iOS 6 Passbook Real-World Test: Let’s All Go To A Movie… Or Not

Already, apps are hitting the App Store with Passbook support, providing tickets, loyalty cards and coupons you can actually use. So I tried to do just that, using the newly updated Cineplex (Canadian theatre chain) app and my iPhone 4S, freshly updated to iOS 6. The experience wasn’t exactly as smooth as it might’ve been, and while I ultimately was able to get my ticket to Disney’s 3D Finding Nemo re-release, it wasn’t thanks to Passbook. Here’s a breakdown of how the process went.

  1. Download app. I got the Cineplex update easily enough, but how exactly Passbook played into things wasn’t exactly made clear from the start. Passbook support was listed as an update item, but I couldn’t find in the app’s FAQ how it would work. Cineplex also offers a loyalty card, so I wasn’t sure whether Passbook applied to that or movie tickets.
  2. Purchase tickets. Eventually, I closed my eyes and hoped for the best and went ahead and bought tickets. That was the right move, and so long as you pick the mobile redemption option in the checkout process. At the end, the app creates a Passbook card, which is automatically stored in the standalone Passbook app.
  3. “THIS IS A BOOKING ID.” Right on the Passbook card itself, Cineplex makes it very clear this isn’t a ticket, but instead a placeholder to help you get tickets at the theatre. Sounds fair. I wouldn’t expect a large entertainment chain to have its staff ready to go paperless overnight.
  4. This is not a booking ID. Arrived at the theatre, tried to present the Passbook app to the desk staff. They didn’t know what it was, also understandable since it’s brand new. Gamely tried to scan it with their handheld bar code scanner, nothing happened. They referred me upstairs, to a mobile ticketing kiosk.
  5. Let me just power that on… So the kiosk itself wasn’t even plugged in. A helpful staff member fixed the problem, and we patiently waited while an embedded POS version of Windows booted up. I excitedly gushed about Passbook, he looked at me like I was slightly soft in the head.
  6. Null. That’s what the machine returned once it finally became active: “Null.” It turns out the bar code didn’t successfully transfer to the Passbook ticket; it was just displaying a generic tag. I’ve since tried purchasing another ticket to a different movie (Lawless, in case you were wondering) and the same thing occurred. This could be a bug on either Apple’s or the developer’s side, but I’m guessing it resides with the developer.

The upshot of the whole process is that I had to use the bar code emailed to me by the app, which worked perfectly when scanned. So, end result, I got my ticket, but the entire process could’ve happened without Passbook being involved at all.

It’s disappointing, but less so because a new product has a few kinks that need to be worked out before it’s ready for the real world (other apps, like Walgreens, seem to be working fine), and more so because the process itself took quite a few assumptions on my part and a leap of faith or two. Passbook is a promising tool, but it needs to be less confusing, more standardized, and more clearly explained to users in order to gain wide adoption. Let’s hope Apple notices and makes some changes to the way Passbook gets pushed and used by developer partners.

Update: Cineplex has since updated its app, and the null error is fixed, so barcodes should scan fine in theatres with mobile ticket readers installed like the one I visited from here on out.