This morning, at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Apple introduced a slew of new Mac hardware, new Mac Mountain Lion software and, perhaps most importantly for us in the world of mobile and mobile payments, iOS6 – the next generation of mobile software for Apple’s iPhone and iPad families. Oh, by the way, early in this morning’s keynote, Apple CEO Tim Cook also announced that Apple’s App Store now has over 400 million accounts with payment credentials on file!
While the new Mac hardware looks very impressive – especially that new MacBook Pro with Retina Display, I found the new features in iOS6 to be really interesting. These include a whole new Maps application, deep Facebook integration (mirroring what Apple had done with Twitter in iOS 5), and significant enhancements to Siri, Apple’s voice-driven intelligent personal assistant first introduced with the iPhone 4S last fall. An impressive set of upgrades and new features along the lines of what we’ve come to expect from Apple!
But what really caught my eye – and stirred up some buzz among the payments geeks in our partnership – was Apple’s announcement of a totally new feature for iOS devices called Passbook – one that’s intended to make it much easier for mobile users to be able to quickly access things like boarding passes, movie tickets, retail coupons, loyalty cards, and more.
Passbook represents a new, operating system-level feature that pulls together storage of these kinds of items in a new way – instead of having your airline boarding pass, for example, tucked away inside your airline’s mobile app on the fourth screen of your iPhone, Passbook provides the mechanism (through a new developer interface called Pass Kit) for the airline’s app developers to much more conveniently store your boarding place in a system-level application that’s more readily available – one which can even be automatically triggered to be on the lock screen of your phone when you walk into a venue.
As an example, Apple Senior VP Scott Forstall, in his demo of Passbook, showed a Starbucks stored value card inside Passbook. Once the card is installed in Passbook, as you walk into your local Starbucks your phone uses location-based technology to determine that you’ve done so – and an icon for the Starbucks card pops up as an alert on your iPhone’s lock screen. From there, you can simply unlock the phone and immediately pay using the stored value card. None of the hassles of trying to find the Starbucks app on your phone, open it, etc. And, the balance information will be dynamically updated on the card after your purchase. Others may want to take heed from this use case!
By making available easy ways for developers to participate in the new Passbook ecosystem, we can expect mobile applications that generate these kinds of tickets/passes will quickly be updated to support Passbook when iOS6 becomes available this fall. Apple made a pre-release developer version of iOS6 today to encourage developers to begin to explore these kinds of new features.
In terms of the implications of Passbook for payments, it provides a very useful bridge for closed loop environments – enabling app developers to be able to generate passes/tickets for convenient storage, access and dynamic updating on customer’s mobile phones. But, it’s important to understand that, as announced today, Passbook appears to be a “closed loop” solution – where the acceptance of the passes/tickets stored in Passbook is also the responsibility of the app developer (think “merchant” or “airline” for now).
In other words, Passbook today is really just a toolkit for application developers. It is not a revolutionary new mobile payment system from Apple that the industry has been speculating about. (You know, the one that brings with it access to hundreds of millions of payment credentials already on-file in the cloud.)
That said, Passbook is an important step forward in providing a system-level function (a “wallet” with services) to developers for closed loop applications. It will be fun to watch what emerges from the creativity of iOS developer community as they explore how value could be created – and exchanged – using the new capabilities of Apple’s Passbook.
What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts here in the comments below – or on Twitter (I’m @SJL on Twitter).