Multi-device provisioning iOS 17 Wallet kills off Suica 2-step for good

The Apple support pages for adding transit cards and e-Money cards has a completely new updated section for transferring cards to a new iPhone: iOS 17 Setup Assistant automatically transfers the cards for you, there is also a completely new section to transfer cards manually in Wallet app.

The pre-iOS 17 way to transfer cards is very different. Transfer is manual only, Setup Assistant does not move transit cards automatically, and in Wallet app you have to remove the transit (or e-Money card) from the old device first, before it will appear in Previous Cards ready to be added to the new device.

In iOS 17 Wallet the first thing you see is all the cards on your other devices, a paired Apple Watch or the old iPhone if you are setting up new iPhone Wallet:

This is multi-device provisioning, a new iOS 17 Wallet feature that Apple isn’t promoting very much because all the action happens behind the scenes. Make no mistake though, this is a game changer because it eliminates a whole mountain range of confusion when transferring stored value cards. Stored value cards keep the balance on the card itself so they can only exist on a single device. The truth is in the card, not the cloud.

This has caused a lot of confusion and frustration over the years for Apple Pay Suica users who assumed that Suica cards work like credit cards, then panicked when they upgraded to a new iPhone with Quick Start Setup Assistant only to find that Suica was not on the new iPhone. This is gone now because iOS 17 Wallet multi-device provisioning makes everything automatic and easy: it transfers the card you want to transfer and “removes” it from the other device, except that it “leaves” an empty place holder card on the old device. No deletion necessary. The old Suica 2-step is officially dead. From the Apple support page fine print: “Once transfer is complete, the previous card will remain visible in the Wallet app with an indication that the card can’t be used.”

Let’s take a look as I move a PASMO card from Apple Watch to iPhone:

As you can see the transfer is completed with PASMO now in iPhone Wallet but the PASMO card is also on the Apple Watch Wallet listed as ‘Unavailable’. If you look in Apple Watch Wallet you see this:

This is where it really gets interesting. Don’t remove the unavailable card. Leave it there and transfer it back from iPhone, voila PASMO is back on Apple Watch. The same PASMO card on iPhone is still there as ‘This card cannot be used’. Remove or leave it. Either way is fine. Think of it as a decorative place holder that can be re-filled with the real card contents at any time.

If you hanker for the old way of removing a card when transferring to or from Apple Watch, Watch app still offers it in Wallet and Apple Pay settings, tap ‘Add’ in the ‘Other Cards On Your iPhone’ section.

So there you have it. Multi-device provision powered iOS 17 Wallet changes a lot of things: Setup Assistant automatically takes care of transferring Suica, PASMO, Octopus, China T-Union, Clipper, etc. to a new iPhone. This is likely another benefit of Apple dropping support for non older power reserve embedded secure element (eSE) iPhone models in iOS 17. It’s what power reserve eSE v2 iPhone XS and later can do that older models can’t. Wallet is far more flexible and seamless dealing with multiple devices. Users probably won’t see much difference but tech support folks have had a huge load taken off their hands. This is Apple making the Wallet user experience, already the best out there, a far better one.

NFC VAS done right: Pi-xcels NFC background tag read powered e-receipts

In the traditional Buddhist cosmos there are sub-human hells of suffering: fighting demons, hungry ghosts, terrifying animals and so on. In the human realm we create our own hells. QR code payment app checkout stress, is one of them.

We’ve all experienced checkout stress, that unfunny comedy routine when someone at the head of the line launches a QR code app in a store network challenged environment, digging around for a discount coupon that they have to login for, of course. Finally ready to pay, the Frankenstein QR code + NFC combo reader spits out a read error…the checkout staffer says, “You’re holding it wrong,” and so it goes.

As much as QR + NFC all in one readers have evolved, the integrated POS systems that drive the entire checkout experience for merchant and customer alike are less than ideal. Checkout stress never goes away. But why QR when we have all those NFC based payment solutions, didn’t NFC supposedly win the contactless payment wars?

It comes down to VAS, Value Added Services, the catch all phrase for post payment goodies: time limited store coupons, store reward points, cash-back rebates and so on. Easy VAS is one of the big reasons why QR code payment apps (PayPay, Rakuten Pay, dPay, etc.) took off in Japan despite all the faster card payment NFC infrastructure. When it comes to store checkout, people care less about speed, more about rewards and coupons. It’s cheaper and easier to do VAS customization when it doesn’t dependent on card company payment networks. Smaller merchants using prepackaged POS systems (AirPay, RakutenPay, Square, etc) don’t have an easy way to incorporate customized NFC VAS services.

NFC Failures
The industry is littered with failed attempts to extend NFC functionality beyond its core success with smart-cards and payments: NFC peer to peer never took off, NFC VAS never took off, Apple’s App Clips attempt to leverage NFC background tag reading into a easy ‘tap, order, pay’ experience has also been a spectacular failure.

Apple VAS Developer page
Apple VAS in action at LAWSON where all receipts are paper and usually tossed.

NFC VAS has a very high bar to achieve what’s illustrated on the Apple VAS Developer page for a POS system like LAWSON self-checkout in the above video. There is POS system software integration, hardware certification, and Apple Pay contactless pass development. These are the choke points of NFC VAS: the high level of integration required to make it work. Only stores with deep IT pockets can afford this level of resources which is why LAWSON is the only Japanese store chain to support Apple VAS for dPoint and PONTA point cards when paying with Apple Pay.

Fortunately there is an NFC solution for easy entry level VAS: Pi-xcels NFC digital e-receipts. You might be asking yourself, e-receipts, are you serious? Don’t laugh, it’s hard to create a fast and easy user experience that works seamlessly across different devices. Pi-xcels Founder Daniel Lim and Co-founder Chua Zhen Rong demonstrated their NFC e-receipt solution to me recently. It was impressive. Fast performance and a simple ‘it just works’ user experience. The only thing they needed for the demo was 2 mobile devices, an iPhone and an Android OS based mobile Ingenico AXIUM DX8000 NFC reader.

One of the easiest ways to do VAS is paper receipts with QR coupon store specials. It’s low tech but reliable. Anyone can use them. This is why LAWSON uses them all the time despite having a fancy POS system with NFC VAS. The only problem with any paper coupon is losing them, in a pants pocket, the uncharted depths of a bag, the ‘I know it’s here somewhere’ checkout comedy routine. Digital e-receipts are always on your device.

The Pi-xcels e-receipt seamlessly zips to the users iPhone immediately after the Apple Pay ding with a background tag read notification (iPhone XS and later). Tap the notification and Safari immediately loads the e-receipt. It’s a quick, clever use of NFC background tag read that App Clips promised but never delivered, that safely puts receipts on the user’s device. How does Pi-xcels achieve this?

Pi-xcels NFC background tag read e-receipts in action

NFC background tag read done right
Pi-xcels does this by prepackaging NFC VAS integration. They license their technology to the NFC reader manufacturer so that the e-receipt function is part of the basic reader software menu. It’s the prepackaged integration that NFC VAS has lacked when competing with flexible QR code apps.

They achieve fast performance by cleverly leveraging offline embedded secure element transaction processing while the OS is free to go online to process the e-receipt, add points, generate barcode coupons, etc., all the post transaction extras to be incorporated in the NFC NDEF tag read/write.

To me the genius stroke is how they use NFC background tag reading. The power of background tag reading is that it’s automatic with one condition: the screen must on to be automatic. In the case of iPhone Apple Pay, the screen is on and unlocked for transaction authorization, so the background tag read is instantaneous and seamlessly takes the user to e-receipt download with a tap. If App Clips had delivered this ‘it just works’ focused, simple user experience, it could have been a hit instead of a dud.

Security is a given as there is a secure wall between what goes on with the NFC payment transaction process handled by the secure element, and the e-receipt NFC tag read/write process handled by the OS. They are separate processes. Lim says they plan to incorporate point reward post-transaction processing for showing points on receipts and/or launching the relevant app with the same seamless speed seen in the video. Pi-xcels technology works across all NFC flavors: A-B-F. There is a lot more that can add without losing the key elements of focused simplicity and speed.

Ingenico is the first licensee and Lim says they expect to announce other NFC reader manufacturer licensees soon, major players in the Japanese market. He said, “We think we can stitch up most of the market.” He may be right. The Pi-xcels strategy is keenly focused on the entire mobile payments experience. Imagine the potential for e-receipts when Tap to Pay on iPhone launches in Japan as expected in late 2023~early 2024. Tap to Pay on iPhone POS solution providers with Pi-xcels technology integrated in the mobile POS software would let smaller merchants easily add NFC VAS at checkout.

If Pi-xcels can execute their licensee agreements as planned, I think they stand a good chance of stitching up the Japanese market. There is no competition for the flexibility and ease of e-receipts that double as a QR code coupon VAS delivery vehicle. It’s an excellent fit with how Japanese customers use barcodes and QR for coupons and reward points at checkout. It finally brings the advantages of inexpensive QR VAS with simple prepackaged mobile based NFC VAS integration for small merchants without deep IT pockets. The Pi-xcels strategy of building a mobile based NFC digital receipt platform is simply, NFC VAS ‘for the rest of us’.

Move Suica and other transit or e-Money cards to new iPhone (updated for iOS 17)

Apple Pay transit cards (Suica, PASMO, and ICOCA) and e-Money cards (WAON and nanaco) are different from Apple Pay payment cards in that a transit or e-Money card prepaid stored value, the card balance, is stored locally on the card itself and can only exist on a single device. Apple Pay credit/debit cards coexist simultaneously on multiple devices, not Suica, PASMO, ICOCA and other transit cards like Octopus, Clipper, SmarTrip, TAP, or e-Money cards like nanaco and WAON. There are 2 ways to transfer cards: automatic transfer with iOS 17 Setup Assistant and manual transfer in Wallet app.

Automatic card transfer with iOS 17 Quick Start Setup Assistant
Quick Start device to device data transfer is the best way to setup a new iPhone. iOS 17 Set Assistant automatically transfers all payment, transit, e-Money cards, and other Wallet items from the old iPhone to the new iPhone. It’s easy to do and highly recommended.

The Apple support page Add a Suica, PASMO, or ICOCA card to Apple Wallet is updated for iOS 17 and covers moving cards in the Transfer your transit Suica, PASMO, or ICOCA card between devices section. Place the previous iPhone near the new iPhone. The Setup Assistant Wallet section lets you select Wallet cards to transfer in the ‘Make This Your New iPhone’ prompt screen. Either select the Wallet items you want to transfer or leave it up to Set Assistant. Setup Assistant automatically transfers Wallet items to the new iPhone. As always, make sure all devices have a good internet connection.

Manual card transfer in Wallet app
Users can manually transfer cards from the previous iPhone Wallet app to the new iPhone simply by adding it from Previous Cards. The old pre-iOS 17 ‘Suica 2-step’ requirement of manually removing Suica from the old device before transfer is irrelevant and unnecessary.

Once transfer is complete, the previous card will remain visible in the Wallet app showing ‘This card cannot be used’. The card can be safely removed, you can also safely wipe the device.

Transfer Suica from previous Apple Watch to new Apple Watch
Apple Watch Suica users upgrading to a new Apple Watch is easy with watchOS 10. From the Set up your Apple WatchSet up as new or restore from a backup section: If you’ve set up another Apple Watch with your current iPhone, a screen appears that says Make This Your New Apple Watch. Tap Apps & Data and Settings to see how Express Setup will configure your new watch. Then tap Continue. If you want to choose how your new watch is set up, tap Customize Settings. Then choose a backup from another previous Apple Watch to restore.

  • You can also add cards manually in Wallet as outlined in the previous iPhone section via Previous Cards.

What about Suica App and other card apps?

If your Suica, PASMO, ICOCA or e-Money card is registered in the coressponding app, your account and password information will migrate to the new device like any regular iOS app when using device to device data transfer. The apps will automatically pick up the card information from Wallet but you will need to login to access the card app account. If you deleted the app before device to device data transfer, you will need to manually enter account and password information to login when re-adding the app. See the Suica App and PASMO App guide for account setup details.

e-Money card apps ask for the Japanese mobile number used for registering the card in the app and send a verification code via SMS.


Wiped old iPhone before setting up new iPhone
If you wiped the old iPhone before setting up a new one and cannot find your previous Suica Wallet card see: Recover Suica • PASMO and e-Money cards from a lost or wiped iPhone. Other topics can be found on the Apple Pay Suica • PASMO Guide.

Robust network connection is extremely important!
Make sure all devices have a good WiFi or mobile connection and confirm you are outside of the 2am~4am JST Mobile Suica • Mobile PASMO system maintenance window. Do not use free WiFi or carrier auto-connect WiFi, they are notoriously unreliable.

Suica, PASMO, ICOCA card ID number changes
The Suica or PASMO card ID number may change when transferred to a new iPhone or Apple Watch Wallet. Linked services like EX App (smartEX and Express Reservation), Touch and Go Shinkansen and JR East Ekinet Shinkansen eTickets stop working when the Suica, PASMO, ICOCA ID number changes and users must manually update information with each linked service account to re-link services with the new ID #. For Suica and PASMO getting full ID number requires a transit card issuer app such as Suica or PASMO app, ICOCA displays the full ID number in Wallet card details.

iOS 17 features not coming to Japan*

With every iOS release there are features that everybody gets, some features that other regions get later on, and some features that never make it out of the English language box. Now that iOS 17 has been released, Apple has posted feature details for each country. The USA is the mothership iOS 17 feature complete version, the official Japanese list is missing quite a few but there are a some new Japanese features too. Let’s start with the missing.

Phone: Live Visual Voicemail and Voicemail button
These will probably never come to Japan. The big JP carriers, NTT docomo, KDDI au, SoftBank and Rakuten Mobile all, position voicemail as a pricey rip off option that doesn’t always work well. Voicemail would be much better off as basic service but carriers don’t think that way. Their corresponding budget sub-brands, ahamo, povo, Y-Mobile, etc., don’t offer voicemail as young people have grown up without the expensive option and don’t see any use for it in the smartphone app era. There is probably a lot more demand for the iOS 17 Leave a Message FaceTime feature because it come standard. Duh.

A lot missing here in the Japanese feature PDF: ‘improved autocorrect accuracy‘, ‘inline predictions‘, ‘enhanced sentence corrections‘ and ‘QuickPath‘. Some of these are just missing Japanese support, some of them don’t work in the language context (like QuickPath, the JP kana keyboard has neat flick/slide maneuvers too). On the plus side Japanese finally gets a handwriting keyboard:

Just say Siri‘, ‘Back to Back request‘, and ‘Siri in call‘ are not listed in the JP PDF, a sure sign Japan won’t be getting them soon. ‘Siri, read this‘ is not listed is the JP PDF but is supported nevertheless. On a related note, the Accessibility ‘Personal Voice‘ feature is not listed either.

ID Verifier‘ is missing of course (Tim Cook telling JP PM Kishida not to get hopes up with that silly My Number ID for Wallet request) along with the Apple Cash stuff. I had a chance to test ‘Multi-device provisioning‘ Wallet transfer and can say it’s a game changer that everybody everywhere can enjoy and use. It makes re-adding and transferring Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, WAON, nanaco, etc., easier than ever and foolproof. Now that iOS 17 Setup Assistant is multi-device provision powered it automatically and seamlessly moves everything from the old iPhone Wallet to the new iPhone Wallet. ‘I forgot to delete Suica from Wallet’ upgrade issues are a thing of the past.

TextKit 2 surprises
There are a few pleasant surprises in the iOS 17 mix. The biggest overall feature is vertical text functionality. We have ‘Vertical text recognition‘ for Live Text (finally, although it’s not as robust as Google’s version found in Google iOS apps), ‘Vertical text support‘ (Apple: “Chinese and Japanese text can be displayed vertically in supported apps and components like Contact Posters, Photos Memories, and Calendar widgets.”), ‘Punctuation white space‘ (“Reduced punctuation white space in Chinese and Japanese scripts improves overall readability and design.”). While not CJK specific Apple also lists ‘Text clipping and collision‘ (Character spacing dynamically adjusts to better accommodate non-Latin scripts) and ‘Improved line breaks‘ (Enhanced line breaking logic results in better readability of rendered text results.) It all reads exactly like TextKit 2 and UIKit dynamic text enhancements covered in the WWDC23 What’s new with text and text interactions presentation.

You can plow through the official iOS 17 new feature PDF list (E) and Japanese list that Apple has posted. Here are 15 screenshots of what I found missing comparing the USA/JP PDFs. Missing items are marked with a big red X. You can also check Apple’s iOS 17 Feature Availability page, be wary though as the list is not always accurate and up to date.

Forget the Suica vs EMV open loop soap opera, it’s all about loyalty program banks now

Quick, what’s the number one complaint foreigners had when they couldn’t use their foreign issue VISA cards for Apple Pay Suica recharge anymore? Was it inconvenience? No, it was points. Specifically Chase Sapphire VISA 3x travel points. And what’s the number one compliment that foreigners have about using EMV open loop transit boutiques? Earning reward points. The Chase Sapphire VISA crowd had already moved on from Suica to PASMO back when JR East pulled 3x travel points for 1x shopping points for Suica recharge back in May 2021. Points are where the action is.

Go on over to YouTube and check out Wendover Productions How Airlines Quietly Became Banks. The video neatly explains what industry insiders and analysts have know for some time: flying passengers is a money losing business, the profit is made on selling services with loyalty programs, loyalty programs that are in reality clever financial instruments…loyalty program banks if you will. Reward points are like virtual money, but they can be treated like futures trading in that they will be traded in for certain services at a certain value…at some point. The untaxed reality gap is where all the fun happens: there are ways to earn real money off virtual money without a fixed holding period.

This is why airlines have made loyalty programs into separate subsidiary companies that are worth more than the money losing parent airline companies. The key takeaway: airlines are in the business turning a profit by selling services with attached loyalty programs to passengers riding on money losing airlines. Starbucks does a similar thing with their Starbucks card loyalty program which is also called a massive bank, all that unspent money on all those cards, similar to the Suica float. The Japanese point economic zones, Rakuten, PayPay and NTT docomo dPay have been doing all this for years already.

Is there anybody doing the same thing with rail transit with ridership still reeling in the post-Covid era? Very, very few. How many rail transit companies have a loyalty program similar to what airlines do: earning and using rewards across many different services? You probably can’t come up with one. JR East JRE POINT is a rail transit company loyalty program, the only comprehensive one that exists right now and it will formally joined with a real bank too in 2024 with the launch of JRE BANK. The recently launched JR West WESTER aims to become loyalty program, perhaps even a loyalty bank. Let’s take a closer look at how the comparisons stack up internationally.

Most transit operators around the world don’t offer loyalty programs. JRE and, maybe, MTR are the only ones.

The key difference is that Suica and Octopus are both transit and payments cards, in other words a payment platform. Owning the payments side is key for driving loyalty programs. It’s interesting too that Suica, Octopus and EasyCard used FeliCa and MIFARE that allowed them to build payment platforms that are independent of EMV. Another interesting aspect is that while JR East is a private transit company, Octopus is mostly government owned but doesn’t act like a public transit owned company.

All of the western transit companies are government owned and expected to be ‘public transit’ where making profit isn’t the bottom line. The reason why most MIFARE based transit cards never evolved beyond being transit cards (Taiwan’s EasyCard being the outstanding case) and leave the point reward franchises to the EMV open loop card brands, comes down to local politics of public transit. But is this really in the public interest?

My argument in countless posts over the years is that leaving everything to EMV open loop card brands is giving away a money franchise to the EMV consortium. It leaves money on the table that could have been used to build local transit linked services and infrastructure ecosystem that benefits all transit users and encourages transit ecosystem use.

Japanese ridership and fare income will only go down from here so Japanese transit companies need to be like airlines and earn money from selling service extras. Much better for long term transit sustainability to become a loyalty bank that leverages transit infrastructure loyalty linked services into profit. A close examination of the 10 Transit IC cards gives us a good idea of how open loop support in Japan will play out.

Most of the Transit IC cards have limited point rewards but very few have loyalty programs.

Outside of JRE POINT and WESTER, most of Transit IC cards except for TOICA and PiTaPa have some form of point bonus rewards for riding transit. Most are bare boned, manual affairs that involve a trip to the station ticket kiosk machine to load reward points. Tokyo area PASMO member transit companies have their own point systems, as do Osaka area PiTaPa transit companies which is the problem: despite sharing the same Transit IC card brand, the various point systems have no compatibility or synergy. There are a bunch of point card fiefdoms that cannot evolve into loyalty program platform. PiTiPa is the worst off of all, a failure with a shrinking user base despite being a credit card post-pay transit card.

The smallest transit cards, by user number, without robust point systems are exactly the first systems targeted for open loop by the SBI Holdings backed Japanese open loop Quadrac consortium (Quadrac for backend servers, Japan Signal for gate readers, VISA for sponsorship, SMBC for stera payment processing) : Fukuoka City Transit (hayaken) and Nankai (PiTaPa). They can implement open loop without diluting their loyalty programs because they don’t have any. It’s a similar case with ‘shared’ transit cards like PASMO.

PASMO members TOKYU and Tokyo Metro have stronger point systems silos but those silos do not translate across the PASMO ecosystem. Users can dump earned points into their PASMO card with a point recharge but there is no method for tying point rewards to services across the entire ecosystem. The dilemma for PASMO members, especially Tokyu who footed the bill for building Mobile PASMO, is balancing open loop and closed loop without diluting their PASMO related point business.

Here’s a Q&A that hopefully sums up some basic points of where things go from here.

Q: Will Suica disappear?
A: No. Suica is a loyalty platform and ecosystem, not a transit card.

Q: Will JR East replace FeliCa with EMV as the Suica foundation technology?
A: This is a topic that Japanese IT media loves to dream about like salarymen fantasizing about manga sex they read on the commute home. FeliCa and EMV are proprietary technology packages that come with licensing price-tags. EMV has the added risk that JR East would have to ally with a EMV payment brand to create a EMV white-label closed loop Suica card, like OMNY card. There are other disadvantages: NFC A is the slowest NFC transaction flavor no matter how much backend optimization the Quadrac consortium come up with, and offline payment transaction support is limited because mutual authentication and card balance is done on central servers. Last but not least: JR East owns a nice big chunk of FeliCa Networks along with Sony and NTT Docomo.

Q: Will EMV open loop be ubiquitous across all transit operators in Japan?
A: No, for the business reasons outlined above. JR East, JR West, and probably JR Central will not implement open loop as they want to sell closed loop Shinkansen tickets with loyalty programs. There isn’t any reason to partner with a EMV card brand for a white-label closed loop card when they already own FeliCa and QR closed loop products. There is also the scale problem. Open loop has been pushed by the media as a solution that solves every transit ticketing problem. It doesn’t. The reality is that open loop works best with simple fare structures. Closed loop works much better with complexity and interconnectivity.

In closing, Japan is the only country where open loop is being deployed by private rail transit companies that need to make money. Just as airlines ally and break with different card issuers for their loyalty programs, for business reasons and market politics, expect a similar market dance here. Payment technology, whether EMV, FeliCa or QR is just a means to an end of owning a vertically integrated loyalty program empire. The Japanese payments market will continue to be interesting ride that cannot be experienced anywhere else.