Maps, Shmaps: Passbook Will Be Remembered as the Real Story for iOS6

In all the excitement over the iPhone5 and iOS6, we’ve covered a few of its main points here including the mobile local angle, Maps Snafu, and its implications for app developers. On all counts, we’re releasing a report this week that dives a bit deeper.

Additionally, my monthly Search Engine Watch column recently published about Passbook. Though Apple Maps has gotten most of the press attention, Passbook will end up being the more impactful product of iOS6 — especially for local.

Over the past week this has come into light even more with Valpak’s app update, which ties into Passbook. Some of Passbook’s true utility can start to be seen through this integration, and we’ll see more as app developers latch onto Passbook’s versatile functionality.

The column excerpt is below and you can click through to read the entire thing. This will continue to be a core area of coverage and commentary for us.

Last month, we covered the now well-known “Mapgate” snafu in Apple’s iOS 6. Though this has lots of important implications for mobile local search (and for Google), it overshadowed other impactful features of the operating system.

Chief among these is Passbook. Though it has gotten a nod from tech media and analyst corps, there’s still a fair amount of confusion about its value and utility. This is particularly true at early stages, before there are legions of apps that demonstrate its capability.

At a basic level, Passbook organizes digital loyalty cards, gift cards, tickets, and mobile payment standards. Unlike other standalone solutions, its advantages lie in its central position at the OS level, and its SDK for developers to build Passbook functionality into their apps.

Walgreens, for example, allows users searching within its app to tie their rewards cards to Passbook. They can redeem promotions by opening the Passbook app at the point of sale, and follow written instructions for store clerks to scan the barcode that displays on their phone.

This ties into Walgreens’ existing system of deal distribution and POS redemption in its own branded app and rewards card. The only difference is that users can now also choose use them through Passbook which is more of a “one-stop-shop” to keep all their digital collateral.

This unification is increasingly relevant in a fragmented app marketplace where “app fatigue” tempers growth for individual app developers. Tying into Passbook allows them more distribution through Apple’s centralized on-deck platform.

And many others are taking advantage including Starbucks (stored value cards), United (ticketing) and Target (loyalty). Meanwhile third parties are joining Passbook such as Gyft, to tap into a long tail opportunity for gift card exchange.

Bringing all of this together makes Passbook a mini app store in itself. And like the App Store it will only be as good as the third party developer ecosystem that builds around it. Out of the gate, it isn’t so special, but its utility is only starting to be shown.

In that way, what Passbook becomes a year from now will be vastly more robust and useful than what it is today. That will include its stated uses like ticketing, loyalty cards, and stored value cards — but new categories will also emerge.

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