iPhone Life magazine

Using the new Passbook app on your iPhone

iOS 6 brought two new apps to the iPhone 5: Apple's Maps app and Passbook. The latter is a little hard to understand at first but is slowly catching on, as people realize its utility. Passbook, as you likely know by now, is a way that vendors can make things like tickets, coupons, and loyalty cards available in a single place on your iPhone. It's a convenience for you for two reasons: 1) you have all of these items in one place on your phone, and 2) your app automatically produces the right pass depending on where you are and communicates with a terminal at a ticket booth or point of sale. 

In addition, the app gives relevant information about the "passes" that it aggregates. For example, if you're using Passbook to present your ticket for a flight, not only does the app make it conveniently available but also tells you if there have been changes, such as a different gate.

Major league baseball is among the first vendors to use Passbook. The way it works is this: First you download the MLB.com At Bat app (or MLB.com At The Ballpark app). When you purchase your ticket, you select Passbook from the options for receiving the ticket. When you arrive at the game, you'll receive a notification on your lockscreen. When you swipe to unlock, your ticket automatically appears. The person taking tickets simply scans the ticket that's on the screen of your iPhone.

Not all passes are location aware, however, such as Target coupons. When you're in a Target store, you'll need to open the app to see what coupons are available. And then tap on the coupon so that it can be scanned. Target offers special mobile coupons.

A survey by Market Watch over the last two weeks of the baseball season found that a surprising 12% of ticket buyers chose to use Passbook as their method of delivery for baseball game tickets -- which shows that this app is catching on.

As you can see, using Passbook involves several steps. First, the vendor or retailer needs to have an app to which they've added Passbook functionality. Second, you need to download their app. Third, you select Passbook as the way of receiving your purchased ticket or in-store credit. And finally, you then use the coupon or ticket or card via your iPhone at a gate or point of purchase.

It sounds complicated. But once you use it, say for your ticket to a baseball game, you see how simple and convenient it will be to do future tickets this way. Note that Passbook relies on scanners rather than using the near field communication (NFC) that's available via Google Wallet on Android devices. Your ticket has to be scanned, rather than using your phone to tap a terminal.

As I write this, there are currently 14 apps that have integrated Passbook functionality. Again, in order for Passbook to receive a vendor's passes, you need to have their app installed on your device. You can see the list by going to the App Store, clicking on Apps in the menubar, and then clicking on Apps for Passbook.

In addition to MLB.com, other current vendors include Starbucks, TicketMaster, Target, American Airlines, United Airlines, Walgreens, Fandango Movies, Eventbrite, Live Nation, Lufthansa, Sephora To Go, and Airbnb.

When you first open the Passbook app, it will give you an introductory screen describing the features, and will present a button that takes you to the Passbook area of the App Store on your phone.

Let's look at a couple examples, starting with Starbucks. If you have a Starbucks card, you can use it via Passbook. MacDailyNews has simple step-by-step directions. First make sure you have the latest Starbucks app. Sign into your account. In the app go to te bottom of the screen and tap My Card, then Manage, and then Add Card to Passbook. In Select Stores, select your favorite store. Then when you walk into any Starbucks in the U.S., your card will appear on the lockscreen of your phone.

You can also use Passbook to store your Walgreens rewards card. You'll first need to scan the barcode on your Walgreens card or enter the information. After that, you can store your card in Passbook. If you designate a particular store as the nearest store, then Passbook will automatically bring up your card when you're near the store.

Of course, there are glitches with any new technology, and an article on TechCrunch gives the experience of one early adopter who tried -- and failed -- to use Passbook to present his ticket at a movie theater.

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Jim Karpen's picture

Jim Karpen holds a Ph.D. in literature and writing, and has a love of gizmos. His doctoral dissertation focused on the revolutionary consequences of digital technologies and anticipated some of the developments taking place in the industry today. Jim has been writing about the Internet and technology since 1994 and has been using Apple's visionary products for decades.