Ben Clews, a programmer at Essential Travel and a technology enthusiast, got the new iPhone 5, as one does, and noticed the new Passbook app. Out of frustration and curiosity he at once set out to find ways that the Essential Travel team could leverage this with our car parking products and in what ways it could benefit our customers. Read Ben's review on the Passbook, going digital and how it'll work for you.
The Beginning of Passbook
Like most developers, I’m always interested to see what new technology can be used for, and the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system (or iOS6 to the random string-of-letters-and-numbers lovers out there) is no exception.
One of the more visible of the purported hundreds of new features is Passbook. This is Apple’s digital equivalent to carrying around endless vouchers, store cards, event tickets and boarding passes, without adding to the bulge of your wallet or straining the seams of your purse. It’s a great idea - essentially storing a collection of scannable barcodes on your phone for quick access (some of you may already be using something like it, such as the Starbucks app, which replaces your loyalty card), but Passbook is still relatively new and as a result not many businesses have switched to supporting it yet.
The first thing that surprised me about Passbook passes is that they aren't just for users of Apple devices. If you install the right app (free, as I understand it), they’ll work just as well on an Android phone too. The second thing that surprised me about it is that they can be installed from just a link on a webpage or as an email attachment - no special Essential Travel app required.
The Technical Stuff
As with most things new, detailed information about it is a little thin on the ground at this stage - even Apple’s documentation on the structure of a pass, albeit typically thorough, doesn't seem to offer any real world examples. Fortunately, there are already some enterprising third parties offering pass creation services online for those who want to get up and running with virtually no programming required. For those of us who want to get our hands dirty, this was a goldmine of free example passes to play around with and learn from.
Undoubtedly the biggest hurdle was in authenticating the pass (basically telling your phone this pass was lovingly crafted by us alone and won’t do anything undesirable to it). On an Apple Mac this is a pretty straightforward process and there are many explanations of the process online, but on a Windows PC this is a whole other kettle of highly pernickety fish. But in the interests of keeping this a quick read, I’ll spare you the agonising details.
Finally, when everything was done and dusted we were able to produce clean, beautiful passes after just two days of development - testament to how simple Apple has made the pass creation process.
The benefits of our passes become evident as soon as you add your first one to your phone - and I’m not just talking about no longer needing to carry around a print off of your confirmation email (and that seemingly obligatory second page with nothing but a footer and date stamp on it). For example, upon approaching the car park, customers will see an alert about their pass pop up on their phone’s lock screen, thereby ensuring that the pass is there when they need it. And for those car parks that support QR code scanning, you only need have your phone screen scanned and you’ll be on your way.
Another benefit of going digital is that the vital details you need about your car park do so much more than a paper version ever could. Of course, we have the arrival and departure instructions and everything you've already come to expect in the confirmation email on the back of the pass, but what about if you need to call the car park? Go to the back of the pass, click on the phone number and your phone is dialing. Need to see where the car park is? Go to the back of the pass, click on the postcode and your phone will locate the car park in your maps app.
From a developer’s point of view, these things are all great because they happen automatically without any additional programming required. From a user's point of view, they’re great because they work the same way as everything else does on your phone, so if you can use your phone you can use passes. As for the future of passes, the sky’s the limit - I can’t wait to see what else we can do with them to make your trip simpler and more stress-free.
See our Step-by-Step Guide for using Passbook / PassWalletmore blog posts