but how about some explanation in the Passbook app?   How about a message the first time it pops up to explain it?  This swipe method is not intuitive to most users I’ve conferred with in my decidedly unscientific study.
  • Passbook doesn’t refresh on the fly – When I use the Starbucks app, it refreshes my gift card balance after I use it.  I can’t tell if my coffee was free or not! Passbook doesn’t.  This is less helpful than the retailer app.  Not more helpful.
  • Is this secure? As someone who works with retailers and is involved with payments, I assure you that a lot of time is spent on security.  If I swipe on the notification for Passbook it will bring up my Starbucks number and I don’t have to enter my iPhone security PIN.  If I leave my iPhone somewhere, someone could theoretically troll around and when they are near a Starbucks, my card will come up.  They could get a free cup of coffee or two if I didn’t notice.  If they are more insidious, they could take an image of my screen and use it to pay a little at a time.  Not entering the iPhone PIN is convenient for using Passbook, but I think it should be a configurable option.

While I’m sure all of these criticisms don’t sound like it, I’m glad Passbook exists.  I thank Apple and Starbucks, Cineplex, Air Canada and all of the others for trying to integrate their apps.  I want to try them.  I like using the apps. I want them to succeed!

I think Passbook is a great idea.  I fully comprehend the complexity of allowing all sorts of other organizations and developers build apps to leverage Passbook.  Getting consistency will be difficult.  There will be problems.  Operationalizing a wallet into retail is hard for anyone and everyone.

Apple needs to put together a very specific program about what the Passbook experience should be with feedback from retailers.  Keep it simple.  Make it easy for people to use it and show a benefit to the users.  If that happens, I think Passbook can make some headway.

I hope this input is useful to the developers of Passbook and I look forward to using it as it improves.  It’s certainly no worse than many other mobile wallet schemes I’ve seen.  But it’s no Pay with Square.

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