Mobile payments don’t solve the wallet mess, they only make it worse

Way back when Tim Cook first unveiled Apple Pay, the main sales point was the convenience of doing away with messy wallets. My mom’s wallet for example was always stuffed full of credit cards, point cards and the latest store discount coupons clipped out of newspapers and flyers. The promise of Apple Pay was, “look ma, no more messy wallet.” Except it didn’t work out that way.

The rise of code payment point economic zone like PayPay, dPoint and Rakuten Point has resulted in mobile payments that take longer than mom’s messy wallet ever did. I was reminded of this recently getting lunch at Doutor Coffee. A youngish woman paying in front of me wasn’t really paying. With smartphone flat on the counter, lavishly nailed fingers leisurely tapped away for 5 full minutes as she completely ignored the cashier waiting to read the QR code, everybody else waiting in line be damned. Instead of getting read to pay she was signing up for some pissy small payment app discount coupon. And when that was done she finally paid with a QR code for a cup of hot cocoa, face full of discontent. Or maybe that was her normal character.

You see that kind of checkout line behavior everywhere in Japan these days: half losing oneself digging around in an app to find a coupon or campaign special, half ‘screw you’ that often skirts on taking pleasure from somebody else’s pain. People literally loose themselves in the moment.

Who’s to blame for this state of affairs? QR Code payment apps that offer all kinds of coupons certainly deserve some of the blame, along with crappy in-store wifi, or lack thereof. Apple Pay deserves some blame too. Let’s face it, Apple Value Added Service (VAS) NFC protocol has been abysmal failure in the Japan market despite dPOINT and PONTA support. And who’s the biggest culprit of all? All of us of course…all of us who actually believed that technology could fix human behavior. In short this issue isn’t going to be fixed. All we can do is remember to chill, pay attention to our surroundings and be polite in the checkout line.

mobile myki madness

If I had an Australian dollar for every online complaint of Mobile myki, the mobile version of Public Transport Victoria’s (PTV) myki transit card in the Melbourne region, I could probably purchase a nice bit of property there. Reddit forums regularly erupt with mobile myki mind melting nonsense, invariably bashing Apple for refusing to put myki in Apple Pay because Apple ‘doesn’t support HCE’ or because they charge a ‘30% commission’. Neither of them true. myki is MIFARE which has never used HCE and Apple Wallet already supports lots of MIFARE transit cards.

The whole HCE thing is a straw man anyway: embedded secure elements (eSE) are standard on NFC smartphone chips these days. The reason why Île-de-France Mobilités (IDFM) chose HCE for Smart Navigo on Android for example, had nothing to do with Android devices lacking an eSE, it was simply that IDFM didn’t want to deal with Android manufacturer ‘gatekeepers’. Imagine the nightmare of asking every Android manufacture to issue firmware updates for older devices to support Calypso on the eSE. There was no chance in hell they would listen or do it for free, so IDFM and Calypso spent a lot of time and money creating a special HCE version of Calypso, that doesn’t support Express Transit Mode, just for Android (but not for Samsung Pay devices which use native eSE and support Express Transit Mode).

Why IDFM and Calyspso did this is all you need to know about the chaotic mess that is Android NFC. When Smart Navigo comes to Apple Wallet later this year, it will run on iPhone 8/Apple Watch 3 and later without a hitch in full Express Transit Mode glory because firmware, eSE and software are upgraded in a single iOS update. That’s the advantage of having a good gatekeeper who’s on the job.

As for the 30% commission straw man, Apple Pay doesn’t ‘charge a commission’ for using transit cards, they only take a negotiated commission when a credit card is used to add money to the transit card. Why PTV and Apple haven’t reached an agreement yet is a mystery, but judging from myki user complaints, the mobile myki backend system might not be up to Apple’s user experience high-bar. And the myki system is about to get much more complicated: PTV is hitting the reset button.

Open loop envy
PTV has Opal open loop envy and want EMV contactless cards to replace most of myki. This is certainly doable but there is the issue of the native MIFARE myki already on mobile. Oyster and Opal cards are MIFARE too but those systems added EMV contactless support as the foundation for ‘mobile’, relegating MIFARE as legacy plastic. By doing this they offloaded the card issuing operation to VISA/Mastercard/AMEX card issuers, who already have digital card systems in place and agreements with digital wallet operators. myki having come this far with mobile however is going to be a real juggling act, can PVT, or whoever wins the service contract, keep all the service balls in the air while going forward?

There is also the problem of Express Transit Mode support. Look carefully at Apple Express Transit Mode small print and you’ll notice that mobile EMV and mobile MIFARE transit card Express Transit Mode don’t coexist on the same system. It’s one or the other, never both. I suspect a smart Express Mode that chooses the right transit card for the job depends on smart modern transit gate reader hardware with the latest firmware and updated backend software. Getting the latest, greatest transit gates/readers installed takes time and money. Mostly money. Buckle up myki users, it’s going to be a bumpy ride to mobile transit card nirvana.


Apple Wallet Express Transit Mode is basically limited to native transit cards

Fixing the Apple Maps Point of Interest content problem with Apple Business Connect

One of the long term challenges with Apple Maps is improving the Point of Interest (POI) content. It’s a problem that remains even as Apple rolls out ‘New Maps’ based on their proprietary collected image data. Justin O’Beirne has covered it from the US angle, I have posted about the messy Japanese POI situation many times. Despite the Apple Maps image collection effort around the globe, the quality of POI content has not improved. It is all over the map compounded by the inability of the Apple Maps system to filter and intelligently juggle multiple POI sources. Apple is stuck with 3rd party POI content from Yelp, Foursquare, TripAdvisor, Tabelog and countless others that Apple doesn’t ‘own’: they don’t collect it, they don’t edit it. Until now.

Today Apple rolled out Apple Business Connect. Eddie Cue:“We created Business Connect to provide Apple users around the world with the most accurate information for places to eat, shop, travel, and more.” Whew, good thing because people who use Apple Maps always complain about Yelp: the content is out of date, ancient reviews don’t reflect reality, or worse, the reviews are gamed by bots, hacks or ‘kakikomi butai’ (post entry battalions) in China or North Korea.

Don’t laugh, a Japanese Korean friend once told me about the computer class curriculum at his Korean school in Japan. The teacher would announce the class assignment of the day: writing and posting glowing product reviews of Korean products on various review sites. The old Unification Church in Japan was notorious for employing a virtual ‘post to order’ kakikomi butai operation that paid by the character. This is why I never believe in crowdsourced anything. To me it’s mostly fake or manipulated, with little oversight by stupidity or design. Most Americans seem to believe in it still but crowdsourced content is risky and trouble prone: Yelp and even Tabelog have had to address periodic content scandals online and in court.

So Apple is taking charge of its own POI content. Over the past year Apple Maps has rolled out POI ratings and picture uploads linked the user Apple ID, wisely omitting reviews and limited to places to eat and drink, places to shop and places to stay. So Apple now controls both the POI upload content pipeline and the ratings pipeline. The biggest challenge will be how well Apple manages the POI content swap out process. Is 3rd party POI content automatically swapped out when Business Connect POI is uploaded and Apple verified? More importantly, how exactly does Apple verify Business Connect content? There certainly isn’t an Apple army of ground truth experts roaming around. The proof will be in the content verification and management, and will take time to find out the results. There is also the Eddie Cue mentioned ‘places to travel and more’ stuff that isn’t addressed by Apple Business Connect. We’ll find out about that in time as well I guess, but at least the Apple Maps team finally has a game plan to solve their POI content problems.

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.

Life is a gas

I was feeling low this week after coming down with COVID, having to isolate at home. A good friend cheered me up with her text:

“Ha.

I’m going to give you the short version of my day today.

I had a dentist appt for a crown.

The battery was dead on the car.

Rick was in Chicago.

I called an Uber.

The Uber texted that it would be 45 minutes to pick up.

I walked to the dentist (not far at all).

The elevator broke down between floors and I was stuck.

I was eventually unstuck by mechanics that were already in the high rise working.

I get numbed up in the chair and the dentist is working away.

There fire alarm goes off and all 20 floors are evacuated.

I return afterwards to have the rest of the work completed.

I take the stairs down this time and get locked in the stairwell but get out when someone with a pass card takes the stairs for lunch.

I walked home and decided that although it was a weird day, it could have gone much worse.”

I too decided that although it has been a weird week, it could have gone much worse.