Thoughts on the Apple Pay ICOCA launch

Yesterday’s Apple Pay ICOCA launch followed a well established pattern: a widely used Japanese transit card launches on Apple Pay but Apple completely underestimates the demand and Apple Pay servers buckle under a crush of stampeding iPhone users transferring plastic cards to Wallet. By 4:30 pm Japan Standard Time, Apple Pay stopped working, bringing down recharge and other card services for Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, nanaco, WAON and Octopus in Hong Kong for 2 hours. Apple’s system status page listed the Apple Pay and Wallet outage as affecting all users.

The strange thing is that nobody outside of Asia seemed to notice any of it, not the ICOCA launch, not the Apple Pay outage. Nada. No one seems to care anymore. The era of fun, sexy Apple Pay service launches died in 2020, a victim of the COVID pandemic with people scared out of their minds transit ridership vanished into thin air. It’s still recovering.

New Wallet features and ID cards still get some press and social media attention in American these days, but Wallet ID’s are not sexy. Airport security lines are not sexy. State bureaucracy issued driver’s licenses are not sexy. EU deliberations to pull the wings off of Apple Pay are not sexy. VISA slamming the door on foreign issue card use for Apple Pay Suica and PASMO is most certainly not sexy.

Can you believe that Apple Pay will be 10 years old next year (2024)? It has come a long way but we hardly notice. Apple Pay is bigger and better than ever and we take it for granted. We don’t care about getting in the Apple Pay car anymore, we only care about one thing: “are we there yet?” Wherever ‘there’ is, is tricky though, the desired destination, and priorities, are different for different countries.

And yet in Japan this morning, there are people on social media who are delighted they can put ICOCA on iPhone and be on their way through the transit gate. We aren’t there yet but once in a while it’s nice to sit back and enjoy the journey a little.