One month in, iOS 6's Passbook barely passes go

In just four short weeks, iOS 6s Passbook feature has totally revolutionized the life of you, me, and everybody we know.

Okay, not so much revolutionized as very mildly altered, maybe.

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One of the marquee features of iOS 6, Passbook is Apples attempt to digitize many of the pieces of paper, cardboard, and plastic that pile up in our wallets and purses. But one month in, vendors have been slow to adopt the technology, and the app has yet to catch on as much as Apple might have liked.

The pitch

During the introduction of iOS 6 in June, Apple senior vice president of iOS software Scott Forstall described Passbook as the simplest way to get all of your passes in one place. All those tickets for sporting events, concerts, and movies, along with plane and train boarding passes, coupons, and store cardstheyd all have a home in Passbook.

There were already, as Forstall pointed out, more than a few apps that offered this kind of capability. But as he said, they each had their own little fiefdommeaning if you wanted to use one of those digitized tickets, passes, or whatever, you had to remember which app had it, dig through your home screens to find that app, and then dig through the app to find the right ticket, pass, or whatever. Passbook would, instead, put all those passes in a central location, as well as offering things like lock-screen notifications (when you approached the relevant time or location) and automatic updates of passes (in case card balances or other details, such as airline gates, change).

During the keynote, Forstall showed off passes from a number of different third-party vendors, including United Airlines, Starbucks, Fandango, and Target. He summoned each by tapping on it to bring it to the foreground, where it presented a barcode, ready to be scanned.

Sounds good, to be sure, but the demo on stage in Juneand its rehash at the September iPhone 5 introductionfocused more heavily on the apps aesthetics than in its moving parts. That left usersand technology writerswith a lot of questions: How, for example, does one get passes into Passbook? What if the seller doesnt have an iOS app? Where do passes go when theyre shredded?

We anticipated that these questions might get answered when iOS 6 saw the light of day, perhaps with a high-profile announcement of partners whose Passbook-enabled apps would be in the store when iOS 6 actually launched.

Instead, we got a collection of apps on the App Store, accessible via a link in Passbook (a link which is inaccessible after you add a single pass). To date, more than a month after iOS 6s release, only 14 apps reside in the Passbook collection. That may not tell the whole story, though, since other apps like, and services like Goldstar and Kiip have implemented support for Passbook without necessarily being featured in Apples collection. Other services, which wouldnt seem at first blush to be a good fit for Passbook, have even gone ahead added somewhat more bizarre integration with Apples new service.

As with many of the features and services Apple has touted in the past, Passbook sounded great in theory. In practice, though, Apples rollout of Passbook has been the quietest and most low-key since the company announced Pingand we all know what happened to that.

A swing and a miss

Ive tried to give Passbook a fair shake in my own life, but my options are limited: I dont fly United, American, or Lufthansa, and the Red Sox were pretty much out of the baseball season even before iOS 6 launched. I briefly considered booking a flight on Virgin Australia, but figured that might stretch even my bosss considerably forgiving nature.

My options were limited to some stored value cards, coupons, and the occasional movie ticket. (Amusingly enough, my 18-year-old cousin was the first person to show me a Passbook pass in real life; only shortly after the updates release, shed already imported a concert ticket. And, as we all know, as teenagers go, so goes technological trends.)

So I forged ahead and loaded $10 onto a Starbucks card when the company launched its Passbook integration. Ive used it successfully a few times now, though the experience isnt always as smooth as you might think. Usually the cashier has to do something with the scanner (press a button or angle it) to scan my barcode; at least theyre generally accustomed to the idea of scanning a phone, thanks to the fact that the Starbucks app for the iPhone has had a similar feature for some time.

In my experience, however, I did notice that my Starbucks passs balance doesnt auto-update immediately, as Apple claimed it should, even though the Automatic Updates option on the back of the card was set to On. Instead, I found that I had to go into the Starbucks appwhich would update correctlythen open Passbook, flip to the back of the Starbucks card, and pull to refresh. Its...less than smooth. At least I got a push notification that the card had been updated, so thats something.

As far as anecdotal experience goes, the aforementioned cousin told me that the ticket takers at the show she went to didnt really understand that her ticket was on her phone, even after she explained it repeatedly.

More recently, developer Paul Kafasis told me he struggled to figure out if he could get his Delta boarding pass into Passbook. Though Delta is among the partners Apple showcases on its website, the airline isnt yet offering the feature. As a result, Kafasis was unable to take advantage of Passbook, even though the airline does send a digital boarding pass via email. He described the process as more than a bit convoluted.

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