Japan asks Tim Cook for Digital My Number ID Apple Wallet support, Cook hedges with privacy concerns

Tim Cook’s high profile public visit to Japan closed on a high point: a sit-down with Prime Minister Kishida. Media reports of their discussion at the time were vague, as usual, but one item did pop up, PM Kishida asked Tim to get the Digital My Number ID (Individual Number Card) on Apple Wallet. Apple has been ‘in discussions’ with Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) since at least 2020. The Android version of Digital My Number card was due to launch in 2022 but is now set to launch on 2023-05-11, this after many delays.

This is what so many so called “tech reporters” neglect to say when they criticize Apple as being ‘closed’, implying that Apple is causing the launch delay: how can we expect it to work on iPhone Wallet when the MIC can’t even get it working on ‘open’ Osaifu Keitai Android? As previously outlined, I think we can expect Digital My Number in the iOS 17 cycle later (much later) in the cycle rather than launch time, though we could see a mention at the September 2023 Apple Event. Late spring or early summer 2024, say WWDC24, should be the best timing for My Number ID card in Wallet. There is one little problem however…

All bets are off if Japan tries to force Apple into ‘opening’ iPhone to 3rd party app stores; we can forget about My Number ID in Wallet. That’s the card Tim Cook played with PM Kishida at the climax conclusion of his and Greg Joswiak’s week long, hastily cooked, Japan PR tour that smelled of self-interest instead of sincerity. The sudden love-fest visit after years of taking the Japan market for granted was a setup. MacRumors Juli Clover covers the bases of the situation outlined in the Nikkei report who quote the usual unnamed sources. Nikkei’s last big story of 2022 fit nicely with the ‘Apple doesn’t want to put digital My Number ID iPhone’ narrative they pushed throughout the year. It will be interesting watching the choices the Japanese government makes in 2023: digital My Number ID in Wallet, or 3rd party app stores. Apple has made it clear that Japan can’t have it both ways.

Previous coverage: Digital My Number on track for Android 2022 launch, Apple Wallet due in 2023
The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) digital version of My Number Card (Individual Number Card) is on track to launch in 2022 (October-ish?). The latest MIC Work Group PDF document has a full outline of the digital My Number system and the various services the Japanese government plans to link with it. In late 2020 MIC said they were ‘in discussions’ with Apple to bring digital My Number to Wallet and this has not changed. Nikkei reporter Mayumi Hirosawa saw a chance to grab some eyeballs and published, The My Number iPhone Wall, a typical Nikkei ‘article’ of lazy, subjective, puerile observations angled as big bad Apple, but nothing new.

Meanwhile Yasuhiro Koyama’s online article on Keitai Watch is far more interesting and informative. MIC official Takashi Uekariya, the goto My Number digital guy, says the MIC and Apple are ‘working hard’ to bring digital My Number to Apple Pay Wallet, and that because Apple locks down new iOS features far in advance, timing wise it looks like iOS 17 in fall 2023 is the likely target for My Number on Apple Wallet. It would be nice though if Apple could surprise us later on in the iOS 16 release cycle, always good to raise the bar and deliver above expectations.

Looking at the larger picture, MIC documentation clearly states that My Number digital card requires a GlobalPlatform embedded Secure Element (GPSE) device, and that except for a small amount of SIM Free Android junk, most smartphones sold in Japan (both Apple and Android) are GPSE certified. An interesting sidelight is that ‘FeliCa chip’ Osaifu Keitai Android devices will support My Number NFC-B transactions. Going forward that means nobody in Japan will buy a device without a GPSE that doesn’t support My Number digital card and the associated banking services that will link to it. Kiss HCE goodbye.

2023-03-10 UPDATE: Digital Honcho Taro Kono confirmed that Digital My Number ID for Android launches May 11.