As I start the year with several travels abroad – heading again to Paris – earlier this week I got my first chance to try out one of Apple’s already old innovations, Passbook, dating back to the launch of iOS 6. There’s not that much to say about it: the experience is indeed nice and easier to use than a paper boarding pass. After checking in using Air France’s iPhone app, the card was added automatically to Passbook and it pinned itself on my lock screen. With just a swipe you can present it for controls or scan it when boarding the airplane. You don’t need to worry about keeping track of yet another item while you’re undressing, taking off your watch, belt and possibly shoes and taking out every electronic device you carry for inspection. I recently read an article describing all the wrong things about current boarding passes and a nice concept for an improved design and Passbook addresses many of the problems outlined there.
The thing is… are those small benefits enough to justify using it? First you need to install a Passbook-compatible app on your device – apparently it should work without an app as well, but that needs to be implemented by the third-party issuing the pass. Secondly you need to type your passcode and unlock the device to see the full card, which can be frustrating if you’re in a hurry to catch your flight – why not just show it directly with a swipe without requiring the passcode, like Notification and Control center? And finally, if the flight details change, if there are delays or it’s moved to another gate, the electronic pass didn’t update to reflect that – which kind of defeats the purpose of a connected solution. As a side note, that would be an excellent use case for iBeacon, sending notifications to your smartphone in an airport, from flight updates to directions how to get to the gate or for bus stations and parking lots after you arrive. I get that Apple wants another, albeit relatively minor, way to keep customers hooked on its platform while solving some of their day-to-day hurdles, but at this point you can accomplish everything Passbook does with a static screenshot of your check-in – and in fact I have already done so while returning from Norway last year. The technology does have potential, but much of the user experience depends on partners – to generate the files and update them when necessary – and as such it’s out of Apple’s control, probably the reason why Passbook didn’t make a bigger impact.