Passbook is failing to live up to expectations

Passbook is what I've been most eager to try iOS 6. My husband teases me about poking through a wallet full of cards for different locations, and one of my favorite apps is the Starbucks app, which allows me to use my iPhone to pay for my drinks. Passbook was billed as the iPhone's digital wallet, which can be used to store boarding passes, movie tickets, coupons, store loyalty cards, etc. -- all into a single place.

Nice idea. Too bad the execution's not going very well.

The first issue for a lot of people is that upon launching the app, there is an error message that does not allow you to connect to the Passbook-specific part of the App Store. Thanks to the Apple support forums, there is a fix for that. Follow the following steps:

  1. Go into Settings > General > Date and Time > Set Automatically. Turn that setting off.

  2. Set the date one year ahead

  3. Access Passbook again and go into the App Store from it. It should be working. Then you can go turn the "set automatically" setting back on in Date and Time.

It doesn't get better from there. Despite prominent billing during the iOS 6 announcement in June, Starbucks isn't a part of Passbook yet. So, I downloaded the Target, Walgreens and United Airlines apps. Instead of populating Passbook, they showed up on my home screen instead. That didn't seem right.

It's not, said fellow TUAW editor Dave Caolo. "You must first use a Passbook-enabled app in order to have it show up," he said. So, you can install an app, but it won't appear in Passbook unless you use the associated iOS app. That kind of defeats the purpose of it, doesn't it? You shouldn't need to buy a movie ticket, planet ticket, etc. in order to get an app to work properly, especially a marquee feature of iOS 6.

Passbook is failing to live up to expectations

I did get it to work with the Walgreens app since its Balance Rewards card is free. When you select the store from the App Store, it will automatically download that app to your phone. A screen appears when you first launch the app, letting you know that it's Passbook-compatible. If you don't have an account, you can sign up for it through the app. Once you're done, you can choose to add the loyalty card to Passbook.

So, what do you do with those extra apps you suddenly have? If you delete them, will it remove the Passbook entry? I deleted the Walgreens app, and the loyalty card remained in the Passbook.

Eventually, I got the Target app to work. If you're signing up for an account for the first time, you'll go through a lovely rigamarole involving creating an account, then resetting your password. Then, you can activate mobile coupons. After confirming via text message, the coupons will appear in the app and you can add them to Passbook by scrolling to the bottom of the coupon screen, then delete the Target app if you don't want to keep it.

Passbook is failing to live up to expectations

When an item is in Passbook, you can tap on the "i" symbol in the bottom right-hand corner to find out more information. You can see if the associated app is installed -- useful for if you've tossed it in a folder -- and in the case of the Target coupons, what the coupon is good for. The cards are set to update automatically, so it'll be interesting if the Target one does next week since I deleted the app.

It shouldn't be this complicated. At the very least, it should work like CardStar or Key Ring Rewards Card, where you can add a loyalty card or service without having to download the associated app. If you still want the standalone app, you can install it beyond that by using the link from Passbook. It took a good 30 minutes of configuring separate apps, including setting up accounts, in order to get passes into the Passbook for the first time.

And then there's actually using Passbook. TechCrunch's Darryl Etherington tested it at the movies, and the experience was just as stellar (note the sarcasm) as setting up Passbook for the first time. Since then, the Cineplex app has received an update that fixed his problem, but he deemed that the whole Passbook process is just needlessly complicated.

I agree with Darryl. Passbook is not intuitive and not ready for the real world. If you can actually get passes into Passbook, it should great if the business is ready to support it. It's getting to that point that's going to turn away a lot of users.