How to Use Passbook & Ask Siri to Buy Movie Tickets in iOS 6.1

Passbook is a native Apple iPhone and iPod touch app that was introduced as part of iOS 6 late last year. (Sorry, iPad users; it's not there yet). It allows users to store and utilize electronic coupons, airline boarding passes, train tickets, movie and other event tickets, reward club cards, gift cards, as well as other forms of mobile payment -- for example, cards we can reload electronically to purchase caffeinated beverages at our favorite naked-mermaid cafe. It's another step towards the futuristic concept of the cashless digital wallet -- the ability to conduct all transactions and identification directly from your mobile device.

The new Passbook Welcome screen, and a view of Passbook on the author's iPhone.

The new Passbook Welcome screen with a link to supporting apps on the App Store. Currently,
I have five cards/passes in my Passbook app on my iPhone.


When Passbook was first released, there was considerable amount of confusion as how it worked. The main problem back then was that there were very few merchants who adopted the concept and chose instead to take a wait-and-see approach. Well, the time for waiting is pretty much over, and we now see many stores, airlines, movie theaters and other businesses joining in on the fun.

I find Passbook enormously useful. As more and more of the businesses I patronize are jumping on board, I find my tactical cargo pants are getting lighter and lighter. I no longer carry most of the physical cards that I used to. My wallet has been retired. Along with my iPhone, I now carry only two pieces of plastic in a BookBook case by Twelve South: my driver's license and one credit card. Some day -- very soon perhaps -- even these objects will join forgotten modems, floppy drives and netbooks in the "Whatever Happened To..." exhibit at the Smithsonian.

Using Passbook

Let's take a look at how to use Passbook. And, in a bit, I'll show you a new way you can have Siri to set up a movie ticket for you in Passbook.

First of all, the passes loaded onto your Passbook are generally obtained (or activated) from within Apps released by a participating merchant. Alternatively, links which lead to pass creation may be provided via email, SMS and websites.

For example, let's consider the Starbucks Card, which can now be presented electronically to the cashier via the Passbook. In order to use Starbucks Passbook feature, it needs to be activated from within the Starbucks app. Passbook then shows me my Starbucks card with my unique barcode and balance, along with all of my other loaded passes/cards.

Having Notifications and Location Services enabled in my iPhone's Settings is highly convenient. When I am approaching a Starbucks store, my iPhone displays a notification so that I can quickly whip it out and flash the Starbucks pass where it shows my account barcode poised for scanning. Account management, such as reloading of funds is handled directly from within the Starbucks app or via their website. It's a beautiful thing – for me and for Starbucks.

In iOS 6.1, Passbook now includes a friendlier, easy-to-understand help page with a button that links to an App Store list of downloadable apps that support Passbook. Once inside these apps, you may need to look around to find an "Add to Passbook" or similarly named button. I also check the app's Settings panel to see if there is anything useful there vis-a-vis Passbook.

When ready to use a pass, simply open Passbook. One nice touch here is that the iPhone's brightness is temporarily switched to maximum regardless of how you have it configured in Settings. This will ease the scanning process. You can have as many passes/cards as you want, and they are displayed to you stacked like playing cards. Select the one you need and present it for scanning. That's all there is to it.

Airline boarding passes and event passes will show seat information and other key details of your flight. Other cards can show you your monetary balance, coupon expiration dates and account numbers.

For any card, tap on the Info button at the bottom-right corner to access settings for the selected card, enabling automatic updates and lock-screen notifications.

The front and back of the Starbucks card in Passbook.

The cashier scans my Starbucks card, which updates my remaining balance. Several options are available on the back of the card.

The Info page is also where you can delete the pass from your Passbook (this does not affect the app or your account). Deleting a pass will produce some fun eye-candy that you can share with friends, family and colleagues.

The Info panel may also provide a link to the main merchant app from where the pass was issued. By the way, the developer has the option of including any other appropriate information and links on the Info page.

Passbook Security

I have no qualms with data security when using Passbook. This is because I take very necessary precautions. You, too, can work securely with Passbook by taking these steps:

  1. Lock your iPhone via the Passcode Lock (**Settings > General > Passcode Lock**). This will enable the Lock Screen on your device.
  2. Enable the Find My iPhone feature for all your devices so that you can issue a remote wipe command from any other Find iPhone app or from your iCloud account on the web, if I needed.
  3. Prevent passes from appearing on your Lock Screen via Settings > General > Passcode Lock. Then in the "Allow Access When Locked" section, make sure that the Passbook switch is off.
  4. Your overall password security would not be complete without the proper password assignment guidelines, and the use of a robust password manager app such as 1Password or LastPass.

Enter Siri, Stage Right

Siri wants to help us even more now with the release of iOS 6.1. A little background before telling you how she can enhance your Passbook experience:

I love going to horror and sci-fi movie matinées between my consulting and teaching gigs. In my area, all local movie information and ticket purchases can be handled via the service. Incidentally, the Fandango app was one of the very first to support Passbook.

When you purchase a movie ticket, either via the app or by way of the website, you are clearly presented with several options for electronic admission to the movie. One option is to have a Passbook ticket sent to you. Your movie ticket can be sent to Passbook directly via the Fandango app or via a link in Fandango's purchase confirmation email or SMS message.

With your iPhone in one hand, a bag of popcorn in the other hand, and a Coke Zero in yet another hand, you proceed to the ticket-taker for scanning. Then off to the auditorium you go. Fandango does charge a US$1.25 service fee for electronic tickets, but as for me, I love throwing my money at technology!

Icons for Siri, Fandango and Passbook.

With iOS 6.1, Siri, Fandango and Passbook collaborate to help you quickly find and purchase tickets to your movie.

As for Siri, Apple relentlessly continues to make progress in this technology from the future. In the recent iOS 6.1 release, Apple has empowered Siri with the ability to interface with Fandango. The result is that we are now able to have our faithful assistant find movies, help us purchase our tickets, and take advantage of the convenience Passbook gives us.

A practical example, say, I want to see the movie Mama. I ask Siri, "Where is the movie Mama playing?" (without the critical word "movie," I was shown a bunch of Italian restaurants... go figure.). Siri responds by briefly showing me a list of nearby theaters playing Mama, and then shows me the closest theater and show times. At the same time, Siri announces exactly how far away the theater is and in what direction.

Siri first presents all the local theaters playing the preferred movie, then shows the closest theater.

Siri presents me with nearby theaters featuring my requested movie.

Siri then asks if I want to have her call the theater (who does this any more?), show directions to the theater, or skip to the next theater featuring Mama.

I next select the theater I want by tapping on it. This allows me to go on to purchase my ticket for the desired show time. Siri transfers me out to the Fandango app where I can complete my purchase. Finally, via the Fandango app confirmation page or Fandango's confirmation email or SMS, I can choose to have the movie ticket installed into my Passbook for later use when I arrive at the theater.

The Passbook screen showing the movie ticket purchased from Fandango.

Once the transaction is complete, my movie ticket is ready to be scanned at the theater.

Passbook is a win-win for all involved. I win, Hollywood wins, the movie theater wins, Fandango wins and Apple wins. It's very odd, though … my coffee and movie budgets seem to be draining rapidly these days.