Is there any doubt remaining that Apple wants total control over the way you integrate your life with their devices? If you think the answer is yes, perhaps now is a good time to start looking into the details of PassBook, a key feature of iOS6 and part of the expected iPhone 5 release this week. PassBook is a digital wallet for all sorts of things, including event tickets, loyalty programs and airline boarding passes. This last bit seems to be rather significant, with Apple poised to best pretty much every airline-specific mobile app available today. And they’ll do it for many airlines all at once.
So what makes PassBook boarding passes special? Mostly the tight integration with other iPhone functions. If the GPS detects you arriving at an airport it can pop up the current boarding pass without user interaction. Flight changed to a different terminal? Expect an alert that you’re sitting in the wrong place. Departure time approaching? The boarding pass will pop up again; perhaps it is time to close out that bar tab and head to the gate.
Of course, these features aren’t worth much if the airlines don’t play along. And many of them have invested heavily in building up their own, dedicated apps to handle mobile boarding passes and more. Will they cede control of this functionality to Apple? It seems the answer is a resounding yes.
American Airlines announced they will support the platform, arguably the most significant buy-in given their previous policies on not allowing 3rd parties access to passenger information.United Airlines has also signed on to support PassBook and there are strong indications that Delta will be supporting it as well. Leading the pack (likely by accident) is Virgin Australia.
A passenger flying the carrier last week happened to be running a beta version of iOS6 and when checking in for his flight was prompted to store the data in PassBook. It worked just fine for him, from check-in through boarding. Following that disclosure Virgin Australia confirmed that they will be supporting the platform. It seems likely that other carriers will quickly follow suit.
Yes, many airlines have dedicated apps and some of them are pretty good. But for the core functionality – mobile boarding passes – it seems that they are all about to be pushed aside by the 800-pound gorilla in the room. If the Apple version weren’t so much better than the others there might be more objections to this encroachment; as it is most folks seem quite excited by the move.