I’ve always said the iPhone 9/SE2 hits the iPhone sweet spot in Asia, especially now. An affordable entry level device with face mask friendly Touch ID and Bionic powered global NFC: Express Cards with power reserve and Background NFC tag reading. It was almost a year ago when Jennifer Bailey unveiled NFC Tag Apple Pay. Steve Moser of MacRumors tweeted the essential features: tap and Apple Pay without an app or signing up for an account. Apple has not said a word since.
I think part of the problem for Apple is pictured in the slides accompanying Moser’s tweet, the ‘Pay with Apple Pay in app’ one. The allure of background NFC tag reading is that it’s almost ‘Express card lite’; as long as the screen is on, even locked, iPhone natively reads a NFC tag and does something like activate loaded and ready Apple Pay. The trouble is, only Bionic chip iPhone models do this. Non-Bionic iPhone models have to use an app to read NFC tags. Think quick, would you fire up an app, sign in, and read a NFC tag just to buy cheap coffee? Probably not.
My take is the entry level non-Bionic iPhone 8 is holding up NFC Tag Apple Pay. Apple Pay needs the entire iPhone lineup to be Bionic and app free, an entry level A13 Bionic iPhone 9/SE2 solves this problem. It’s a perfect iPhone for the Japanese market in these face mask mandatory times where Face ID doesn’t work, and a nice match for the recently announced JCB NFC tag payment service that uses SmartPlate software. It probably won’t have a U1 chip that would let iPhone 9/SE2 have a longer service life as UWB Touchless joins NFC in iOS 14 Apple Pay. Nevertheless iPhone 9/SE2 with Bionic NFC will be more than ample, it will do very well.
Update: one thing I forgot to mention is the Sign in with Apple requirement that goes hand in hand with Background NFC tag reading. The current deadline is June 30.
It’s that time of year again to look into the WWDC crystal ball and see what changes might be in store for iOS 14 Apple Pay. 2019 was an exciting year with the important Core NFC Read-Write additions for ISO 7816, ISO 15693, FeliCa, and MIFARE tags. Since then we’ve seen iOS apps add support for contactless passports, drivers licenses, retail and manufacturer vicinity NFC tags, transit ticketing, badging, and more. Some expectations ended up on the cutting room floor. The NFC tag Apple Pay feature that Jennifer Bailey showed back in May 2019 has yet to appear. Apple Pay Ventra and Octopus transit services slated for 2019 and iOS 13 failed to launch, as of this writing, still delayed.
Going the distance The NFC standard has been around a long time, long before smartphones, conceived when everything was built around close proximity read write physical IC cards. The standards have served us very well. So why are NTT Docomo and Sony (Mobile FeliCa) and NXP (MIFARE) adding Ultra Wide Band + Bluetooth into the mix?
Ultra Wide Band + Bluetooth delivers Touchless: a hands free keep smartphone in pocket experience for unlocking a car door, walking through a transit gate or paying for takeout while sitting in the drive thru. It’s the same combo that powers Apple AirTags. UWB Touchless delivers distance with accuracy doing away with “you’re holding it wrong” close proximity hit areas necessary when using NFC. With Touchless your iPhone is essentially a big AirTag to the reader,
For Apple Pay Wallet cards it means hands free Express Card door access, Suica Express transit gate access and payments that ‘just work’ by walking up to a scan area or car. As Junya Suzuki pointed out recently, UWB Touchless is passive compared to the active NFC ‘touch to the reader’ gesture and will live on smartphones, not on plastic cards. Those will remain limited to NFC which does not require a battery.
Secure Element evolution and digital key sharing The addition of UWB Touchless however means that the secure element, where transaction keys are kept and applets perform their magic, has to change. Up until now the secure element worked hand in glove with the NFC controller to make sure communications between the reader are secure and encrypted. For this reason embedded secure elements (eSE) usually reside on the NFC controller chip.
Apple chose to put a Global Platform certified Apple Pay eSE in their own A/S series chips. The arrangement gives Apple more control and flexibility, such as the ability to update secure element applets and implement features like global NFC. The addition of UWB Touchless in FeliCa and MIFARE means both smartphone and readers need new hardware and software. Apple already has UWB in the U1 chip on iPhone 11. Mobile FeliCa software support could be coming with the next generation ‘Super Suica’ release in the spring of 2021 that requires updated FeliCa.
The arrival of UWB Touchless signals another change in the Secure Element as shown in middle CarKey screen image: digital key sharing via the cloud where the master key on the smartphone devices ‘blesses’ and revokes shared keys. Mobile FeliCa Digital key sharing with FeliCa cards and devices was demonstrated at the Docomo Open House in January, also outlined in the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCR) Digital Key White Paper. An interesting aspect of the CCR Digital Key architecture is the platform neutrality, any Secure Element provider (FeliCa, MIFARE, etc.) can plug into it. Calypso could join the party but I don’t see EMV moving to add UWB Touchless because it requires a battery. EMV will probably stick with battery free NFC and plastic cards.
The QR Code Equation There is another possible eSE change for Apple Pay. A few weeks ago a reader asked for some thoughts regarding the AliPay on iOS 14 Apple Pay rumor with a link to some screen/mockup images on the LIHKG site. Before getting to that it’s helpful to review some key Apple Pay Wallet features for payment cards: (1) Direct Face/Touch ID authentication and payment at the reader, (2) Device contained transactions without a network connection, (3) Ability to set a main card for Apple Pay use.
The images suggest a possible scenario implementing AliPay in iOS 14 Apple Pay:
AliPay has a PassKit API method to add a ‘QR Card’ to Wallet.
Wallet QR Card set as the main card is directly activated with a button double-click for Face/Touch ID authentication and dynamic QR Code payment generation in Apple Pay.
Direct static QR Code reads activate AliPay Apple Pay payment.
If Apple is adding AliPay to the ranks of top tier Wallet payment cards, they have to provide a way in. The new “PKSecureElementPass” PassKit framework addition in iOS 13.4 could be just that. Instead of PassKit NFC Certificates, the additions suggest a Secure Element Pass/certificate. Secure Element Certificates instead of NFC Certificates. The burning question here is does AliPay have a Secure Element Java Card applet performing transactions with keys and without a network connection? If so we have QR Wallet payment cards. Direct Apple Pay Wallet QR integration would open up things for 3rd party (non bank) payment players. QR integration might also help Apple skirt NFC monopoly allegations that got Apple Pay in trouble the Swiss government.
Dual Mode and flexible front ends The addition of QR and UWB with NFC for payments opens up a long term possibility suggested by Toyota Wallet. The current app lets the user attach a QR code app payment method and/or a NFC Wallet payment method to an account. It’s intriguing but clunky. Wallet QR Payment support would allow Toyota Wallet to move the entire payment front end to Wallet and let the user choose to add one or both.
It’s the latter that interests me most. Instead of having separate NFC and QR payment cards from the same issuer for the same account, I’d much rather have one adaptive Wallet card that smartly uses the appropriate protocol, QR, NFC, UWB for the payment at hand. Capable, flexible, smart. This is what digital wallets should do, things that plastic can never achieve. Let’s hope Apple Pay Wallet makes it there someday.
Many Japanese companies have implemented telework or flex time during the COVID-19 crisis so that employees can avoid Tokyo rush hour. My office has shorter hours so I take a later train. Tokyo train commuting has become a little surreal over the past week. Seats are actually available on the inner Yamanote line from Shinjuku before 9.
Most people wear face masks and don’t talk on the train but masks are still in short supply at the local drug store. I have to line up before store hours to get a box. Fortunately my partner, a doctor, bought hand sanitizer and mask sanitizer back in January before supplies disappeared. I use, and re-use 2 face masks with mask sanitizer and also have carry spray bottle of ethanol for hands. I don’t touch anything if at all possible, I lean on something instead, but the hand spray comes out the moment I go out the transit gate. There’s also my regulation hand wash and gargle routine when getting to the office, or returning home. I recommend Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch if that’s a commute option, it removes the necessity of touching the iPhone.
If you have to commute for work like me, I suggest dressing on the warm side or have a scarf handy. Dressing for a comfortable commute is always a challenge but most cars now have a window or two open for good ventilation. On the Tokyu Ikegami line the staff are opening half the car windows 5 cm or so. It can be quite chilly even with the heat on.
I’m not exactly sure when Siri added Japan Transit directions, but it didn’t work 3 weeks ago. I had basically given up hope on this Apple Maps wish list item, but had some free time today to kill with Apple Watch and viola. Transit directions. Transit is tricky because place names, especially Japanese place names and directions, depend on the context. For example when I asked iPhone Siri for the ‘next train to Gotanda’, I got a few route options to a place in Iwate prefecture. When I asked for the ‘next train to Gotanda station‘, iPhone Siri got it right. Apple Watch Siri however got it right every time.
Based on Siri tests in JP language mode so far, it seems like a solid service addition that users will find useful. I suspect it will be a very nice fit with AirPods Pro and will give it the noisy station acid test. It will be interesting to see online reactions and analysis from Japanese users. It will also be interesting to see if or when Apple announces transit directions for Siri. Traffic has been showing for months in Apple Maps Japan with no official listing on the iOS feature availability page.
The iOS 13.4 update adds a few interesting UI tweaks to Wallet and Suica. On the performance front iOS 13.4 Apple Pay Suica is the same level of stability we’ve seen on every release since iOS 12.3. The UI for Suica commuter pass has changed slightly with more detail in a separate window-let just below Suica balance/recharge. The commute pass renew button is gone too, but I’m pretty sure it re-appears during the 2 week renew period. I’ll update when confirmed.
I missed a change in the beta: the JP Wallet blurb has been updated slightly too. The Suica mention has been replaced with a generic ‘Transit IC card’. This change is very interesting in light of the recent Mobile PASMO Android release. It could be a sign that Mobile PASMO will be coming to Apple Pay before iOS 14….whenever that is.
Update: some readers have questioned whether this is just a change to bring different region Wallet blurbs in line with each other. Apple Pay Wallet for Hong Kong, for example, added ‘Travel Cards” in iOS 13.0 even though Apple Pay Octopus has yet to appear. But region differences are still there: transit IC cards, travel cards, transit cards. Suica has massive brand recognition in Japan. Apple has leveraged the Suica brand at every opportunity and would not swap it for generic wording lightly, not without a very good reason: more transit IC cards. There is also timing. Mobile PASMO started service March 18, just as iOS 13.4 GM was going out to developers. If it was just a text change, Apple would have done this earlier with the iOS 13.0 debut.