Monday, 18 June 2012

Passbook is the stepping stone to your digital wallet

Over eleven years ago Apple launched iTunes and with it revolutionised the music industry. This fall they will add one more app to the core suit of tools in IOS, Passbook. It is the first step along a path which will revolutionise the way we make payments.  Apple describes it as: 

 " With Passbook, you can scan your iPhone or iPod touch to check in for a flight, get into a movie, and redeem a coupon. "

Passbook is a single place for all your digital boarding passes, coupons, loyalty cards and vouchers. Some commentators have criticised the lack of integration with any real payment system. The limitation to coupons, tickets etc is merely aggregating the functionality offered by multipul single branded apps, such as airline apps etc. I think this is missing the point.

Initially Apple is out to change the way we think about our wallet, and they are doing this in small steps. First there is the social change. I agree that other apps do some of these function, but by pulling al this functionality into one place and making it part of the core offering they make the functionality available to all IOS users. In doing so they will have the opportunity to allow far more users to try and get use to using their iPhone as a replacement for functionality previously supplied by pieces of paper and plastic cards. It is about starting a behavioural change. Once the convenience and simplicity of this approach becomes understood, its use will become mainstream. Of course it requires brands to adopt the Passbook approach along side or in place of their own apps. But lets assume the benefits of the lower barrier to entry and the universality of the approach will perswade many to come on board.

Once the behavioral change takes place Apple can release Passbook 2.0, and make the killer move that will enable users link to and to make use of their iTunes account to make payments.  How the final payment solution is delivered,  NFC equiped iPhones or QR codes or via Bluetooth 4 is still to be seen. Whatever solution the costs for retailers in terms of new equipment will be a factor, but we can assume Apple is looking at the complete ecosystem and will ensure the system will be attractive to retailers.

In June of last year Apple had 225 million iTunes account holders, a number that dwarfs that of the largest banks. As of February this year Apple had sold 316 million IOS devices. Of that approx 180 million were iPhones and 75million were iPod touch. Put a payment version of Passbook in the pockets of even a minority of these users and you have a huge base of potential customers.

Of course as has been said on ReadWriteWeb it could all go tits up and be an also ran, but I doubt it. By taking a slow and steady approach Apple will initiate another revolution. The foundations laid by iTunes, iPod, IOS and iPhone will allow Apple to go where no other company can feasibly reach.
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