Passbook redux: Amazon copies Apple's underwhelming digital wallet
Amazon has released a beta version of a wallet application meant to give Android users an easy way to manage their gift cards, loyalty cards, and payment information without having to worry about painfully analog tasks like carrying a physical wallet around or remembering where a gift card is. The unimaginatively-named Amazon Wallet will be pre-installed on the company's Fire Phone when it's released later this week, and can also be installed on other Android smartphones, too.
The first version of this application seems like little more than a check-box Amazon needed to mark off before releasing its first smartphone. It is a lot like Apple's Passbook, an application pre-installed on all new iPhones, in that it serves as an organizational tool that can be used to corral many different cards into one place without offering any additional functionality -- it's literally a digital version of physical wallets, which are useful but hardly innovative in any way.
I had high hopes for Passbook when it was first announced. As I wrote way back in June 2012:
While it’s just speculation at this point, I can see Apple’s Passbook replacing a physical wallet. By allowing developers to connect to a number of APIs and baking support for a variety of cards and services directly into the application, Apple can capitalize developers’ love of the platform to quickly expand to serve, well, the entire iPhone market. Ignoring the credit card may be the key to replacing the wallet.That never happened. Since that post was written, I've added one thing (a fake coupon I made to test another service) to my Passbook, despite my hopes for the application. The most common use case for most users, according entirely to my anecdotal observation, would seem to be airline live event tickets. If some critical articles from the New York Times describing the problems that columnists and normal people alike have with digital wallets are any indication, I'm not alone in my disappointment in them. Despite its best intentions, I doubt that Amazon Wallet will fare any better than its forebears.
Still, it seems that Amazon has loftier expectations for its wallet application than Apple had for Passbook. As TechCrunch notes in its report on Amazon Wallet's release and its potential:
Amazon’s payments plans have for a long time included targeting its merchant customer base, including when they engage in offline, local commerce. These plans stretch back several years, in fact, though we haven’t yet seen Amazon take those final steps into the world of offline commerce. But with its new Fire Phone, which can scan and identify physical products and match them up with online inventory, the company is now taking steps to connect its web-based and mobile services to the products – and apparently, soon, the payments – in the real world.In that sense, I suppose Amazon Wallet could have a more interesting future than Passbook. But I've been burned by a digital wallet's supposed aspirations before, and this time I think that it would be better to expect nothing from this new application. That way I won't have to be disappointed when it doesn't go anywhere and I'm still carrying around some plastic slabs in a frayed leather wallet in a few years, or can be pleasantly surprised when that isn't the case.