4 mobile technologies Apple and Google need to get right

Amid talk of new features for the iPhone 5S and Galaxy S IV, let's not forget the iOS and Android capabilities that must be improved now

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3. Reimagine Passbook as a true mobile wallet -- or get serious about Google Wallet
Apple's Passbook app is intriguing conceptually as a repository of tickets, coupons, and other formerly paper-based transaction documents. But in real-world usage, it's weak. Sure, having one app to open to get to receipts and loyalty card IDs is mildly convenient, but opening the app for the vendor in question is more natural. For example, opening the Walgreens app to present your loyalty card is an obvious action; ditto with a United Airlines boarding pass or Apple Store receipt.

The limitations of Passbook to essentially static transaction documents has frustrated Starbucks customers who hoped it would work more like the Starbucks app's payment card feature -- which it should.

Passbook would make a lot more sense if it could replace your wallet. We all know smartphones will do that one day; California in 2013 now allows smartphones to be used to display proof of insurance for drivers, for example. Passbook can help it along. The Photos app in iOS (like the Gallery app in Android) handles your favorite wallet photos and gives you access to many more via iCloud's Photo Stream feature. But the rest of the wallet is open territory for mobile conversion.

The key missing component for Passbook is money, both cash and credit. If Passbook were connected to your banks and credit cards, much as the iTunes Store is, it could handle all but actual cash transactions -- just like Google Wallet on Android. Better would be support for other intermediate payment processors like PayPal and Square that (along with iTunes, Amazon.com, and Google Play) are front ends to a collection of the usual debit and credit cards.

The next step would be to use something like NFC (à la Google Wallet) so that Passbook could work with other stored-payment systems such as transit cards that don't use bar codes or QR codes as Passbook now does; the Square app does the same for its mobile payments. At some point, your driver's license, health insurance card, building access cards (now being tested on Android and BlackBerry devices), and other such IDs could be made available via Passbook or Google Wallet. Maybe passports would be included one day.

Unlike a physical wallet, a digital wallet that's been lost or stolen is easily locked or wiped, and its assets can be moved to a new device by logging in via the Web. The use of a password for the money aspects of the digital wallet should be mandatory, which the banks and credit processors could require.

I've mentioned Google Wallet a few times. It has executed many of the concepts already, but has limited availability thanks both to minimal support by Android device makers and to cellular carriers that have blocked its use even on devices as they try to foist their Isis payment system on users. By contrast, Apple's Passbook is on all iOS 6-based iPhones (though not iPads), and carriers can't block it, so it has critical-mass possibilities. Google Wallet, if ported to iOS and made standard on all Android devices, could be what Passbook should be -- especially if it integrated tickets like Passbook. Once the wallet app is so capable, it would make sense for tickets to move from their vendors apps.

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