Where will the SE be in Pixel 3?

The Google Pay Japan release was very interesting. Nobody expected Google to ditch HCE-F and simply put an new candy wrapper around the tired UI of the reliable Osaifu Keitai Mobile FeliCa standard that has been around since the dawn of mobile payments. Everybody complained but didn’t bother to ask the essential question: why would Google ditch their own Android API unless they have plans for something else.

Now that Android 9 Pie with Google’s take of the Open Mobile API for NFC payments is going out to all Pixel users, what’s in store for embedded secure elements and Google Pay? Google says that

Android 9 adds an implementation of the GlobalPlatform Open Mobile API to Android. On supported devices, apps can use the OMAPI API to access secure elements (SE) to enable smart card payments and other secure services. A hardware abstraction layer (HAL) provides the underlying API for enumerating the variety of secure elements (eSE, UICC, and others) available.

A variety of SE? For who? For Android OEM’s probably but not Pixel. HCE-F is dead so one assumes the SE on the cloud approach for Google Pixel is probably dead too. We can also assume that the SE on the SIM approach is dead. This leaves eSE on the chip for Google Pixel going forward. If Google is investing in their own IC it makes sense to have their own eSE and implement all the middleware on it (EMV, FeliCa, etc.), just like Apple. In other words will Pixel 3 be Global FeliCa without the Osaifu Keitai architecture.

It’s a great way to differentiate Google Pixel hardware from the Android jungle. This way Google Pixel can do real Global FeliCa and more with Google Pay and leave everybody else struggling with Google Pay lite because they don’t have their own custom eSE and middleware solution or don’t want to license Osaifu Keitai for global Android smartphone models.

If Google chooses this path it might work out well for Pixel but the downside is that Android OEM’s will ignore Google Pay and promote their own digital wallet platforms instead. You can’t have cake and eat it too but Google will always try.

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