One of the most useful — but likely misunderstood — new features introduced in Apple's iOS 6 software for the iPhone is called Passbook. At first glance, the app might even seem like it doesn't serve a purpose. While it might not exactly be well-explained, it can simplify the process of keeping track of various passes — such as tickets, coupons, and gift cards — once you know how it works.
Step 1: Downloading supported apps
In order to do things with Passbook, you need to have apps that work with it installed on your phone. Getting them is easy enough: When you load up the Passbook app for the first time, you'll see a screen describing what it can do, along with a button that, when touched, whisks you away to a special Passbook section of the App Store.
Once there, you'll see a current list of all the Passbook-compatible apps available for download. They include those from United Airlines, American Airlines, Fandango, Target, Walgreens, and more. For the purpose of this article, we've downloaded the latter two.
Step 2: Finding things to add to Passbook
In the case of Walgreens' app (download for iPhone) you can add the chain's rewards card, called Balance Rewards, to your Passbook. This involves scanning your physical card's barcode or entering your info, after which you're able to store a virtual version of the card in Passbook. You also have the option of selecting your nearest store, so that when you're near it your phone will automatically display your card.
Target's app (download for iPhone) gives you to special mobile coupons redeemable at your local store. The latest version of the app lets you add these coupons to Passbook so they can be quickly accessed without having to load the actual Target app.
For other apps, such as Fandango and Major League Baseball (MLB), you can add movie and event tickets to Passbook in a similar fashion, then have them scanned at the theater or sporting venue. Airline passes for United, American Airlines, and Lufthansa will be automatically displayed when you arrive at the airport, and Passbook can even alert you to your gate number and any changes to your flight that might occur.
Step 3: Using Passbook in everyday life
As we mentioned earlier, with location-aware Passbook passes you can have your iPhone alert you when you're near somewhere they can be used. For example, with the Walgreens Balance Rewards card, a notification will appear on the iPhone's lock screen anytime you're near the Walgreens you've designated as your home store. Sliding the notification causes the virtual card to slide onto the screen so that it can be scanned. Pressing the menu button makes it slide back off so you can unlock your phone.
Passes such as the Target mobile coupons aren't location-aware, so you actually need to run the Passbook app and tap on them so they can be scanned. Tickets, boarding passes, and gift cards can be set to automatically alert you when you're near where they can be used. It really just depends on the way the apps that create the passes are designed.
When you're done using a pass, you get to use one of our favorite features — well, at least the most fun — of Passbook, the shredder. Tapping the small information icon on a pass will flip it over to reveal settings, such as the ability to turn its location-awareness on and off, or determine whether or not it'll display on your lock screen. If you tap the trash can icon, you'll be asked if you want to delete the pass. Tap yes and an animated shredder will slide up the screen, cutting the pass into strips, removing it from Passbook.
Handy, and sure to get better
Passbook has only been available for a matter of days, but we're already finding it pretty handy. Its usefulness will only improve as more retailers and businesses design their apps to make use of it. Before long, we'll all hopefully have a lot more room in our wallets because of fewer cards and papers we'll need to worry about losing thanks to this handy app.
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First published September 23 2012, 9:14 AM