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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Wish List: Passbook for everything

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.


I’d consider myself an early adopter of Passbook. When the feature debuted back in iOS 6, I took every opportunity to find apps that supported it and try them out. It’s now been years since I had to print out a plane boarding pass or movie ticket.

But, to my dismay, my wallet is still full of cards. And it’s not just the credit and debit cards1, but the occasionally used cards that I have to carry around with me. My health insurance cards, my library card, public transit cards for at least three cities. While I could swap cards in and out of my wallet only when I expect to use them, the annoyance factor of not having them and needing them keeps me toting a slightly beefy billfold.

Apple Pay’s a pretty good system when it comes to those payment cards, but it would be great if Apple allowed us to more easily digitize cards that use either a barcode–as my library card does–or an RFID chip of the sort in my transit cards.2

Not all of this responsibility is on Apple, of course; third parties can offer Passbook integration in their own apps, and some have already done so. AAA, for example, lets me add my ID card to Passbook via its app, meaning I don’t have to carry it around anymore. But there are plenty of places, such as my local library, that seem unlikely to develop their own apps; a system that let me scan barcodes from my library card or the key tag I use for my gym would save me a lot of trouble.3

Honestly, just the ability to scan barcodes or even simply take a picture of a card, much in the same way that Apple Pay can identify a card using the iPhone’s camera, would let me remove four or five cards from my wallet. A few states are already looking at providing ways to get your driver’s license on your phone, too.

At this point, I’m still a little wary of using my phone as a full-fledged replacement for my wallet. What if it runs out of juice? What if I drop it and the screen becomes unusable? These are the kind of things you don’t have to worry about with a conventional wallet. Then again, there are advantages, too: If my phone gets stolen, it’s a lot harder to pull my private information out of it than it is from my wallet.

Honestly, all I want is to get to the point where I can leave my house without my wallet for convenience–say, if I go for a run–or where I don’t have to freak out if I accidentally forget my wallet at home. We’re getting closer by the year, but we’re not quite there yet.

  1. Apple Pay is great, but there are way too many places that don’t take it to forego my plastic credit cards. 
  2. I believe this Stack Overflow thread suggests that the NFC chip in the 6/6 Plus can’t be used to read RFID tags off other cards meaning that you couldn’t clone your transit card. However, were there API access to the NFC chip–which, again, presently there is not–you could theoretically use your iPhone as an NFC/RFID card, as Apple Pay does. But yes, I understand, a lot of ‘ifs’ here. 
  3. There are sites that will let you build your own Passbook passes, but they’re not really targeted at the average consumer and my attempts with them have been underwhelming. Your mileage may vary. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]

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