NB: This is a guest article by Garry Kelly, lead engineer at SITA Lab.
This is in part because it is Apple, in part because of the pending iTravel patent, but also because Apple is taking a lot of the pain out of how people access electronic boarding passes, cards and coupons.
Our team at SITA Lab has a live demo integrated into our Boarding Pass API and I have some observations I can share.
What is it?
The Passbook app is digital storage for your existing boarding pass (or event tickets, or loyalty cards). The concept is not new, but the execution has all the hallmarks you would expect from Apple.
Simply put, it is just another way for passengers to get their boarding passes onto the iPhone â€“ but the boarding pass shows up in Appleâ€™s own app (not the airlineâ€™s app).
It has several features that make it easy for the passenger to use. For starters, it is easy to add a boarding pass – it is another delivery option, similar to email or SMS.
When checking in you simply choose email or Passbook. Once on the phone, the boarding pass can be triggered by your location and time â€“ so it will pop up when you are at the airport before departure.
This means it is out of the way when you donâ€™t need it and is easy to find when you do.
Why is Apple doing this?
As most Apple observers would agree, Apple is a control freak and the Apple product experience is what differentiates it from all others.
Looking at Passbook on my iPhone, I can see clearly that it reduces issues that cause problems for passengers, such as fumbling to retrieve their barcode at security or the gate.
In addition to knowing you are at the airport, it also allows airlines to provide update notifications of gate changes or departure delays.
Showing the pass at the right time right from the unlock screen is a nice touch â€“ this will be a confidence builder for many.
Without a doubt, Apple’s innovation will drive adoption of barcode ticketing of all kinds. It will be habit forming which is part of what is currently lacking in 2D barcode pass adoption at airports.
On the road to iTravel or iWallet?
Many insiders speculate that Passbook is a Trojan Horse way for Apple to become our iTravel overlord per its (now famous) patent filing.
Some worry that iTravel will compete with airlinesâ€™ existing apps and Apple will wedge itself between the passenger and the airline.
Aside from being an elegant solution that differentiates iPhone from its competitors, I think it is more immediately Appleâ€™s first step towards iWallet â€“ potentially a much more valuable product for the company.
Reading patent trail tea leaves, earlier this month Apple was granted yet another in a series of patents relating to iWallet, Apple’s version of near-field communication (NFC).
These suggest Apple will attempt to go it its way with NFC and forge a direct automated connection between consumers, merchants and possibly card companies, enabling Apple to convert its popular iPhone into a mobile transaction machine.
Clearly, Passbook and its supporting PassKit SDK establish this direct connection. Airlinesâ€™ own boarding pass content is packaged so it can be easily included in Passbook without a middleman. Passbook is just a smart display.
Fortunately, Apple is not charging for the service.
Impressively, Passbook will support iPhones all the way back to iPhone 3s. Given that Apple has shipped 365 million iOS devices, Passbook will immediately dwarf the devices that support NFC right at its infancy.
Building a sizable base of users essentially going through the same motions with a barcode instead of NFC is a genius way to build audience while Apple patents up for an eventual iWallet NFC alternative of its own.
What does all this mean?
For those on the fence about adopting mobile boarding passes, I think critical mass has finally arrived because with mobile boarding pass solutions you can have it all, not just the Apple way.
At the end of the day, Apple launching Passbook is a very good development for our industry. NFC is going to happen and it is clearer now there will be several competing versions â€“ with Apple iWallet eventually being one of them.
[Read my colleague Kevin O'Sullivan's previous article about NFC and the travel industry]
Passbook is great for iPhone users but the halo effect will increase awareness and adoption of fast travel experiences we all want for our industry.
Whether or not there are unintended consequences for playing along I can’t say. It does not feel sinister.
Making boarding passes easy to use on iPhones so Apple can offer a great user experience, is likely the most it will get from our industry from this development and we should embrace this innovation.
Following comments below, here is the boarding pass in IATA standard BCBP format.
NB:Â This is a guest article by Garry Kelly, lead engineer atÂ SITA Lab.