Apple Passbook: Is it Ready for Prime Time?

Our wallets are approaching super-size like proportions. The average American cardholder has approximately four credit or debit cards, and the average household participates in more than 18 consumer rewards programs.

In response, there’s been a flurry of digital innovations aimed at lightening your load. NFC was touted as the saving grace, but with a high cost of entry and a questionable convenience and value proposition factor, the technology needs a lot of work (and time) before it reaches mass adoption. The latest contender is Apple, who threw its hat into the ring with Passbook. Although it’s approaching it from a better angle — Passbook is less intrusive, with no need for new hardware or a chip that drains your battery — the current incarnation falls short in the areas crucial for widespread adoption, namely ease of use for consumers and merchants.

Here’s a deeper look at the pros and cons of Apple Passbook:

Cumbersome Setup
Steve Jobs used to say that great technology is invisible. Unfortunately, the Passbook setup breaks this rule. When you launch Passbook, you’re taken to a mini App Store which shows the apps integrated with Passbook. From there, you select your app and then configure it. Why is it necessary to download a series of apps to run an app?

An ideal scenario would play out like this: I could email my last travel itinerary from my Apple ID email address to a special Apple inbox and Apple could parse through my airline and hotel loyalty card information, automatically setting these up in Passbook. Another potential solution would be to simply take a picture of my loyalty cards and Passbook could optically scan and interpret them.

Scarcity of Apps in Popular Loyalty Categories
The most popular categories for loyalty programs are airlines, apparel and shoes, gas, health care, and hotels. Passbook has made nice traction with the airlines, but it’s a diverse mix of supported apps — American Airlines, Barnes & Noble, Bon-Ton, Live Nation, at Bat, Sweet Tomatoes and Walgreens — that are lacking in other common categories. This means it’s still far away from digitizing my (and likely the majority of consumers) physical wallet.

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