My Day With Passbook

There was one person ahead of me at Starbucks. I caught a look from the barista. Was she staring at me or my trembling hand? I stared quickly back down at my iPhone and saw the balance on my Starbucks card in Passbook: $0.11.

Something wasn’t right. I had just topped it up on my way out the door! I had foolishly left my wallet at home, trusting Apple would take care of me on the open road. And here I was, seconds left before I would have to turn away from the till in resignation.

Then I did something stupid. I don’t know if I had mad trust in my supernatural ability to just fix the issue, or if I thought it would be resolved if I just offered to wash my dishes. The barista asked what I wanted, and I ordered anyway.

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Fixing My Passbook Problem

I checked the Starbucks app. Maybe something had gone wrong when I added $25 to my account. And I was right — the balance in the app was fine: $25.11. So I paid with the app and sat down with my pretentious chai latte to see if I could figure out what went wrong.

Goodbye Starbucks card. Hello, terrible animation.

Goodbye Starbucks card. Hello, terrible animation.

First off, Passbook was set up for automatic updates. I tried turning that off, and then on again. Nothing worked. So I deleted the card and added it again from the Starbucks app. Finally, something worked! (And that paper shredder animation that happens when you delete a card is awful, by the way.)

But that begat the question: why doesn’t Passbook’s automatic card updating feature just work the way that Apple advertises it does?

Further Testing

I had to test this a little more, so I popped open my cinema’s app. In Canada, our biggest national chain in Cineplex. They have a points card that offer Scene points. Both your Scene Card and movie tickets can sit in Passbook. My Scene Card was already registered, but I never tried to update it, so I thought I’d check to see if the Starbuck app was simply an anomaly.

No, my Scene points were wrong too! According to Passbook, I had 250, but according to the app, I had 450. There’s a button in the app to Update Passbook, so I tapped that and let it work its magic, but I couldn’t help wondering why the points in Passbook weren’t accurate to begin with.

Apple has designed and released an app that is simply broken from the start. Without a working auto-updated feature, Passbook feels like a lie. It feels like a beta.

Back in the Cineplex app, I bought a ticket to see Lincoln that evening. This was a feature I hadn’t tried before. Lo and behold, that wasn’t a problem. I bought a ticket for the 7:10 showing and loaded it right into Passbook. The animation popped up. It was obvious it had worked, but just to be sure, I double checked in the Passbook app.

Ta-da! One ticket for Lincoln, all ready to go.

Ta-da! One ticket for Lincoln, all ready to go.

There it was. Perfect. All was well.

Except for my lock screen, which decided it wanted to permanently display a notification for the show. Except not only was Passbook’s notification insistent and persistent, but the alert said the movie started at 2:10. That would have meant I missed it by five hours.

This fellow was a very persistent guy.

This fellow was a very persistent guy.

After checking the alert three times, it finally stopped displaying on my lock screen. I don’t know if there was some magic thing I did in iOS to cause that glitch, but it was strange. In Notification Centre, the notification was still sitting there and it still said the show started two hours earlier.

The only thought I had at this point: “God, I’d hate to trust a flight to something this inaccurate.”

What Apple Needs to Fix

Some of this lies with app developers. When I went to see the movie, my digital ticket wasn’t scanned. I had to punch its reference number into a display to claim my ticket, which seemed a little more than old-fashioned. But designing technologies that take advantage of Passbook lies with app developers and manufacturers, not Apple.

Apple does need to fix the app’s many quirks though. Obviously, a working auto-reload is a necessary enhancement that has to show up in iOS 7. Beyond that, fixing odd glitches like a movie’s starting time (or perhaps your plane’s departure time) have to get patched up as well.

Passbook, as an app, also feels unremarkably centralized. It really doesn’t integrate with iOS; instead, it’s content to sit on its own in the corner. Why not update my Calendar if I’ve purchased a movie ticket or have a plane to catch? Or add reminders to the Reminders about time-sensitive coupons? The possibilities here are endless, and frankly, kind of obvious.

Communicating with Passbook is not an option.

Communicating with Passbook is not an option.

Finally, Siri integration. There is nothing in Siri that allows me to ask about what’s happening with any of my Passbook tickets or coupons. Why not? Admittedly, enhancing Passbook to cooperate with Calendar and Reminders would mostly negate the need to ask Siri about Passbook, but it’s still an obvious feature.

My Final Thoughts

Right now, Passbook feels decidedly un-Apple. It doesn’t just work: Auto-update constantly fails, there are minor glitches galore, and it doesn’t play nice with other apps. So what gives? As it stands, Passbook is a far worse product now than Siri was in 2011, and that’s not a good sign. Here’s hoping Apple takes time to really consider the app’s direction in iOS 7.


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