Lawrence I Lerner: What Good Does Apple’s Passbook Offer Us?

Lawrence I Lerner: What Good Does Apple’s Passbook Offer Us?

Digital locker suppliers have the unique opportunity to drive public good over private gain.

Lawrence Lerner, Revolutionary Innovator
  • 3 october 2012

Everything begins with memory. The disruptive 1984 commercial that introduced the first Macintosh computers is just this side of 30. It was heralded as defiance to the Big Brother-like machinations of IBM and its partner the then villainous Microsoft. Are we now beginning to experience that this may have been a subtle and long-term sleeper plot reminiscent of Russian cold-war agents? Or just another reason to bring back “Don’t trust anyone over 30?”

Probably not ;) however the rise of “digital lockers” such as Apple’s Passbook raises some very serious questions. The latest release of Apple’s iconic smartphone came with over 200 upgrades. More gadgetry and “must have” features but the one likely to increase the digital divide is going quietly unnoticed. Apple’s Passbook service is a kind of “digital locker” that stores virtual versions of coupons, tickets, loyalty cards and some documents hint at much more.

With services and infrastructure tailored toward an “empty wallet” lifestyle, Apple, Google and other digital locker suppliers are adding convenience and accessibility to services that exclude those without smartphones. As these services flourish with the ability to influence Retail, Travel (the following patent issued to Apple ‘System and Method for transportation check in’ in July) and more what happens to those without the smartphones when basic services are made inaccessible to those without the latest gadget?

When an empty-wallet lifestyle becomes widespread, what happens to the 70% of the population that doesn’t have them? Healthcare, social security, membership, other basic forms of identification becomes disintermediated by this technology. Personalization and rewards also come at the price of tracking by corporations.

There is a darker aspect to such technology. What happens when it fails or is subject to hacking/terrorist activities? Or if every wallet is an “open wallet” what then? Your location, transactions, friends and general activities are subject to inspection as they travel over a corporate network. Privacy, regardless of promised safeguards is suspect. Millennials and Gen-Z have grown up on technology and learned when and how they want to share. It’s a cultural change for people and corporations, that will take time to adopt widely. While not a trending topic in this year’s election, I propose that by 2016 it will be its own platform.

I’ve lived through the outcomes of technology failing a population. Once upon a time I was responsible for development of a college campus debit card system. Students loaded funds into an account linked to their student id card. Adoption of the “Bear Bucks” debit card was viral. Within six months few people were carrying cash on campus. Then one night the server crashed. It was, then, a state of the art IBM PC based server but had no backup. We hadn’t thought to bring them a spare server given the costs. The head of Student Services called in a panic. With no one carrying cash the bookstore and food services were nearly shutdown. I flew out, replaced the server and life was good again.

Yet all is not darkness. Having easy access to one’s personal medical and financial records is a task 20 years in the making. Creating and formatting the information (known as a data structures) is relatively easy. Developing a public format that consumers, business, government and other interested parties agree upon has been the showstopper. Digital providers such as Amazon, Google and others have the resources and means to build this because the health care industry simply cannot get out of its own way. As an example, the administrative cost of US Healthcare is so severe the government has mandated improvements in the form of Accountable Care. In France, citizens carry health cards implanted with chips so that primary care providers have immediate access to patients personal medical history. Costs are dramatically less than in the US. Developing a clear and understandable format for PIP (Personal Information Privacy) is a well understood (vs. well liked) process in the digital business arena.

Awareness building is the key. By offering Digital Wallets and a well-thought out privacy transformation strategy, digital providers such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have the unique opportunity to drive public good over private gain.


Lawrence I Lerner is a Global Change Agent. He helps find new ways for services and products to be brought to market. The New Normal is change and we’ve helped bring managed transformation to many of the world’s top brands through process re-engineering, business change and technology. Lawrence can be found at, follow him on Twitter @RevInnovator.

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