Urban Airship Acquires PassTools Maker Tello to Turn Passbook Loyalty Cards And Vouchers Into Dynamic “Apps”

Mobile push notifications provider Urban Airship has acquired Tello. Tello began as a consumer ratings and customer service mobile app/product. But much more recently the company introduced a product called PassTools.

PassTools makes it easy for publishers and app developers to create coupons, tickets and loyalty cards for Passbook. It offers simple templates, analytics and an API. Passbook of course is Apple’s mobile wallet.

Tello CEO Joe Beninato now becomes Urban Airship’s GM of Digital Wallet. Previously, Urban Airship bought SimpleGEO’s assets and used them to launch a very interesting and precise geofenced alerts and notifications product.

Since PassTools was introduced in September, “[the] product has seen rapid adoption . . . with thousands of customers including local businesses, retailers, professional sports teams and wireless carriers creating tens of thousands of passes to date,” according to Urban Airship’s press release.

So why is this acquisition interesting and what are the broader implications? It’s interesting primarily for two reasons:

  • By simplifying the process PassTools is helping to ramp up general Apple Passbook adoption by enterprises, SMBs, retailers and brands
  • Urban Airship’s notifications added to Passbook loyalty cards and coupons makes them into mini-apps that have new dynamic functionality and capabilities

The public is still a bit foggy on Passbook and what it’s used for. However where it is being used by retailers and others it’s having success. Companies such as Fandango, Sephora and Walgreens, among others, are using it. Sephora for example saw 75,000 loyalty cards added to Passbook in the first five days after the launch of iOS 6.

Passbook generates a 2D barcode or QR code that must be scanned, so there are still some “infrastructure” issues and barriers to the total mainstreaming of Passbook. But among the various mobile wallets out there it has the most immediate shot at mainstream success.

Looking a bit into the near-term future, once an Urban Airship enabled card/voucher is added to Passbook it would enable geofenced alerts, including all the related functionality the company offers through its existing notifications tools. And rather than simply be a static coupon or loyalty card a Passbook coupon could then send out dynamic notifications.

As mentioned, it effectively becomes a mini-app. A Passbook loyalty card or voucher could thus notify an iPhone user of new deals or nearby offers. Marketers would need only to get consumers to download a single coupon that could then be dynamically updated.

What’s even more interesting, the Urban Airship capabilities could enable marketers to substitute “Passbook apps” for full-blown mobile apps. This could be especially effective for small businesses. How might this work?

A business without a mobile app could simply create a mobile loyalty card or “persistent coupon” via PassTools. (There are a range of ways, including email, SMS and otherwise to get users to add something to Passbook, removing some of the barriers to mobile app  discovery and downloads.) Notifications might then be used to push alerts to customers based on location or otherwise. Marketers wouldn’t necessarily need to develop a full-blown app. The dynamic Passobook voucher or loyalty card would enable dynamic app-like interaction with the consumer.

Companies could use notifications-enabled “Passbook apps” to test out consumer reactions to promotions or more generally explore the viability of a broader mobile app prior to investing in one. There are many interesting scenarios that the combination of Urban Airship’s notifications with PassTools-created Passbook “apps” starts to make possible.

For many marketers a notifications-enabled “Passbook app” (loyalty card, coupon) might be just as effective or even more effective than a full-blown mobile app. That’s what’s potentially radical about this acquisition and the combination of these capabilities.

Related Topics: Apple: iOS | Apple: iPhone | Channel: Mobile Marketing | Mobile Marketing | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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