Media & Entertainment

Iterations: The Unbundling Potential Of Apple’s Passbook

Comment

Editor’s Note: Semil Shah is an EIR at Javelin Venture Partners and has been a contributor to TechCrunch since January 2011. You can follow him on Twitter at @semil.

This post is about Apple’s Passbook. It’s not about mobile wallets, or Google Wallet, or Square, or anything else. I realize the space is vast and dynamic, but I only have an iPhone, and I’m here to write about Passbook. With that disclaimer out of the way, I’d like to share some thoughts about Passbook, a thesis I’ve developed around “cards vs. apps,” the big opportunity this creates for Apple, and how potentially disruptive Passbook could be.

A few weeks ago here on TechCrunch, I wrote a column about the unbundling power of mobile, and how fierce competition at the application layer is fragmenting audiences. To take this a step further, I believe Passbook Cards could actually unbundle some native applications, stripping out the most essential features of apps and placing them in a format that, in many cases, is easier to access, easier to use and navigate, loads faster than apps, is more intelligent about time and location, and is much more lightweight as a consumer experience.

I’ll share a personal example. Sometimes, I’m “dragged” to Target to go shopping. I’m not going to download the Target iPhone app — which, I will admit, is actually fully stacked with information and very responsive. We’ll sometimes scramble to find a coupon in the car, and at checkout, every time, someone asks us if we have our Target number. We usually don’t, and we don’t want to sign up for it again. This would be a case of where I’d just want my iPhone to know I’m at a Target and push a Card notification to me with my payment information, whatever coupon code I may be entitled to. The UPC scanners at stores like Target will also read QR codes, so I just want to fire up Passbook in line and be done with it. In this case, the native app is too much of a commitment for me, I just need the Card.

So, whereas mobile apps unbundle in a disruptive manner by often leading to fragmentation, in many cases Passbook Cards could unbundle native apps but, in doing so, also create new opportunities for companies, brands, and developers striving to build larger audiences on mobile in the face of app discovery challenges and distribution challenges. Earlier this week, Urban Airship acquired Tello for its Passbook management tools, and I’ve heard from many enterprising builders around the world who are creating tools and platforms like PassMaker Pro (which empowers merchants to easily create Cards for tickets, coupons, etc.) and PassForce (which can convert information traditionally stored in apps into cards). Tools exist for developers and merchants to create and distribute their own cards, especially through a reliable channel like email.

Given all these possibilities, it seems to me that Passbook is underrated and under-promoted, at least for an Apple product, and not getting the attention it deserves, especially from the majority of app developers, merchants, and brands. Despite my excitement for Passbook, I was surprised to hear that many experienced technology observers and operators weren’t impressed with Apple’s handling of the launch and subsequent lack of marketing of the platform. In only a few months for me, I’ve used it for many store purchases, boarding passes, and movie tickets, and each time it worked flawlessly. I’m waiting for Passbook to completely replace my wallet to include things like ID cards, driver’s licenses, and it feels like it’s just a matter of time before this happens.

Obviously, the shift to mobile devices is the overarching, mega-tectonic technology platform shift of our times. Consumers expect mobile experiences for any and every function or brand. On iOS, native app performance surpasses the experience mobile browsers or other non-native solutions provide, and usually delivers more delight and utility to users, including new functionalities like iOS push notifications. However, apps are hard to discover, oftentimes difficult to navigate, sometimes too heavy, clunky, and slow, and somtimes unnecessarily complex for the everyday consumer. Many users could be more likely to understand how to use Cards and potentially adopt them more rapidly. Cards also help solve the fragmentation problem between customers and merchants. As Cards unbundle certain apps, it gives Apple a powerful bundling opportunity, as well, the chance to control the payment, rewards, and redemption layers of mobile commerce. And, as these Cards can unbundle apps, Passbook ironically affords Apple an attractive bundling opportunity to lock down mobile payments and better connect merchants with their customers at the point of sale.

Photo Credit: kalleboo / Creative Commons Flickr

More TechCrunch

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo