The Apple Passbook

In a previous job I worked on smart card systems.  Our vision was to replace the physical wallet with a chip card that contained stored value, credit cards, and loyalty cards.  The technology was up to the task, but the business model never worked out.  When all those things go onto a single card, who owns the card and maintains the applications?  Each bank wanted their own card with branding, so instead of consolidating lots of cards onto one, we ended up with the same number of cards, just more expensive chip cards.  The Costanza wallet would not die.

More recently I've been able to move lots of these cards into iOS apps using products like CardStar, TripIt, and Fandango.  I guess moving from physical to digital is progress, but still no consolidation.  But this week Apple announced its Passbook, an iOS feature that consolidates boarding passes, loyalty cards, and movie tickets.  Another step in the right direction.

We've been waiting for Apple to announce a NFC solution to take advantage of the 400 million credit cards it stores in iTunes for its customers.  Perhaps Passbook is the first step in that direction.  It wouldn't take much to add credit cards to Passbook, then enable secure transfer of the track data using a NFC equipped iPhone.  I've got to think this has to be part of the larger vision, but of course Apple is very secretive.

I think the steps will be loyalty, coupons, and then payment when it comes to the evolving Passbook.  Retailers should keep an eye on Apple, and expect these things to happen in the Apple stores first.

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David Dorf, Sr Director Technology Strategy for Oracle Retail, shares news and ideas about the retail industry with a focus on innovation and emerging technologies.


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