Apple Pay WAON and nanaco e-Money cards launch in Japan

First announced as ‘coming later this year’ in August, Apple Pay WAON and Apple Pay nanaco launched today October 21 JST. The popular prepaid e-Money cards are two of the last big three holdouts that have been on Osaifu Keitai mobile phones for some time: 2005 for Edy (now Rakuten Edy), 2007 for WAON, 2011 for nanaco. Google Pay support for all three was added in 2018.

Basic features
Apple Pay WAON and nanaco require iPhone 8 or later running iOS 15, Apple Watch 3 or later running watchOS 8 and Apple ID set up for two-factor authentication. The cards are similar to rechargeable Suica and PASMO however there is one important difference: they do not support Express Mode and require Face • Touch ID when making payments.

Earlier this year I predicted these cards would be added with apps, not directly in Wallet but was only half right. AEON and nanaco released apps today for adding / transferring WAON and nanaco to iOS 15 Wallet that require account registration. However: WAON supports direct Wallet adding without an app, both WAON and nanaco support plastic card transfers directly in Wallet. It’s the same process as transferring Suica and PASMO cards: enter the last 4 digits of the card and birthdate then read the card.

This is big and also an Apple Pay exclusive as plastic transfers are not supported on Osaifu Keitai • Google Pay. Once a physical card has been transferred it cannot be used, just like Suica and PASMO. Mobile card migration from Android devices is also possible via the apps. Card creation is ‘free’ compared to the ¥300 deposit for plastic cards bought at stores but plastic card transfers to Wallet do not refund the deposit, unlike Suica and PASMO which refund the plastic card deposit automatically to the balance.

Remote WAON recharge with Apple Watch Family Sharing
Even so, plastic card transfer is a very important point for younger users (Apple Pay in Japan can be used ages 13 and above) to load cards into iPhone and recharge with cash instead of credit cards. There is a unique feature of Apple Pay WAON when used with Apple Watch Family Sharing: remote recharge. This was demonstrated at the Apple Pay WAON launch media event and appears to be very similar to Apple Pay Family Sharing via Apple Cash using Messages. This is a first and unique to Apple Pay WAON. I’ve pointed out that Suica would greatly benefit from just such a feature.

Users outside of Japan report they can add WAON directly in iOS 15 Wallet with foreign issue credit/debit cards. Overall I’d say WAON delivers a full set of user friendly forward looking features (direct Wallet add, remote recharge) on Apple Pay while nanaco is conservative, lacks focus and vision.

What took so long?
One reason it has taken so long for WAON and nanaco to join Apple Pay despite the ability to do so since the introduction of FeliCa capable iPhone 7 in 2016, is the account creation process for mobile. Unlike their anonymous plastic siblings that anybody can buy at convenience stores, mobile WAON and mobile nanaco on Android require a cumbersome registration process for adding these cards in Google Pay Wallet. This is something Apple didn’t want to do. I’m sure Apple had to do a lot of negotiating with AEON and Seven & i Holdings to get them on board with the plan but the benefits are obvious: user privacy when adding WAON, and the huge number of plastic WAON and nanaco cards out there. Those cards finally have a migration path to mobile and it is iPhone.

But why now? The Japanese mobile payments market has been on a migratory path since the release of Apple Pay in 2016 which pulled all the various FeliCa payment threads into one slick and convenient service. This development, plus the VISA JP/SMBC feud with NTT Docomo, created an opening for code payment platforms wannabes with every tom, dick, yoko and harry creating their own ‘〇〇 Pay’ service and app.

Seven & i Holdings crashed and burned with their 7Pay disaster, meanwhile AEON launched AEON Pay code payments in August with the iAEON app that follows the Toyota Wallet model. That model is what every Japanese payment player is aiming for: a virtual financial service account with multiple payment options: NFC payment cards, code payments, reward points and so on, that lock users to their economic zone of choice (Rakuten Point, NTT docomo dPoint, SoftBank PayPay, WAON Point, etc.)

So the old reliable plastic e-Money cards are being repositioned as one payment option of many in sleek modern digital swiss army payment apps. To make this strategy work, the cards needed to be on Apple Pay. Unfortunately the very long delay getting WAON and nanaco on Apple Pay means they are less important now than if they had launched back in 2016 along with Suica. People always lay any delay blame on Apple and transaction fees, but my take is the account sign-up for mobile part and user privacy was the major sticking point. On the nanaco side, the 7pay code payment fiasco was also a major distraction as they planned to ditch the JCB managed nanaco card for their in-house QR.

As always it will be interesting to see how the situation evolves. One thing for sure, it’s only a question of time before the last holdout Rakuten Edy comes to Apple Pay…’if’ is no longer an option.


Apple Pay WAON / nanaco gallery