Apple’s introduction of Passbook in iOS 6, an app that gathers loyalty cards, boarding passes, event tickets and coupons into a single virtual home, is sure to expedite the growth of digital gift cards.

While the majority of the discussion in mobile payments swirling around banks, credit card companies, phone providers and web-centric or social web companies, the true keys to adoption will be found in coupling of consumer and merchant benefits associated with digital gifts.

The ability to deliver a gift card to a mobile device instantly and have it work from the phone is rapidly expanding the utility of the traditional gift card. What was once a solution for gifting is now frequently leveraged as promotional or incentives tools. Many of the hottest mobile applications launched in recent years leverage a digital gift card. Groupon’s “Now!”, Wrapp’s gifts, Viggle’s rewards and Shopkick’s “kicks” all rely on the digital delivery of a promotional card that can be redeemed at a merchant’s point of sale.

Allowing a promotional card to persist from the iPhone’s Passbook makes the user experience even that much more appealing. With millions of digital gift cards already in circulation, eGift Cards may be a gateway to full mobile payments.

But in order to see it happen, here are a few things that iOS developers must know as they prepare to deliver digital gift cards and pass them in to Apple’s Passbook:

  1. Leveraging the functionality a consumer will expect, like checking a balance or reloading a gift card, requires a connection to the merchant’s gift card processing platform. Don’t count on Passbook for this.
  2. The presentation of a digital card requires a merchant’s consent. Don’t count on being able to make it look any way you wish.
  3. There are plenty of consumer protection laws to be aware of, most notably the need to clearly communicate terms and conditions.
  4. If the card needs to work from more than an iPhone, consider SMS delivery, email delivery and changing look and feel of the card based on the device the card is being viewed from (i.e. allow a consumer to print a physical version of the card).

Smartphones have already replaced our point and shoot cameras, clunky GPS devices, and outdated restaurant review guides. Consider what they can do for our wallets.

A working version of a mobile wallet will someday lead to consumers leaving the physical version of their wallet at home. And with it a new ecosystem of services and opportunities will emerge.

David Nelsen is the CEO and founder of Giftango, which focuses on electronic gift card delivery. Giftango will also be participating in the Money2020 conference next month, which includes participation from Google, PayPal, American Express, and others.  

Photo: Heather Kelly/VentureBeat

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