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The dawning of the age of Pass Kit: virtual ID on the iPhone

As iOS 6 gets ready for its Autumn debut, many users look forward to Passbook, Apple's "new way to organize boarding passes, tickets, gift cards, and loyalty cards." It promises to help empty your wallet of a multitude of small items, replacing them with a single iPhone interface. Just flash your phone at your favorite retailers, and you're ready to go.

Or are you?

A bunch of us were chatting this morning in the TUAW back channel about electronic ID and how it works in the real world-- or, more typically, doesn't work. Among us, we use a variety of loyalty and payment solutions including CardStar, Key Ring, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, etc.

One theme holds true: we inevitably end up spending more time rather than less at the check out, as employees laboriously type in our numbers manually into the register.

"They need a special barcode scanner to accept the iPhone payment -- and none of them in my neighborhood have it. They always get annoyed when I show up with my iPhone," one blogger explained. "I keep asking, 'When are you guys getting the scanner?' and they reply 'Sometime next year.' Great."

This blogger's experience isn't true of everyone, of course. Those in big cities often find more retailers that are already equipped to accept electronic payments. "More", here, does not mean "all"; I write from the major metropolitan area of Denver with its inconsistent scattering of scanners. Those in rural areas are often left wanting, especially in name-brand retailers like the afore-mentioned Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts.

My loyalty e-cards have caused no end of annoyance at King Soopers (Colorado grocery store chain), at Qdoba, at Panera, and so forth. I pull out my phone, and the cashier inevitably responds, "Why don't you just tell me your telephone number instead?" You'd think it'd be easy to add a scanner, but it apparently represents a major infrastructure change, one that's coming later rather than sooner.

And that's just taking the major retailers into account. "But they promised that everyone at the Farmer's Market will have a reader!" a wiseacre TUAW editor pointed out. "But Square readers don't fit on stoneware jugs with 'XXX' across the front," replied another.

All of us here deeply want Passbook to work. We're already invested in the idea of e-dentity. But somehow we can't help but feel that we're waiting for a feature that will offer a whole host of electronic identity and payment options we might not actually be able to use in the real world.

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