What Apple’s New Passbook Means for iOS Developers

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Passbook is a new app that comes with every iOS6 installation. It’s basically an intelligent “virtual wallet” that organizes your many memberships, gift cards, reward programs, and digital purchases. Not only does Passbook allow users to slim down their wallets by discarding physical cards and passes; it also offers timely updates based on user location and preferences. Passbook can keep track of event tickets, travel tickets, coupons, and other promotions as well. Some business analysts are viewing Passbook as a pathway toward increased popularity for the iOS operating system. iOS used to only facilitate the purchase of purely digital goods like apps, music, and video; now, with Passbook in iOS6, Apple devices can be just as handy when buying more tangible goods.

For developers, Apple offers Passbook tools such as the “Pass Kit” web services and the “Pass Kit” API to enable third-party apps to make use of Passbook user data. These development tools don’t just benefit large, established companies looking to integrate their preexisting rewards programs into Passbook; they also provide opportunities for smaller developers to leverage Passbook technology for their own purposes. Here are three key Passbook attributes that were demonstrated at WWDC 2012:

  • Dynamism — Passbook is dynamic; users can be notified of flight delays, gate changes, new coupons, and other updates automatically.
  • Geographic and Temporal Awareness — Passbook will gather from your GPS coordinates if you are near a location that has some interest to you, based on your stored Passbook information. If you have some kind of redeemable item and you’re physically near a location that will honor the promotion, Passbook can deliver a push notification to the user.
  • Personalization — Users can delete a “pass” and they no will no longer receive related updates. So, as helpful and convenient as Passbook sounds, marketers and developers will have to be careful with how frequent and persistent their Passbook offers (and their accompanying push notifications) are delivered to users.

Passbook Developer Details

As mentioned, Apple’s new Passbook app includes a fairly robust Pass Kit REST (Representational State Transfer) web service, as well as a Pass Kit API. These tools are the developer’s side of Passbook, and they’re designed to allow developers to integrate Passbook into their own apps. Below are extensive overviews of both technologies — you may need an Apple developer account to view them.

Passbook API (iOS Developer Program Required)
Passbook web service (iOS Developer Program Required)

For a less technical overview of Passbook capabilities, Apple offers the following resources. (You may need to create an Apple developer account to see them all, but you shouldn’t have to pay any fees.)

Building Passbook Passes with Mana and Passk.it

As a mobile developers, you’ll likely need to do more for your clients than simply program in a few Pass Kit web service calls. If you’re working with small businesses or startups, your clients may not have coupons or customer rewards programs in place. Since you can’t make use of Passbook without having actual passes to disseminate to customers, you’ll likely have to help your mobile design clients with the promotional side of Passbook. Fortunately, there are already several services that are ready for this very specific need.

Mana is a nascent marketing solution designed specifically to help small businesses make the most of Apple’s new Passbook. Business owners can use Mana to create promotions or coupons and share them with prospective customers within Passbook. Those who come near a physical store location will get a reminder of the promotion that they stored within Passbook, and many will head into the store. Mana offers one particularly strong appeal to business owners — they only charge a (small) fee when customers actually take them up on their Passbook promotions. This mitigates much of the financial risk normally associated with these promotion, which makes Mana quite appealing to both a business owner and a mobile developer looking to leverage Passbook for their clients.

Passk.it is another service that helps companies create, distribute, and manage Passbook promotions. Business owners can build and share a Passbook promotion in just a few minutes using a step-by-step pass designer. One of the key differences between Passk.it and Mana is that Passk.it goes beyond Apple’s Passbook and accommodates Android devices as well. For mobile developers looking to build Passbook into their next app, Passk.it is a way to empower clients to develop and deliver their own promotions.

Do you have any plans to integrate Passbook into your own apps? Do you think Passbook will be as popular as predicted?

Peter NorthPeter North
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Peter is Chief Digital Officer of CuriosityStream, a multi-platform nonfiction streaming service by the founder of Discovery Communications (Discovery Channel, Science Channel, Animal Planet, etc.). Peter is also Co-Founder of True North, a management consulting firm and digital marketing agency with clientele that includes WebMD and Salesforce.

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