Starbucks to support Passbook in iOS 6 by end of September

Existing digital Starbucks card for purchases expected to load into Passbook digital wallet

Starbucks said Friday it will update Passbook in iOS 6 at the end of September, presumably meaning it will integrate its existing Starbucks digital payment card into the new app for users to pay for coffee.

In a tweet, the company said: "Updated to iOS 6? Our Passbook update is coming at the end of this month! 00111010 00101001"

The tweet ends with a two-part binary code sequence that translates into a commonplace smiley face emoticon using the colon and a close parenthesis, like this :)

Starbucks couldn't be reached to elaborate on the tweet, but the company has been expected to take advantage of Passbook.

Passbook is a kind of mobile payment app that runs in iOS 6, software which is pre-loaded in the new iPhone 5, the latest Apple smartphone that went on sale Friday and is expected to see record sales.

Starbucks has been using similar technology for more than a year, allowing customers to store money on a Starbucks card that is loaded into a smartphone app available for both iPhone and Android phones. When it's time to buy coffee at a Starbucks, a user simply scans the barcode that appears on his or her smartphone display over an optical reader at Starbucks.

Starbucks said it wanted to use its existing optical readers with barcodes when it started the system, partly because other mobile payment technologies like NFC weren't far enough along with enough NFC-ready phones and NFC-reader terminals in stores.

Apple's approach also uses barcodes on the display of the iPhone 5, which are all activated by using the Passbook app in the phone (and were downloadable to some older iPhones with the iOS 6 update earlier this week).

Inside the Passbook app, Apple has installed separate buttons for four things: boarding passes, tickets, store cards and coupons. There is no button for an actual credit or debit card. So Passbook is not a complete digital wallet, yet, although it can alert users when they reach a set location.

Apple plans to promote Passbook with various airlines and places that require tickets for admission like Major League Baseball games and Fandango-connected movie theaters. Passbook is seen by analysts as Apple's way of gradually moving smartphone users toward digital wallets, starting them off with digital tickets and coupons that have intrinsic value, rather than credit cards linked to a bank account.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

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