The Trouble with iOS 6’s Passbook App

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

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.

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Ted Landau

Regarding Passbook’s Lock Screen alert failing to work, Apple’s document on using Passbook states:

“If you aren’t seeing notifications as expected…Tap Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Ensure that Location Services and Passbook are both on.”

When I did this, I could not find a setting for Passbook. Maybe that’s part of the problem.


Wow. Just Wow.
I thought it was just me that couldn’t figure out what Passbook was FOR, let alone how to use it.
I guess not.

On each of my devices I have a folder stuck way in the back. It’s where I put Apps that come with iOS that I never use. Guess where Passbook is going. Maybe will resurrect it in a year or two when they get the bugs sorted out but right now FAIL.

Thanks for the good look at Passbook.

Big Dave

Then you get to Target and they try to scan it and it says its not found.  This happened to me.  She had to manually override to give me the coupon.  I tried both the passbook coupon and the in-app coupon.

Jeff Butts

There is a site that may help Passbook users. I found out about it early into my own struggles with Passbook, and it allowed me to create Passbook cards for Best Buy and Petsmart. Granted, I haven’t tested the Passbook cards yet, but the site also links to all of the official Passbook cards & apps. is worth a look, if you want to use Passbook.

I agree, John, Apple really dropped the ball on this app. They not only dropped it, but I think they punted it into the middle of an alligator-infested swamp.


I agree, John, Apple really dropped the ball on this app. They not only dropped it, but I think they punted it into the middle of an alligator-infested swamp.

And ringed the space with land mines, guards, electric fences and a moat.

When I got my iPhone 5 I had a looky loo at Passbook, and gave up just as John suggested most will. It’s a nice idea but only half done.

Ted Landau

John who?


John who?

My bad, I meant you Ted.

Sorry. Not enough java….

Paul Goodwin

Good. I’m glad I found out all this before I fooled around with it. Off to the last desktop screen.

And speaking of foulups. My upgrade to 10.8 from 10.7 isn’t going well. Apple seems to have released a bug ridden OS, and I haven’t had one of those since the very first build of OS 10.  A lot of people on Apple’s Support Community site are having crash problems with various apps. My Mail app came up with the accounts not working any more, and it was anything but intuitive to get that fixed. But the app itself crashes while opening, usually at least twice before finally staying open…for a while…then it’ll quit.

Go to their support community and search on “10.8.2 crash”..... There’s a ton of stuff wrong. Maybe I didn’t wait long enough for that OS to stabilize. I usually wait 6 months or more, but got enticed by some “improvements”.  Pretty disappointing after a long string (10 years) of upgrades without a hitch. It’s one of my worst experiences with Apple’s OS since I started using Mac OS 6.0 in 1988. It is only one app though, but unfortunately it was Mail. Seems like they would have tried really hard to get that one right.

Paul Goodwin

Let’s hope these kind of releases aren’t going to be the norm. I can forgive anomalies and oversights.

Jeff Butts


Sorry, Ted, I guess I didn’t pay attention to whom the author was for this article! I think I might have just read John’s article, and thought he wrote this one, too. Terribly sorry!


I’m not convinced that all these are going to work. I tried going to and creating a card for CVS. My real CVS card is a bar code (series of vertical lines of varying widths), while the passbook barcode is different—it looks more 2-dimensional (not all just vertical lines). It’s not a QR code, but rather some kind of hybrid between QR and bar codes.

Has anyone managed to use one of these 2d barcodes at a store that uses regular bar codes?


Thank you for this. I went through the EXACT same processes of “now what?” I eventually figured it all out, but wow, it all felt VERY un-Apple. Secondly, if anyone can figure out how to get to the “Apps for Passbook” screen without deleting all of your passbooks, that would be, you know, helpful.

I also think that the blame lies with the vendors. I got the American Express passbook. But I had to search the AMEx website, download there app and STILL nothing. Then I found a blogger with a link to the AmEx for passbook. REALLY, AmEx??

I think that the problem is that Apple is used to treating everything like “It’s intuitive. It’s magic.” And usually it is. Here it isn’t You really need a good guide for Passbook.

Jeff Butts

I’ve tried the 2D barcodes at two retailers so far: Walgreens and Best Buy. At Walgreens, the Passbook pass works like a charm. At Best Buy, on the other hand, it doesn’t work at all…in fact, the cashier there told me “We get these all the time and none of them work.”

It really comes down to how new the retailer’s barcode scanners are, and what technology they’re using. The newer matrix scanners seem to be able to read either the 2D or the barcode without any problems, but the single-line scanners can almost never read them.


Another implementation that skips the part of installing an app is the BillGuard for Passbook implementation
It allows you to create passes for your credit/debit cards which will show you your balance and alerts for suspicious charges.


Had the same problems figuring out Passbook.  Finally loaded the Starbuck’s app with a gift card and successfully added it to Passbook (although I haven’t actually tried it yet at a Starbuck’s).  Of course, the link to the available apps in itunes is no longer accessible from Passbook (big screw up by apple).  I have a great app suggestion (that I would pay for!).  How about an app that allows you to take a picture/scan of an existing loyalty card, and AUTOMATICALLY add it to passbook.  How nice would THAT be?!

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