Feb 14, 2013

The obstacles that keep Passbook from thriving in the Netherlands

When Apple introduced iOS 6 last year they also revealed Passbook. A feature to gather digital passes such as membership cards, coupons and tickets in one place on the iPhone. Now, half a year later, Passbook is available on more than 200 million iPhones worldwide and companies such as Starbucks and Lufthansa have embraced the service. The adoption by Dutch companies and consumers has been slow. Why this reluctance and what is yet to come?

To read this article in Dutch, click here.

Making phone calls, sending email, browsing the internet and using applications. Nowadays smartphones offer a wide variety of features and most of all, offer access to loads of information. A smartphone with access to personal information can simplify everyday activities by automatically providing relevant information at a relevant time. Passbook is included as a standard feature in the latest version of iOS and is already available on more than 200 million iPhones worldwide. It provides a central storage for digital membership cards, coupons, tickets and more. Stores, airlines and other companies can develop their own digital passes for Passbook and distribute them through websites, emails or via their iPhone applications.

Moreover, Passbook is connected to the internet and has access to the phone's GPS-location. This allows the content on the passes to be kept up-to-date. Discount coupons are automatically refreshed with the latest offers, a stored boarding pass will always show the correct gate for departure and a membership card includes the actual saved points. Membership cards that are developed for Passbook, are linked to the actual location of the store(s). Passbook will automatically display the card on the lockscreen when the user is nearby. The same ease of use is offered for many other situations, such as a cinema ticket that is automatically displayed when the user enters the cinema. Passbook offers consumers mainly ease, while for businesses Passbook represents a platform for effective communication with their target audience.



Obstacles to overcome

Internationally Passbook has many successful cases, such as the boarding passes by American Airlines, the loyalty card from Starbucks and the ability to receive your Major League Baseball tickets via Passbook.

Despite the advantages, and more then two million iPhone that have Passbook installed, it is having a hard time gaining ground in the Netherlands. Upon the launch of Passbook there has been a lot of confusion amongst users as to how the feature works. The value for companies was unclear, which gave them little incentive to develop passes. This in turn did not give users a clear image of the possibilities of Passbook. The limited availability of passes at launch resulted in only a small number of people that gained familiarity with the feature.

However, this is slowly starting to change. Large ticketing companies such as Paylogic have announced that they will start distributing concert tickets through Passbook. Other examples include the Dutch couponing company Scoupy as well as hotel reservation site Booking.com, who have integrated Passbook into their mobile applications. Furthermore, local companies from all around the country team up on websites such as myPassbook.nl where they present customers with an overview of coupons, discounts and membership cards. Thanks to the websites passkit and passsource, it has become easier for small companies to develop their own passes.

The final and perhaps biggest hurdle is the hardware that is required to read the barcodes on a lot of the digital passes. Most small to medium size stores use 1-dimensional scanners, which are sufficient for regular barcodes. However, the barcodes that are used in Passbook require a 2-dimensional scanner. To circumvent this hardware issue there has been a growing number of applications in both the Android and iPhone app stores, which can be used as 2D scanners. These applications give storeowners the option to use Passbook through a low initial investment.


The development tools are constantly being improved and the possibilities surrounding the Passbook platform are slowly becoming clear to companies and consumers alike. The introduction of a bundled service for the design and distribution of passes as well as the monitoring of campaigns, will make the platform more accessible. Until then it is up to large companies with large budgets to lead the way.

Nevertheless it is still valuable for smaller companies to look into the possibilities of Passbook. Most companies that come up with a good use of Passbook can count on a moderate amount of publicity, being amongst the few in the Dutch market. With more than two million iPhones with Passbook in the Netherlands, and a clear benefit for consumers as well as companies, it is a matter of time before we will see widespread usage of the service. 

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