The new iPhone software, iOS6, includes something called Passbook. It's Apple's new e-voucher system which could pave the way the NFC and mobile payments.
What is Passport?
Passbook acts as an digital wallet for holding electronic tickets, voucher and loyalty cards. Instead of presenting your piece of paper you simply flash your phone at a scanner, which can be another iGadget.
Big names such as Virgin Australia, United Airlines and Starbucks have signed up to use Passbook, but it's open to any business.
How can my business use Passport?
One practical use for Passbook is to manage membership cards or to run loyalty programs, such as getting every tenth coffee for free.
Passbook's location-aware features mean that the Pass will automatically pop up on an iPhone's lock screen when the customer walks in the door. It's not only convenient for customers, it can also help businesses avoid the expense of printing physical cards.
So what do I do next?
But there are a few technical hurdles to overcome, so you might tackle Passbook yourself or you might look to the range of new Passbook brokers.
Firstly you need an Apple developer account, which costs $99 per year. Apple providers plenty of assistance to Passbook developers, but a little bit of programming knowledge is required to create Passes using the JSON data format.
It's not beyond the reach of a small businesses, although if you don't have a lot of in-house technical skills you might consider turning to a broker, such as PassRocket and Passk.it.
Brokers such as PassRocket will offer a free iOS app which lets you design your customer loyalty cards and enter the details for the card. The app can also scan customers' Passes when they present their iPhone, or as a printed barcodes. Pricing varies, with PassRocket charging 99 cents as an in-app purchase for templates when designing new cards. Apart from that the service is free "within reasonable usage - up to 500 scans per day".
Once you've designed your card, PassRocket sends you a link to your card which you can share with customers. They can open the link on their iPhone running iOS6 and download the card into their Passbook. PassRocket can also supply the backend servers required to support dynamic Passes which update on the fly.
Next, when customers are in your shop, they will always have the loyalty card with them, as long as they have their iPhone. The PassRocket site says
that you scan it to give them a discount (if that's what your card offers).
The best thing about Passbook is that it's free to use and Apple doesn't rule it with an iron fist as it does the app store. So it's easy for small businesses to dip their toe in the water to see what Pasbook can offer their business as well as their customers.