28 9 / 2012

Forget Maps- Passbook is Where it’s at

Well, where it will be, anyways. With all of the hoopla surrounding Apple’s iOS 6 maps fiasco (which, likely isn’t the fiasco it could have been) Apple seems to be enjoying some diversionary benefit with Maps hogging the spotlight while Passbook continues to fly mostly under the radar.

See, Passbook isn’t essential to the iPhone experience in the way Maps is- at least not yet. The brilliance of Passbook is that right now it’s a bit of a head-scratcher. Essentially harmless and for many viewed as another kooky stock app to be dropped alongside the rest that collect digital dust like compass and Voice Memos. However, you can bet that’s going to change over the next couple of years as it gains traction and more retailers begin adopting it.

Lots of spec snobs took shots at the iPhone 5 for missing the NFC boat for mobile payments. However, Apple won’t be content to throw this functionality in just because. Frankly, mobile payments just don’t have the widespread adoption by either retailers or consumers to warrant the increased build cost with its inclusion. Also, more philosophically, Apple isn’t going to be content to jump through hoops that some other company is defining for mobile payments. Rather, it will stealthily set its own standard for mobile payments with Passbook becoming more and more commonplace as businesses realize that millions of iPhone-toting customers are afforded more convenient access to rewards programs, coupons, and gift cards.

Don’t get me wrong- I realize Passbook-like functionality has been available previously from 3rd-party apps and oftentimes through apps designed by the retailer itself. However, with Passbook there’s a unified standard established under the Apple banner that’s guaranteed to be on every user’s phone. Well, save for the jailbroken among us. A captive audience of Apple-fueled consumers? Businesses would be hard-pressed to pass up that opportunity.

Again, Passbook’s not there yet. As it stands only a handful of businesses are using it and presently it’s clunky and confusing. But in the future Passbook could even be re-branded as something like Paybook, unifying your spending capabilities from banks, credit card companies, and Paypal in one place alongside your business-specific coupons and loyalty information. Throw in combined Maps functionality that will let you rate your experience immediately following a transaction and this becomes a win all the way around; Consumers get a better shopping experience, businesses have incentive to provide better service and enjoy reduced costs as many paper-based promotional materials turn digital, and Apple harvests all that data for a better, more accurate end-user experience.

What do you think? Is Passbook Apple’s secret Trojan or will it fall by the wayside as a ho-hum feature?