Octopus Card Coming to Apple Pay

UPDATE: Apple Pay Octopus is coming with iOS 13

Note: Older Octopus coverage (December 2018~March 2019) has been merged here


It’s exactly a year since the Hong Kong Smart Octopus card launched on Samsung Pay. And just like last year, rumors are flying again before a launch, this time on Apple Pay. We will know in the next few weeks. It may arrive in tandem with a iOS 12.x update though last years launch on Samsung was a quick and low key ‘what? it’s here?’ affair.

Global FeliCa has been standard on all iPhone and Apple Watch models since 2017 and the device use profile will certainly match what Apple support lists for Suica:

  • An Apple Watch Series 2 (purchased in Japan), Apple Watch Series 3, or Apple Watch Series 4
  • An iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus (purchased in Japan), iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, or iPhone XR

The process for adding cards will be slightly different from Suica and closer to Apple Pay China Transit Cards for Beijing and Shanghai: new cards can be created in Apple Pay Wallet and plastic cards can be transferred, but just like Suica, plastic Octopus cards cannot be used after being transferred.

A lot of iPhone users in Hong Kong have been waiting for Octopus on Apple Pay since the debut of global FeliCa iPhone, it will certainly be a welcome addition.

UPDATE
Hong Kong transit directions will also be added to Apple Maps with the Apple Pay Octopus launch. They will be integrated similar to Japanese transit in Apple Maps that notifies insufficient Suica Express Card balance for on route transit fare.

Apple Maps Transit integrates Apple Pay Suica information

More Apple Pay Octopus

I assumed the previous post would be ignored in the end of year rush period. However the timing perfectly coincided with an Octopus Cards Limited press conference where the CEO demurred any Octopus tie-up with Apple and the post got much more attention than I ever anticipated. Obviously there are lots of iPhone users in Hong Kong who want Apple Pay Octopus. A few readers were confused by the situation and asked for some clarification.

First of all the source who correctly predicted last years Smart Octopus on Samsung Pay launch tipped me about the Apple Pay launch. That in itself was enough for me but here’s the thing: Even if the information is wrong, if Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) is serious about expanding Octopus use on digital wallet platforms, taking the next step of getting Octopus on Apple Pay is the only way to achieve that.

Digital Wallets like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay are the most tightly integrated NFC software and hardware digital wallet platforms out there with integrated FeliCa, but Apple is the only one to implement the necessary Secure Element on their own A Series/S Series hardware with FeliCa Networks keys, and sell the package globally. All the major NFC technologies are standard on Apple Pay: NFC A-B-F, EMV, FeliCa, MIFARE, VAS.

Octopus on Google Pay might look nice on paper but it can’t achieve anything of scale yet because of the highly fragmented nature of Android: to date hardware manufacturers have yet to produce an answer to Apple’s global FeliCa iPhone and Apple Watch, even though everybody’s smartphone has a NFC A-B-F chip. Not even Google has pulled it off. Huawei says they are planning to add global Felica but it will take time.

OCL is playing coy because majority shareholder Hong Kong MTR has added QR Codes and EMV contactless to the transit gate mix removing the exclusive Octopus Card franchise, but the technology and market politics don’t mesh. On one hand you have a fast, established and ‘open’ in-house contactless payment system (as in anybody can buy a plastic Octopus card and ride) basically run by public transit companies. On the other hand you have slow and ‘closed’ contactless payment systems (as in only people with certified credit cards and bank accounts can ride) run by major outside credit/debit network companies chipping off money from both customers and transit companies.

In this context putting Octopus on Apple Pay isn’t just adding a card to a digital wallet platform, it is also a statement of who ultimately controls, operates and benefits from the public transit gates. It’s more about market politics than technology, in other words another battle in the contactless payment turf wars. The outcome will be fascinating to watch but determines whether Octopus will remain a great transit payment platform for Hong Kong with a future, or not.


Apple Pay Octopus and the iOS 12.1.3 Release Window

JR East posted a special maintenance schedule this month for Mobile Suica on 1/15, 1/22 and 1/28. The work appears concentrated on the Suica Recharge backend which hopefully points to improved Apple Pay Suica Recharge performance.

I think it also points to something else: a iOS 12.1.3 release with Apple Pay Octopus/Hong Kong transit directions for Apple Maps service around January 29 Cupertino time, early am January 30 in Hong Kong. The timing fits with a full beta test cycle wrap up but more importantly it fits as a kickoff for the Chinese New Year vacation period, good news for an important market to Tim Cook who desperately needs some good news right now.

Go for it Tim! It will undoubtedly help Apple sell more global FeliCa iPhones because Octopus on Apple Pay is a great marketing angle for the iPhone XR/XS models with Express Card power reserve and bulletproofed FeliCa performance. I have yet to experience a single Apple Pay Suica gate error from my iPhone XS with daily use since the launch date.

UPDATE
It occurred to me after posting the above that Apple has introduced transit cards and the technology behind them with larger point releases: iOS 10.1 for Suica (FeliCa) and iOS 11.3 for Beijing and Shanghai Transit cards (Apple flavored PBOC 2.0 ED/EP). In this scenario iOS 12.2 is the logical starting point for Octopus on Apple Pay. However, Octopus is FeliCa which has been part of Apple Pay for over 2 years, Apple has ample engineering and testing experience with the technology to add Octopus with a smaller point release, or none at all which was the case with contactless student ID cards.

The original source reports pointed to an end of January rollout, now that iOS 12.1.3 is released we will see how it plays out between now and iOS 12.2. Considering the Apple Pay Suica launch meltdown on iOS 10.1 update day, Apple would be wise to launch on a quiet network day as Apple Pay Octopus day 1 user additions will far outstrip any regular credit card Apple Pay rollout, the use profile for prepaid transit cards is very different.


Updated Smart Octopus Samsung Pay Image Hints at Apple Pay Octopus Launch

Samsung has updated their Smart Octopus on Samsung Pay advertising. The tag line used to read “only on Samsung Pay,” the updated tag reads “First Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay”. The Samsung Pay Smart Octopus exclusive window is over. I think we are getting very close to a Apple Pay Octopus launch possibly coming with the iOS 12.1.3 update.


Someday We’ll Be Together

iOS 12.2 beta 6 has dropped with no sign of Apple Pay Octopus from beta code spelunkers like Guilherme Rambo. A source close to the Cupertino mothership also indicated the situation in Hong Kong is “complex.”

Live by the rumor and pay the price, it looks like the story sources and my judgement were wrong: Octopus won’t be on Apple Pay when the OS 12.2 update is released at the March 25 Apple Special Event Octopus Cards Limited and Apple were originally planning an Apple Pay Octopus rollout for Chinese New Year but for some reason it was postponed. Nevertheless, I stand by what I wrote back in December:

Octopus on Apple Pay isn’t just adding a card to a digital wallet platform, it is also a statement of who ultimately controls, operates and benefits from the public transit gates… The outcome will be fascinating to watch but determines whether Octopus will remain a great transit payment platform for Hong Kong with a future, or not.

I also have a new prediction that we’ll see Apple Pay Octopus with the iOS 13 release this fall. Take it for what it’s worth, but I feel confident that we can celebrate some good news in September.

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