The Trouble with iOS 6's Passbook App

I now know how to use Passbook. Perhaps, by now, you do as well.

I don't expect to use this new iOS 6 app often quite yet, due to the limited number of companies that support it. However, I look forward to accessing Passbook more and more in the months ahead. Having a single location for storing and redeeming coupons and tickets is very appealing.

I only wish the Passbook app did a better job of guiding users through the too-often cryptic and non-intuitive process of how it works. As it was, I almost gave up on the app before I had even one coupon loaded. This is not how Apple software is supposed to be.

The major problem starts immediately after you launch Passbook. You are greeted by a screen that proudly proclaims, with unintended irony, that "Passbook is the simplest way to get all of your passes in one place."

Passbook app

Now what?

There is no clue about how to get any passes. In fact, there is nothing you can do at all at this point, other than click "App Store." This immediately whisks you out of the Passbook app and to the App Store app. I imagine that many novice users will not even realize that they have exited Passbook here. Regardless, the bad news for all users is that you won't be returning to Passbook for quite some time. Being forced to exit an app immediately after you launch it strikes me as a poor design decision.

For numerous users, clicking the App Store button led to a dead end via a "Can't connect to iTunes Store" error. If this happens to you, the work-around (as explained in a Macworld article) requires fiddling with the Date & Time settings.

Assuming you do reach the App Store successfully, you should see a screen titled "Apps for Passbook." At the time I went there, it featured about a dozen company apps, including Fandango, United Airlines, Target and Walgreens.

Apps for Passbook

Now what?

There is no clear indication of what to do next. I eventually assumed that, in order to use Passbook, I first needed to download one of these company apps. Because I go to Target often, I tapped to download the Target app. Next, I quit the App Store app, searched my Home screens for the new Target app and launched it.

My Target

Now what?

Nowhere on the screen was there even the slightest hint at how to get this app to work with Passbook. I eventually took an educated guess and assumed that "mobile coupons" was the way to go. So I tapped the mobile coupons button. This led down a road that required that I set up a Target account. In the end, I got to a coupon page, which included a barcode.

Mobile Coupons

Now what?

I could presumably go to my local Target and "cash in" the coupon via its barcode. But that wouldn't involve Passbook, which was the whole point of this exercise. So I scrolled down Target's coupon page until I eventually stumbled over an "add to passbook" button. There was no direct reference to iPhones or iOS 6 or Passbook as an app, but I figured this was it. I tapped the button.

add to passbook

Now what?

Although there was no feedback, I assumed that the Target coupon was now in my Passbook app. So I quit the Target app and relaunched Passbook, returning to it after what seemed like many moons. Here, at last, I was greeted with the Target app in Passbook. I clicked to Add it. The coupon was finally ready to use in Passbook!

Target in Passbook

There appears to be no critical advantage to having added the coupon to Passbook as opposed to using the coupon from within the Target app. Passbook does offer one convenience enhancement. I can supposedly get the coupon to automatically pop up on my Lock screen when I am near a Target store. To enable this, you tap the small i button in the lower right and then slide the Show on Lock Screen toggle (Notifications for Passbook also needs to be enabled in Settings). Unfortunately, when I tested this out by driving to my local Target, the Lock Screen feature failed to work.

Passbook's info screen is also where, if you scroll down, you can learn what the coupon offers.

Passbook info options

A long-term advantage of using Passbook, as I stated at the outset, is that you can see all your Passbook-compatible coupons from one app.

Having mastered all of this, I wanted to return to the App Store and download another Passbook-compatible app. Here, Passbook stumbles yet again. As far as I can tell, there is no simple way to return to the initial Passbook screen—to tap the App Store button and get back the Apps for Passbook list. The initial Passbook screen does return if you delete all your added coupons, but there should be a better way to accomplish this goal.

On the plus side, companies can put "Add to Passbook" options on their websites or in email messages, thus bypassing the need to go through a separate app. Still, my initial app-based introduction to Passbook struck me as a poor way to make a good first impression.

True, some of the blame here goes to the Target app, rather than Passbook itself. But it's still up to Apple to lead the way to an easy and consistent user interface. It should at least alert users, ideally via a brief Help screen available from within Passbook, to what to expect when they go to third-party apps.

Apple offers a support document on how Passbook works. However, it is not sufficient and does not directly address many of the concerns covered here. Again, Apple could have and should have done better. This is another instance (along with Maps and Podcasts) of iOS 6 apps being released before they were fully cooked. Let's hope Apple fixes this and gets some updates out before too long.