Apple’s new Passbook isn’t quite ready for prime time


Burning question I have to ask: what is up with Apple’s Passbook app? Since its unveiling at WWDC, it was one of the things I looked forward to most in iOS 6. As a frequent traveler and someone who detests printing things out, I love the idea of storing digital tickets, boarding passes and rewards cards in one place on my phone. But after using it for the first time Sunday, I’m left feeling mostly perplexed and a little let down.

To be clear, using the app for what it’s advertised for — scanning barcodes — works as intended. But getting to that point was more complex than expected. In all, the app feels incomplete and perhaps rushed. In other words, it doesn’t feel like an Apple product yet.

Here’s what I found, and what I hope will be fixed over time.

Setting up Passbook involves many more steps than you would think. The first time you launch Passbook, you’ll get a screen showing the kinds of passes that can be added along with a very helpful link to the App Store. That link takes you to a curated list of apps already integrated with Passbook: Amtrak, United(s ual), Walgreens, Target(s tgt), Fandango(s CMCSA) and more.

I selected the one I was looking for: United. After the download, launching the United app displayed my boarding passes. The process of adding those to Passbook wasn’t all that obvious, but after opening up my boarding pass in the app an “add to Passbook” button appeared finally. Clicking that took me to yet another step where I could manually add each boarding pass to Passbook.

Now, United’s app design is a little clunky, but it isn’t Apple’s fault. But why so many steps to the Passbook process? Why is it necessary to download one app just to use another app?

When I went to find my Passbook pass, the app worked as expected: I got a well-designed boarding pass with my flight information and a barcode that was scanned by a United gate agent without incident. However, there were some other things that were not quite right about Passbook.

The implementation of notifications is odd. With still 10 hours to go before my flight’s departure, a notification appeared on my screen from United with my flight time. It stayed there all day, even to a certain point after the flight. It wasn’t clickable and nothing I did would make it go away.

What happened to the location-aware notification advertised? I still had to go to the Passbook app once I was at the airport to find my boarding pass. The way Apple described it, when my iPhone 5’s GPS detected I was near the airport the pass would pop up on my screen so I wouldn’t have to go searching for it. That didn’t happen.

Using the app more than once breaks the experience. My United boarding pass is in Passbook. Great. But I also want to get the other available Passbook apps. One problem: the link to the App Store within Passbook? It completely disappeared. And there’s nothing that tells me how to find it.

Hmm, maybe I can just search the App Store myself. Searching for “passbook” brings up a dozen apps, but the only result that’s legitimately related to Passbook is Walgreens. Searching more specifically, for “Target Passbook” for the Passbook-enabled Target app finds me nothing. Searching for “Target” finds me a Target app, but nothing in the description indicates that Target is Passbook-enabled. This is confusing because you don’t know if you’ve found the most recent app. This is both a problem related to App Store search and the way Apple is promoting these Passbook apps.

Those are my biggest concerns, but I have some other nitpicks:

Brightness doesn’t correspond to the setting for the whole phone. I have my iPhone 5’s brightness cranked way down to save battery, but Passbook passes still display with the brightness of a thousand suns (or so). Perhaps this is necessary to make sure scanners can read the barcode?

It doesn’t appear to be designed for the iPhone 5 screen. Somehow Passbook appears on the iPhone 5 screen the way the apps whose developers have not yet modified their apps for the new 4-inch screen do: centered on the display with black bars framing it on top and bottom. Except, you know, Passbook wasn’t made by any old developer. It was made by the same company that made the new display. This seems like a weird oversight.

Each of these complaints I listed are minor, but they add up to a worse experience than I expected. I know that Passbook is just one feature of more than 200 that are new in iOS 6, and it’s not going to be used as frequently as the Maps app, which is a far greater concern for a lot of users. But still: for one of the headline features of the new OS, the state in which it was launched is pretty underwhelming for new users. And like the uproar over the maps app showed, it stands out because it is so unexpected from a company known for its attention to detail.


Cheryl B

So i doubt if any of these complaints are fixed yet and your verbiage and the other’s comments are out of my tech savvy range, so to put it simple my problem is when I first opened the passbook app there were lots of different little icons. I also had downloaded the Starbucks app i guess I must have somehow let it know that I want it linked to passbook when I registered my rewards card. Now when I open passbook there sits my large Starbucks passbook information thingy icon (dnt kno what to call it) but i can’t do anything else no matter where I tap click touch whatever it stays on that.


Is anyone else completely annoyed that you even have to have all these new apps you’ll never use in order to add things to passbook?? Nothing seamless about it in it’s current form.

Dan Mahoney

I’ve also noticed that apps that now support passbook (for example, Eventbrite) aren’t shown on the search screen yet. Nor is the starbucks app that we saw demo’d at the keynote.


There is no letterboxing in the passbook app for iPhone 5, you are just using only one pass. Too nitpicking and not truly investigating these things. Yes, a QR code needs to be bright in order to be scanned. If you have used your phone in the past for, say, Starbucks you would know this. Lazy review (actually, more of a dumb stream of consciousness) lacking investigation.


I think I deleted the passbook icon now I can’t get it back! Help please

Andrew Stewart Woodburn

Yeah, the scanners do need the brightness. I only know because of using the Starbucks app for the past year, if the display brightness is low, the scanner won’t pick it up.


At least Passbook is working for you guys!! I’ve had it over a week now and I can’t get past the first page where it says “cannot connect to the App Store”, however my phone clearly connects to the App Store any other time. Very frustrating.

David L

I spent way to much time trying to figure out how to get my United boarding pass to show up. Very unusual having to work so hard to figure it out for an Apple App but obviously this is the early stages of a new type of app. I’m glad they’re trying, warts and all.


Passbook is surely a turning point for final users, who can finally have a complete and updated wallet on theirs smartphones. It gets even more interesting for businesses as passbook paves the way to new marketing possibilities is a simple and intuitive web application that allows you to design, manage, delivery and update passes for iOS Passbook app, such as coupons, store cards, event tickets and boarding passes, and helps to better understand Passbook features and potential.

Rob Scott

This is a great piece. I hope Apple is listening and will sort these out ASAP.
There seems to be a trend – Podcasts was a mess when it was released, 3 iterations later, its now more than usable.

Comments are closed.