iOS 6 preview: Passbook

Passbook is a brand new, built-in app for iOS 6 designed to serve as a one-stop repository for all the tickets, coupons, gift cards, and other vouchers provided by third-party App Store apps. That means all the stuff in your Apple Store app, Starbucks app, Delta app, Fandango app, and more is easily accessible via a single Home screen icon, and what's more -- Passbook knows what time it is and where you are, so it can put whatever card you need right on your Lock screen, right when you need it.

Here's what Apple has to say about Passbook:

Your boarding passes, movie tickets, retail coupons, loyalty cards, and more are now all in one place. With Passbook, you can scan your iPhone or iPod touch to check in for a flight, get into a movie, and redeem a coupon. You can also see when your coupons expire, where your concert seats are, and the balance left on that all-important coffee bar card. Wake your iPhone or iPod touch, and passes appear on your Lock screen at the appropriate time and place — like when you reach the airport or walk into the store to redeem your gift card or coupon. And if your gate changes after you’ve checked in for your flight, Passbook will even alert you to make sure you’re not relaxing in the wrong terminal.

And here's what they've shown off of it so far:

  • With Passbook, any properly formatting "pass" that's given to you in an app, emailed to you, or created for you to tap on in a website, can be added to Passbook. That's in contrast to the current, iOS 5 situation where tickets, gift cards, confirmations, coupons, are scattered across a variety of App Store apps.

  • When you get to the airline gate, the Starbucks line, or the movie theater, however, instead of having to find the appropriate app, launch it, and then find the appropriate pass in the app, Passbook collects them all together for you in one place.

  • Simply tap the pass you want to access, and it comes up full screen.

  • If you have more than one pass for the same thing -- 2 tickets for Amtrack, 3 coupons for Target, etc. -- you can swipe between them in full-screen mode.

  • Apple, of course, has designed them all beautifully...

  • ...And has created templates to help developers make beautiful passes of their own.

  • If the pass is a gift card, it can show up-to-date balance information right on the front.

  • If the pass is a ticket, and something like the gate changes, that will also be displayed right on the front.

  • To see additional information about a pass, tap the info button at the bottom right and it'll flip over, just like the Weather or Stocks apps. On the back, you can toggle Lock screen notifications on or off, and see additional information like confirmation numbers, locations, and other details about the specific pass.

  • And if you don't want the pass anymore, you can tap the trashcan button, confirm the deletion, and Apple will shred it for you in digital form.

  • Conveniently, Passbook can also present Lock screen notifications based on time and location. So you when you arrive at the right time or the right place, your passes pop up.

  • If something changes, like the gate information, you'll get a notification as well. And multiple notifications stack up, just as you'd expect.

Passbook is interesting in that a) instead of making a repository for something traditional, like documents, Apple is doing it for something still on the horizon, digital vouchers; and b) unlike Google and Microsoft, it's not yet a real mobile wallet with built-in payments yet.

That makes Passbook stuck in both the past and the future. It has QR and bar codes, not NFC or other wireless transaction processing. It hooks into existing apps, not Apple's massive iTunes cash register. It feels like a first step, a testing of the waters. The only question is how long it takes mainstream users to decide those waters and fine, and want to dive in, and for Apple to get the partnerships in place to take that next step.

For now, however, if you have passes in apps, Passbook makes it easier than ever to swipe, scan, and go.

iOS 6 is scheduled for release this fall, perhaps as soon as September 19. For more on iOS 6 check out:

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.