Japanese IT journalist Nobi Hayashi’s recent interview in Pen is a good review of all things Apple Pay Japan. Nobi explains why FeliCa flavored Apple Pay is a good fit for Japan, Suica and Tokyo which he calls “the most advanced payment metropolis there is.”
FeliCa, aka NFC Type F is the fastest of the NFC flavors. The fastest possible transaction speed is critical for stress free public transit. There is nothing else in the world like the JR East Suica and Suica compatible IC transit card infrastructure that can match the speed and quality of service they provide at such massive scale. FeliCa makes that possible.
Nobi also says that worldwide FeliCa support is coming with the next iPhone and anybody can add a Suica card to Apple Pay. As most techies know, Apple uses the same NXP manufactured FeliCa/NFC chip in iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 worldwide but only activates FeliCa for devices sold in Japan. There has been lots of conjecture why but the exact reasons have never been clear.
Apple Pay Region Speed Bumps
Ever notice that when you change the region setting in iOS your device does a soft restart? I suspect one of the many reasons for this is that Apple Pay and the NFC flavor choice (A/B/F) are not dynamic when loading new cards into the system. You must lock down the region first before adding cards to Apple Pay: USA region for USA issued cards, etc. Otherwise they don’t work.
Nobi has excellent contacts. I think he is on to something and the timing makes sense. It’s a combination of converging elements: iOS 11 will probably be more smart and dynamic changing NFC flavors on the fly, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications regulatory mark engraving will be a thing of the past and those fancy new Panasonic NFC JT-R600CR readers that can do it all (NFC A/B/F) are not only going into McDonald‘s they are going everywhere.
The Japanese government hopes to showcase Japan’s payment technology to the world during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. What better way than to have Suica ready FeliCa built into every visitors smartphone. JR East vice chairman Masaki Ogata previously said his company hoped to support “Inbound” customers:
We are putting a lot of effort into supporting inbound (iPhone users). Current support is what you saw announced today, but it would be good to have (Apple Pay) Suica available for inbound users whose numbers are rapidly increasing.
That’s not the only aim however, Japanese companies have lots of FeliCa infrastructure technology and expertise they hope to sell abroad. Seen in that context the purpose of the Apple Pay Japan ad juggernaut becomes clear: Apple Pay becoming a massive success story in Japan helps Japanese companies sell FeliCa expertise abroad.
Apple wins, Japanese companies win. The next iPhone will be important not only to Apple but Japan as well.
Update: FeliCa is used loosely here as Apple uses it when referring to the NCF Type F component of FeliCa based technology used in iPhone 7. NFC-F is the only component of FeliCa technology used by Apple, and along with NFC A/B is a requirement for GCF (Global Certification Forum) certification of NFC devices.