6 months after the release of iOS 11 the new NFC switching Apple Pay functionality combined with the global NFC support in iPhone X / iPhone 8 / Apple Watch 3 is driving tremendous change in Japan while creating the most advanced Apple Pay environment that exists for iPhone customers.
As I said before, Japan is the world’s most interesting and diverse contactless payment market:
What’s interesting is that Global FeliCa support in iPhone 8, iPhone X and Apple Watch 3 lets anybody visiting Japan with those devices add Suica to Apple Pay and instantly enjoy the benefits of Japanese FeliCa contactless payments.
Apple Pay in Japan is the only place in the world where you can mix and match FeliCa and (contactless) EMV payments side by side with the same device. That’s astonishing, and lots of fun.
To appreciate the change Apple Pay is bringing to Japan, here’s a look at the Apple Pay environment for Inbound and Outbound global NFC iPhone customers.
The first full year of Apple Pay in Japan drove a large uptake in mobile payments spearheaded by Apple Pay Suica. Japanese iPhone users are magically morphing from Apple Pay paupers into the most sophisticated, diverse and technically advanced set of Apple Pay users that exist, all without doing a single thing except use Apple Pay in Japan… and abroad. A full list of outbound capable Apple Pay Japan issue credit cards is here.
The reason for the transformation is simple, the NFC switching function of iOS 11 Apple Pay seamlessly uses FeliCa networks in Japan and NFC Pay networks abroad for Japanese users without requiring any new payment infrastructure investment. Apple Pay simply utilizes what’s already in place very effectively. NTT Docomo has something like this for Docomo customers but Apple Pay takes it to a whole new global level.
Apple Pay Inbound is a very different situation. NFC Pay support is still limited to ‘Gaijin Ghettos’ (McDonalds, Tokyo Disneyland, IKEA, a few vending machines, and so on). Customer experience is all over the place. The staff at my local McDonalds, none of them Japanese most of them from India, insist in mishmash Japanese English that Mastercard Contactless is not a payment option. Mastercard Contactless is an option of course but explaining that is a hassle. It’s much faster to pay with Apple Pay Suica and be on my way.
Do yourself a favor and put Suica on your global NFC iPhone. Apple Pay Suica neatly sidesteps the NFC Pay infrastructure shortage and liberates every iPhone X / 8 customer. Add money to it with your Apple Pay credit cards from home. It works like magic and the entire Japanese contactless nation is at your command.
Truth be told that Visa, Mastercard and American Express have done almost nothing over the years to promote their NFC Pay contactless services with Japanese merchants, or work together for a better customer checkout experience. Only recently has Visa started to market dual-mode iD/payWave Visa Debit cards via SMBC that do not work with Apple Pay but certainly attempt to compete with it with plastic.
That NFC Pay Infrastructure Problem
McDonalds, convenience stores and other retail empires have the IT and POS backend resources to add NFC Pay support at any time but one problem is the situation for middle tier businesses and smaller merchants. If their business is 99% Japanese, 1% of the customer base is no incentive to upgrade a payment processing system to add NFC Pay when there is no return.
The most important issue holding up NFC Pay support in Japan right now is this: the vast majority of inbound visitors are from China who don’t care about or use NFC Pay, they want QR Payments (WeChat, etc.). Payments infrastructure follows the money so that is why Rakuten Pay, Origami Pay Mizuho Bank and the soon to be released Docomo ‘d Harai’ are investing in QR, not NFC Pay support. These systems are about servicing Chinese visitors, nothing more.
Some people suggest that Japan should junk FeliCa and go all in with NFC Pay and MIFARE. That’s not only ridiculous and solves nothing, it’s a security risk. If there is a lesson to learn from Meltdown and Spector it is that technology diversity is strength. Right? The NFC Forum now requires NFC A-B-F support for smart device global certification anyway, smartphones are quickly evolving to take care of it all. The ‘let’s do everything with NFC A-B’ argument is a moot point.
It’s All About Vision
Japanese enjoy the world’s most diverse and advanced version of Apple Pay thanks to Apple’s iOS 11 advancements and decision to put global NFC in iPhone and Apple Watch. But it is also due to MasterCard, JCB and AMEX card issuers taking care of Japanese customers by providing dual global NFC ID numbers to Apple Pay. This is a fascinating development that points a way forward for all smartphones and platforms combined with global NFC support.
Japanese customers don’t have to do anything except use Apple Pay. iPhone takes care of everything, it just works. Why can’t it ‘just work’ for inbound Apple Pay too? Or other platforms? It doesn’t because credit card companies and issuers don’t really care about customers. They focus on capturing transaction fees rather than working together to improve customer services.
If Mastercard started offering dual global NFC ID numbers to all customers worldwide, I guarantee Visa would add NFC-F to the EMV/NFC spec faster than you could say: cash or charge? When it comes to the credit card industry world standards like EMV are just market share bargaining chips, nothing more. Customer service is a distant concern.
This is why I think transit operators in London, Singapore and NYC are insane allowing direct credit card EMV contactless transactions at the transit gate. Not only does it slow transactions way down, it’s also gives away money and control to credit card operators who do not care about transit customer service or that slow transactions mean overcrowded gates, overcrowded stairs and platforms that impact transit safety.
It’s much smarter for transit operators to keep all the money and control with fast stored value cards, put them on smartphones and limit credit cards to a secondary role with an Apple Pay Suica Recharge approach. Oh, and while you’re at it, build your own retail transaction processing empire a la JR East Suica.
Reimagine New York metropolitan area transit with a Tokyo level of transportation infrastructure and station retail combined with a New York area ‘Suica’ for transit and store purchases. The mass movement of money would rebuild New York’s economic foundation for the next generation. It’s amazing to me that Americans don’t consider themselves important enough to deserve this.
Moving people is moving money. Build a beautiful, attractive and insanely convenient transportation / retail network and people will flock to it showering money.