Why Passbook is actually 200 million times better than NFC, today and for the next 4 years
I was watching a video of a panel of tech commentators after the iPhone launch (techcrunch) and a comment by one of them made it clear to me why Apple developed Passbook, why they have yet to integrate NFC, and why those choices are the "right" ones as of 2012.
The overarching benefit of Passbook is the absence of any hardware requirements (other than iOS 6 support). This means that, rather than having to play chicken and egg games with adoption and support of hardware (both on the consumer and retail ends), in about 2 weeks time, there will instantly be a pool of maybe 200 million smartphone owners who will begin to be able to take advantage of simplified payment and identification technologies. Rather than only make the functionality available to the few millions who would have become owners of NFC-capable iPhones, they have allowed legacy hardware users access to something (arguably) similar. Additionally, the barrier to entry for retail support is considerably lower, as there is already the hardware requirements in place (IR scanners and loyalty cards) to make near frictionless adoption of Passbook support a no-brainer.
The choice to not integrate NFC also speaks to the question of its longevity. Sure, if Apple hopped on the NFC train this year, they may have helped "push" the technology by adoption, but it still would not be grounded by the necessary support of the infrastructure. Much like Visual Voicemail, it would be useless if your carrier did not support it. And if it turns out to be a stillborn technology, it will be a black eye to those companies who sold it as a feature.
Without turning this into a thesis, between the benefits of providing a new capability to an existing userbase of a couple of million endusers and the uncertainty of adopting a fledgling technology, I am starting to think that Apple may have made the best compromise at the present time.
That is not to say that I don't look forward to the march of technological evolution, I just can't deny the importance of doing so in a methodical manner.