WAON and nanaco coming to Apple Pay

Two of the last big three Apple Pay Japan holdouts are finally coming: AEON announced WAON and Seven & i Holdings announced nanaco for ‘later this year’. These popular prepaid eMoney FeliCa cards have been on Osaifu Keitai and Google Pay for some time. This leaves Rakuten Edy as the last, and largest, Wallet holdout although the iOS Rakuten Edy app recently received an update that supports Apple Pay for physical card recharge.

Despite the uptake of QR Code payment apps such as PayPay, prepaid eMoney cards remain popular and getting them on Apple Pay is an important development. The cards are also more secure: Seven & i Holdings experienced a huge embarrassment when they launched their 7pay QR Code payment service in 2019 that quickly failed due to a security meltdown. Since that disaster they have refocused on nanaco as their in-store payment + loyalty point reward strategy. Currently nanaco has issued 74 million cards, WAON has issued 87 million cards. For comparison Suica has issued 84 million plastic cards and over 14 million Mobile Suica digital cards that includes Apple Pay Suica.

Release details are sparse but it’s safe to assume they are coming after iOS 15 ships (probably 15.1). iOS 15 Wallet includes UI improvements that remove the confusing device region setting requirement and simplify adding transit cards like Suica and non-bank stored value (SV) prepaid cards like WAON and nanaco. As pointed out many times before, all iPhone 8 • Apple Watch 3 and later models support Apple Pay Japan cards thanks to Apple’s global NFC support. The big questions are: (1) Is direct Wallet add card supported that bypasses creating a WAON or nanaco account as part of the digital card issue process on Google Pay? (2) Can physical cards be transferred like Suica and PASMO? None of this is supported on Android.

These and other usability issues have kept these cards from joining Apple Pay. It will be interesting to see if Apple has solved them and persuaded AEON • Seven & i to simplify their digital card issue process to follow the great example set by Apple Pay Suica because that is the high bar: direct Wallet adding with no sign up and open ended Apple Pay recharge. The low bar is the Toyota Wallet app-like model of chaining card issue and recharge functions to a user account app. The cards should support Express Mode as they do for Mobile WAON and Mobile nanaco on Android. The press release Apple Pay WAON image suggests Express Mode, the Apple Pay nanaco image does not, however the dual press announcement does suggest a level of commitment and integration on the Apple Pay side. We’ll see.

Not many of new iOS 15 Wallet goodies announced at WWDC will come to Japan soon with the exception of digital car keys, adding WAON and nanaco now is a smart move that will keep users happy. With all the card possibilities coming to Japan this year, it’s a good thing that iOS 15 ups the Wallet card max limit to 16.