itunes pass

Apple today has launched an interesting new service for iTunes Store, App Store, and iBookstore users in Japan with iPhones and iPod touches. The new service, called iTunes Pass (no, not that iTunes Pass), allows users to go to an Apple Store in Japan, purchase credit in-store for the iTunes Store, App Store, and iBookstore, and have that money immediately applied to the Apple ID account instead of needing to receive a gift card and enter a redemption code…

To substitute for a physical gift card, iTunes Pass installs a new pass inside of the iOS Passbook application. The Apple Store employee can scan the pass in order to immediately apply the credit to the Apple account. Users can install the iTunes Pass feature in Passbook on the main screen in the iPhone iTunes Store app. Apple previously opened up the ability for Apple Store gift cards to be stored in Passbook as well as WWDC tickets for its developer conference and iTunes Festival tickets for its free concert series. Here’s Apple’s description of the service, machine translated from Japanese into English:

Use the iTunes Pass, you can now deposit directly to the account of the App Store or iTunes Store you. Go to the iTunes Store in the iOS device you have, if you tap “Use iTunes Card / Code” button and scroll down, you can get the iTunes Pass. 3 Please tell specialist that then, the Apple Store near you, you want to deposit into account. When you open the iTunes Pass from the Passbook, specialists will scan it, and accepts the payment. Balance is updated on the fly, available immediately.

This move by Apple is significant in multiple ways, including for paper conservation and the future of mobile payments. The ability for Apple to add iTunes credit to user accounts via a quick scan of a Passbook pass will likely reduce the amount of physical materials needed to produce gift cards. Second, this feature could be a hint at Apple’s mobile payments plan. Sources previously told us that Apple is readying an iTunes-based mobile payments service that would integrate with Touch ID and Passbook. Apple Stores rolling out the ability to apply credits to iTunes accounts could be the first practice run for such functionality.

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While the feature is launching in Japan today, Apple has not yet indicated if the function is planned to come to other countries in the future. Apple rarely launches significant initiatives in just a single region outside of the United States, so perhaps a larger rollout with more countries is not far behind. Another possibility is that Apple is using Japan as a test country for this feature as the region is a major market for Apple, but one with only nine Apple retail stores. Apple has approximately 400 other locations outside of Japan.