Passbook. Apple's push towards a centralised coupon aggregator. In anticipation of Apple's announcement of their latest iPhone, which is expected to be NFC-enabled, iOS 6 has been available to developers for quite some time, to allow them to upgrade their apps and adjust to the new features of the upcoming operating system.
One of iOS 6's new features is Passbook, which is Apple's answer to the Android world's NFC implementation, but that doesn't preclude Apple from also incorporating NFC into their devices, they are just simplifying and centralising the tool, and allowing it to work at kernel/system level, to reduce fragmentation.
Apple have commented on what Passbook is, albeit briefly, in their iOS 6 information page:
Your boarding passes, movie tickets, retail vouchers, loyalty cards and more are now all in one place. With Passbook, you can scan your iPhone or iPod touch to check in for a flight, get into a movie and redeem a voucher. You can also see when your vouchers expire, where your concert seats are, and the balance left on that all-important café card. Wake your iPhone or iPod touch, and passes appear on your Lock screen at the appropriate time and place — like when you reach the airport or walk into the store to redeem your gift card or voucher. And if your gate changes after you’ve checked in for your flight, Passbook will even alert you to make sure you’re not relaxing in the wrong terminal.
Essentially, it is not just a passive tool but it tracks where you are and works contextually, so quite smart. Giving developers the API to integrate their existing, and possibly new apps that are geared centrally around this concept, you can go to your regular coffee shop and automatically have your card appear in your locked screen, or if you go to the movies, have your card ready for scanning. Flying? Then if you purchased a ticket and have their app, the ticket will appear as soon as you are near the boarding counter.
Now, with iPhone 5, perhaps we might even see NFC come in, so you don't even have to have the coupon come out and scan, but rather tap your phone. That may or may not be coming, as NFC has indeed taken its time in gaining traction, but if anyone would be able to give it a boost-shot, it would be Apple.
This isn't an answer to Google Wallet solution either, but a first and sturdy start from Apple towards that goal. Perhaps building trust with something less risky, before going the full way. Apple has also gotten some big partners on board, from Starbucks to American Airlines, and no doubt others will be announced in the next week or two, with the imminent release of the new iPhone iteration.
According to Mobilenapps.com,
Passbook's user interface presents the user's personal items in a card-like interface that is updated live as things change. This skeuomorphism (http://en.wikipedia.org/
wiki/Ske...) visual design is very much like the former Square Card Case (How important is Square's new stand-alone Card Case app?) that has been replaced by the “Pay With Square” app. Passbook goes far beyond this concept by being a truly open system that any retailer can use regardless of what payment card company is processing the payment. There will also be a rich feature set of controls that allows the user to finely tune the use of the system covering access to personal data and location information on to prior purchase history.
Companies like Visa and Mastercard could have their debit cards work by allowing you to present a passbook and either scan (or tap if NFC follows), so it does have its merchant possibilities.
Features worth noting
Geolocation. So, as previously noted, the cards you will see in your passbook is geo-sensitive, integrated within the iOS operating system so you will see it in the lock screen, when you are near a participant, ready for you to redeem. So if you are using Melbourne's Myki ticket system for the trams, it could present a passbook for you telling you how much rides you have left, and either an NFC tap or scan with the on-tram scanning system. A tram inspector can also validate your ticket and bring up the passbook with a device of their own that presents an alert.
Contextual Updates. Your passbook isnt passive, it reacts based on location changes, as well as content updates/server pushes, so the server can push an update, such as if a flight gate number has changed, allowing for true publishing.
Integration with other Apple apps. Passbook would work seamlessly with Calendar and Reminders, to allow you to be reminded through those avenues. Purchase a coupon, and it will remind you when it expires on a certain date. Or you can share with a friend a coupon, via a calendar invite.
Mobilenapps.com has a strong view on Apple's approach with this, and whilst we have read about how other banks and merchants have been trying to compete with Google's wallet solution and create their own e-payment system, Apple has taken the most neutral approach. We don't know if Apple will bring NFC but whether they do or don't, it would only complement and not be a necessity for Passbook. It could use the barcode scanning system and leave it up to the participants, or if NFC comes into the next iPhone, allow merchants to choose between either.
The implementation of Passbooks and it's API is as simple as Apple's push API, so it is enticing and easy.
When NFC is released on the next iPhone we will see far deeper integration to retailer’s existing payment systems through NFC readers that are being rapidly deployed at the larger retailers as a part of Visa’s and MasterCards mandate to have a high degree of EMV and NFC acceptance by 2014. There will be financial and liability inducements to merchants to adopt upgrades to the existing payment equipment as nearly 100% of US payment cards will have EMV and NFC by 2014 (http://usa.visa.com/download/mer... and http://www.fastcompany.com/18128...). There is nominal costs of less then $100 for these upgrades for most merchants and in many cases the upgrade will be free. Apple will be at the tip of the spear with NFC integrated into the iPhone just as more NFC systems will be in use at merchants. (Mobilenapps.com)
So, as you can see, this is exciting and the possibilities are limitless. With Siri, as MobilenApps pointed out, we could have someone talk into their phone and remind themselves to give a tip, and it would activate the passbook, or send a passbook gift/coupon to a friend via Siri. We are certainly looking forward to seeing how Apple changes this game and what innovations third party providers come up with to make use of this.