Featured

Apple Pay Octopus Launching in Hong Kong with iOS 13 and Apple Maps Transit Integration

Octopus Cards Limited officially announced Apple Pay Octopus July 11, 2019

It’s finally happening. Hong Kong iPhone users have waited eagerly for the ubiquitous Octopus transit card to arrive on Apple Pay ever since the first global FeliCa iPhone models were announced in September 2017. They were disappointed when Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) unveiled the first smartphone wallet version of the FeliCa based Octopus as Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay in December 2017, reportedly an exclusive deal. Needless to say, there was no mention of Apple Pay.

After Apple and OCL set things in motion in December 2018 with tests for a tentative Chinese New Year launch but then put things on hold, Hong Kong iPhone users are finally getting their wish: Octopus on Apple Pay will launch in Hong Kong with iOS 13. The iOS 13 beta contains specific Apple Pay Octopus references along with Apple Pay server side references (link now closed) which indicate that OCL is field testing with the latest beta:

Screenshot of live Apple server link JSON code June 25 10:00 am Japan local time, link was terminated by 3 pm

The June 25 code leak forced their hand and OCL officially announced Apple Pay Octopus on July 11 after not answering earlier requests for a comment, the press release promised more details soon:

Suica Similarities
Octopus is based on the same FeliCa technology used for Suica and both cards are very similar. Octopus is used extensively for fast transit and contactless payments of all kinds. According to Wikipedia there are over 33 million Octopus cards in circulation as of 2018 used by 99 per cent of Hong Kong residents. The addition of the Octopus transit payment platform to Apple Pay will drive its adoption in Hong Kong far more than regular credit/debit cards can ever accomplish, as it has in Japan with Apple Pay Suica.

The digital Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay is very similar to Apple Pay Suica, with fast Express Transit-like use and performance, but the setup is a little more user friendly for inbound visitors: a new virtual Octopus card can be created directly in Wallet without using a separate app like SuicaEng or HOP App. You can transfer a plastic Octopus card, but just like Suica and HOP, the plastic card cannot be used after transfer, and the same virtual card can only be used on a single device at a time. The Apple Pay Octopus experience will be the same and Express Transit a given.

Apple Maps Transit Integration
Earlier Apple Pay Octopus reports mentioned Hong Kong Apple Maps Transit launching at the same time. Sources confirmed that Apple Maps Hong Kong transit directions were ready to roll a long time ago but have been held back for a simultaneous release with Apple Pay Octopus. It makes sense for Apple to offer both services as an integrated whole as they did for the Apple Pay Suica launch. If the Japan launch is anything to go by, confirmation won’t come until very late in the beta test cycle, if at all, Transit will simply appear.

Global FeliCa iPhone and Apple Watch
The Apple Pay Octopus device profile will be the same as Suica: iPhone 7/7 Plus purchased in Japan (models A1779/A1785), iPhone 8/8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS/XS Plus, iPhone XR set up with Face ID or Touch ID, and Apple Watch Series 3 and later. There is a chance that iOS 13 will retroactively enable FeliCa for all iPhone 7 models to support the Apple Pay Octopus launch.

The iPhone XS and XR models have the A12 Bionic exclusive Express Transit with power reserve feature that gives users an additional 5 hours of Express Transit use when iPhone in low battery power reserve mode. A12 powered FeliCa performance is also much improved over previous iPhone models. My experience with Apple Pay Suica performance on iPhone XS has been as fast and reliable as plastic Suica with none of the iOS issues of previous iPhone models, performance on iOS 12.3 is stellar. Apple Pay Octopus performance on iPhone XS/XR models will have the same advantages.

Hong Kong iPhone X users need to be aware of the iPhone X NFC hardware problem found on early production devices that causes endless issues with Apple Pay Express Transit. Apple has quietly provided replacement Revision B iPhone X devices for users who experience Express Transit gate errors in Japan and China. Hopefully Apple will offer the same courtesy to Hong Kong iPhone X users who encounter the issue.

The First Transit Platform Business Model
The Hong Kong Octopus card was the first real transit platform (contactless transit and eMoney) that had a tremendous impact on the development of Transit for London (TfL) Oyster card, Opal in Australia and other transit card fare systems around the world. It’s great for Hong Kong users that OCL is expanding the Octopus platform to include more digital wallets. I hope OCL continues to expand both the service on other digital wallets, and the business opportunities. For Apple this is an important opportunity to kick Hong Kong Apple Pay use into high gear and will certainly drive Apple Pay credit/debit card use on the recharge end far more than regular bank card Apple Pay, last but not least it’s a vindication of Apple’s global NFC “it just works” anywhere vision for Apple Pay.


Related Apple Pay Octopus Coverage
Future of Octopus Transit Platform (6-28-2019)
Global NFC on iPhone and Android (7-16-2019)
iPhone 7 FeliCa and Octopus Support (7-18-2019)
FeliCa Dude Detailed Analysis of iPhone 7 FeliCa and Octopus (Reddit 7-19-2019)
Octopus Coming to Apple Pay (Initial coverage from 12-18-2018)

Advertisements

iOS 13 b4 Hong Kong Wallet now mentions ‘Travel Cards’

Apple has not yet officially announced Apple Pay Octopus but the latest iOS 13 beta (developer beta 4/public beta 3) now mentions ‘travel cards’ and ‘public transport’ in the Wallet initial add card screen blurb when the iOS region is set to Hong Kong. You cannot add Octopus yet as that won’t happen until the official release.

No word yet on iPhone 7 and Apple Pay Octopus support, we won’t find out until Apple and OCL announce the officially supported device list, it should be coming soon. Meanwhile FeliCa Dude wrote a very informative Reddit post that definitively covers every facet of iPhone 7 FeliCa support, from Octopus to iOS 13 Core NFC. It’s amazing stuff.

The Mystery of Apple Pay Octopus and iPhone 7 FeliCa Support

There are a few remaining fuzzy spots in the Apple Pay Octopus saga. The story I broke back in December from trusted sources clearly had a Chinese New Year release target. The story went dark but busted wide open again with the Apple Pay JSON server code leak on June 25 that made it absolutely clear Apple Pay Octopus would finally arrive with iOS 13. Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) had no choice but to issue a premature press release stating ‘Apple Pay Octopus is coming, more details soon’ and nothing else.

Why the delay? It clearly was not the Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay exclusivity window that ended in December 2018. We may never know the whole story but I suspect that iPhone 7 FeliCa support is one reason for the delay, but certainly not the only one.

It makes sense for Apple and OCL to release Octopus that can be used on as many Apple devices as possible, the bigger the potential user footprint, the better. Octopus will work on Apple global NFC devices: iPhone 8/X/Apple Watch 3 and later. The important question is how badly do Apple and OCL want to add iPhone 7/Apple Watch 2 to the supported device list?

I previously wrote that Apple announced iOS 13 Core NFC enhanced tag support (FeliCa, etc.) for (all) iPhone 7 devices and later at WWDC19, but this does not sync with Apple Pay Suica device requirements: Apple is telling developers that all iPhone 7 models are good for NFC Read/Write FeliCa but telling customers that only iPhone 7 JP models are good for NFC card emulation FeliCa.

In a later post I quoted FeliCa Dude:

There are millions of NFC-F phones and devices outside Japan. That is because Type A and FeliCa are core requirements for NFC certification. If a phone supports NFC, it supports FeliCa.
What is required to be compatible with most payment terminals in Japan is an Osaifu-Keitai provisioned secure element: that can be a SWP-enabled SIM card (not available yet), the Mobile FeliCa chipset with embedded SE, or an iPhone 7 provisioned for Osaifu-Keitai.
The international iPhone 7s can do basic FeliCa read/write without encryption, because they embed a FeliCa-capable CLF <contactless frontend>. Apple has chosen not to provision them with Osaifu-Keitai keys, probably to avoid paying royalties to FeliCa Networks for each device.

This sparked some fascinating comments from Twitter user Lukas and, lo and behold, the very FeliCa Dude himself, an unexpected and pleasant surprise:

As always, the Dude delivers. Abide in the Dude, his knowledge and keen insight on all things NFC contactless and FeliCa is without peer. In a nutshell this means that OCL could offer Apple Pay Octopus on all iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 devices and add them to the Global NFC Apple device list…but will they? If OCL and Apple can supply the necessary keys in the over the air (OTA) iOS 13 release via the in-house Apple FeliCa keys server, all the better. Either way I think we will find out very soon, possibly as a ‘Apple Pay Octopus coming to Hong Kong’ side mention in the Apple Card release press kit.

Now that the FeliCa Dude has checked in, I hope he can find an appropriate outlet, blog or otherwise, to enlighten us, whatever the occasion. He is a far better writer than I will ever be. I’ve learned a lot from his writings, I know a lot of other people can too. The world needs to hear from the FeliCa Dude, not my cheap imitation.


UPDATE
FeliCa Dude has answered and posted the definitive take of iPhone 7 FeliCa support for all things from Octopus to iOS 13 Core NFC. We own him thanks for taking the time to cover all the angles in such detail.

The crucial section: “In my opinion there are only three reasons that Apple should not be able to bring Octopus emulation to iPhone 7:

  • If they are unable to allocate IDm (card unique ID) values to these non-blessed devices because that process is tangled up with FeliCa Networks
  • If they shot themselves in the foot and disabled their ability to interface their secure element to the FeliCa CLF (contactless frontend) in the PN67V on those non-Japanese iPhone 7 devices because they didn’t see Octopus coming.
  • They don’t feel like supporting iPhone 7 at all, not even the Japanese models: each device has a different generation of secure element, and additional development/testing/certification work may be required for them. This is again a combination of what Apple is willing to do and on which hardware platforms OCL is willing to authorize Octopus to be emulated on. It’s nothing to do with FeliCa Networks or Sony.”

iOS 13 b4 Apple Pay Suica: the wheel that refreshes

The Apple Pay Suica iOS 12.2 UI had one head scratching feature: the pull down refresh in the Suica details window. It didn’t update the balance or transaction information, or appear to do anything at all except twirl. It was a useless mystery wheel that iOS 13 b4 finally solves: it’s for updating the new Shinkansen and Green Car ticket information sections added in the latest beta from Mobile Suica.

These previously existed but only appeared when a user purchased Shinkansen or Green Car eTickets in Suica App. Purchased eTickets are downloaded to the Wallet Suica card for use on JR East Shinkansen lines or Green Car seats for regular trains on JR East and JR Central. It makes sense to add a permanent Tickets section so that users will know where to find and download them before going through the Shinkansen transit gate. I hope we’ll get better notifications too. I think this is also JR East and Apple getting things ready for the new Shinkansen eTicket system and refreshed Suica App due to arrive on April 2020.

There are no other Suica changes in iOS 13 b4. Suica Notification 3D/Haptic Touch shortcuts are still missing and that big useless Suica in-transit notification is still there, useless as ever. Maybe we’ll find the answer to that mystery in the next beta

TEPCO Pulls a Pink Lady

In case you missed the Showa era and ‘The Best Ten‘ tv parade of Japanese pop, you missed a lot of fun. And if you missed the Showa and Pink Lady era, you might be scratching your head while cultural references fly over it watching the latest TEPCO web commercial:

And now here is the real thing…right down to the side feather headband (with apologies to viewers outside of Japan who might not be able to share in the fun…the mini skirts were very mini back then):

An interesting tidbit: the gimmicky Pink Lady choreographed moves were carefully aimed at school kids and a huge success. Pink Lady was far more popular with elementary school kids who were into the dance steps and hand moves than older age groups.

Growing the Global NFC Footprint

One of the challenges facing Hong Kong Octopus Card expansion to digital wallet platforms is the fragmented state of Android hardware and the small footprint of Android global NFC devices. There are lots of devices that can do NFC-F because it is required for NFC certification, but there are far fewer global NFC ‘it just works’ devices. As always Reddit user FelicaDude has the definitive explanation:

There are millions of NFC-F phones and devices outside Japan. That is because Type A and FeliCa are core requirements for NFC certification. If a phone supports NFC, it supports FeliCa.
What is required to be compatible with most payment terminals in Japan is an Osaifu-Keitai provisioned secure element: that can be a SWP-enabled SIM card (not available yet), the Mobile FeliCa chipset with embedded SE, or an iPhone 7 provisioned for Osaifu-Keitai.
The international iPhone 7s can do basic FeliCa read/write without encryption, because they embed a FeliCa-capable CLF <contactless frontend>. Apple has chosen not to provision them with Osaifu-Keitai keys, probably to avoid paying royalties to FeliCa Networks for each device.

The good news for iPhone users is that Apple went global NFC with iPhone 8/X/Apple Watch Series 3 and later by implementing the complete FeliCa secure element (SE) package with keys on the Apple A Series and S Series chips. The important thing to remember is that Apple does this without any dedicated FeliCa chip, it is Apple hardware top to bottom. This means that Hong Kong already has a large footprint of Apple devices ready to use Apple Pay Octopus from day one.

The bad news for Android users is that a similar global NFC packaged Android device doesn’t really exist yet. All-in-one off the shelf global NFC chip packages like the NXP PN81 are new to the market, but the standard practice to date has been adding a dedicated FeliCa chip to a smartphone model only in the markets that need it, like Japan.

The Google Pixel 3 has the global NFC ready NXP PN81 but has not used it for FeliCa support, going with a separate hardware model for Japan. The Pixel 4 leaks so far have not offered any NFC information. The success of Pixel 3 in Japan guarantees that at the very least, Google will offer the same deal: a Pixel 4 FeliCa chip model for Japan.

If Google is smart, Pixel 4 will activate and leverage the entire range of PN81 global NFC functions for all models, or have its own embedded secure element on a Google custom chip similar to what Apple has done. Even with that in place, and even if Google Pay Octopus was a reality, the footprint of Octopus ready Android devices in Hong Kong is far smaller than iPhone and Apple Watch.

The global NFC iPhone and Apple Watch footprint means that lots of people in Hong Kong, or visiting Hong Kong can add Octopus to Apple Pay when iOS 13 arrives this fall. I predict 2 things: Apple Pay Octopus will be as successful in Hong Kong as Apple Pay Suica in Japan, and Apple Pay Octopus launch day will experience a similar stamped of online users that nearly brought down Apple Pay Suica iCloud back in 2016. It will be interesting to see what Octopus Cards Limited does with that success and how it grows the global NFC footprint.

UPDATE
FeliCa Dude has answered and posted the definitive take of iPhone 7 FeliCa support for all things from Octopus to iOS 13 Core NFC. We own him thanks for taking the time to cover all the angles in such detail.