UWB Touchless Express Transit and Apple Pay for iOS 15?

A recent sudden surge of hits from Hong Kong accessing my December 2019 UWB Touchless Mobile FeliCa post seemed odd. I dug around and it appears that Hong Kong MTR, like JR East, is making noises about incorporating UWB technology in next generation transit gates.

iOS 14.5 added a new PassKit call for Bluetooth and the U1 chip integration since iPhone 11 and Apple Watch 6, coupled with global FeliCa support certainly puts Apple ahead of the game. I have no idea what WWDC21 will deliver but more UWB integration is a given.

Apple only mentioned UWB Touchless at WWDC20 in connection with digital car key without showing anything because the Car Connectivity Consortium Digital Key 3.0 spec was a work in progress. Now that the spec is in-place with BMW said to deliver car models incorporating UWB Touchless this year, will Apple show it in action? I think it’s highly likely, but since Car Key is a ‘Wallet Card’, and Wallet app Express Cards come is 3 types: Transit, Student ID, and Car Key, the more interesting question is…will Apple also show Touchless Transit and Student ID Express Cards? And what about Apple Pay?

People think Touchless is a completely new thing for ‘keep smartphone in pocket’ transactions, and they worry about security. You can’t blame them because marketers are selling the in-pocket payment experience. However, Touchless is simply long distance NFC without NFC. All UWB Touchless does is describe the frequency to use Bluetooth instead of NFC. The background stuff, secure element and so on, is exactly the same. This means user interaction is the same. For walking through transit gates and security doors, or unlocking your car, the convenience of Touchless is easy to understand: no more NFC tapping, just keep moving.

What about Express Card payments? The current Apple Pay Suica payment checkout experience: the user taps Suica on a touchscreen, or tells the clerk “Suica” then holds the device to the reader. The user has to give consent before the transaction is activated by checkout staff or the self checkout reader. For Apple Pay EMV transactions users have the extra step of confirming a transaction by Face ID/Touch ID to complete it.

Realistically however, in what situations does Touchless make store checkout more convenient and faster? Drive thru certainly, supermarkets…maybe, but most stores will probably not want to invest in Touchless without a good reason when the NFC readers they already have installed get the job done. There is one more interesting role that Apple has planned for UWB however, one that promises to improve the entire Apple Pay and Wallet experience: communicating with the reader before transaction to select the right Wallet card for the job, at a distance, for a truly smart Wallet app. With national ID cards, passports and more coming to Wallet at some point, UWB could be the Wallet reboot we really need.

And then there is EMVCo. The problems with UWB Touchless for EMVCo are that: (1) Touchless only works with devices with batteries, á la AirTag, and doesn’t work with the current plastic card model, (2) UWB + Bluetooth level the digital playing field with FeliCa and MIFARE, no more ‘real’ vs ‘who cares’ NFC hardware flavors to split hairs over. The plastic card NFC limitation is probably a bitter pill for everybody but especially for EMVCo members and issuers as plastic card issue is big business, and many customers are more comfortable with plastic cards. For those reasons I think EMVCo will be the last to support UWB Touchless, if they do at all. On the plus side Touchless does give digital wallet platforms an edge to create smart aware wallets, digital does NFC and Touchless, plastic only does NFC. We’ll find out about Apple’s UWB Touchless roadmap at WWDC21.

Octopus 2.0

The Apple Pay Octopus launch in June 2020 marked the end of an era of Octopus as the exclusive Hong Kong MTR home grown transit platform, and the start of MTR integrating into China mainland transit fare standards. In August 2020 Octopus Cards Limited announced they would join China T-Union. My take about it and the eventual migration of Octopus from FeliCa to PBOC 2.0, struck a raw nerve and did not go down well with some Hong Kong folk:

Can someone tell the ill-informed, self-centred, attention-seeking blogger to stop spreading fake rumours about octopus ditching FeliCa? Not in this lifetime…The self-proclaimed expert blogger’s been wrong on so many levels I’m amazed people still follow him like religion and never question his fantasy stories. Utterly annoyed by him dropping quotes from people out of context and use them to his benefits.

In April 2021 new OCL CEO Angus Lee Chun-ming said in a South China Morning Post interview that OCL had applied for China T-Union membership as planned, and will launch a dual mode Octopus card for mainland transit use:

“We have applied to join the China T-Union, the nationwide one-card payment system led by the Ministry of Transport. That will enable Octopus physical-card holders to pay for public transport fares in mainland China,”…

The service can be upgraded to digital Octopus cards in the phase two development. “The card will be denominated in Hong Kong dollars. Octopus will arrange the currency settlement with the mainland partner,” said Lee.

A one-card nationwide payment system eh? Sounds like an plug for China T-Union instead of an Octopus presser. Phase 1 is a physical dual mode Octopus card that appears to be 2 separate chips (PBOC and FeliCa) in one card with a common HKD ePurse. This is novel as Greater Bay Area dual mode cards up to now used separate ePurses for each currency. It’s also complicated because mainland transit operators have to do the currency conversion. A digital wallet version is phase 2. The elimination of FeliCa on the Hong Kong side will be the final phase, though that depends on the Ministry of Transport removing the current PBOC restriction that limits it to transit use and T-Union branding issue, or Octopus coming up with something else. We shall see.

On the mobile side Hong Kong iPhone users already have a dual mode Wallet option to add China T-Union cards if they have a China UnionPay credit or debit card. It’s not dual mode on one card and there is an Express Transit issue when turning on a China T-Union card turns off Express Transit for Octopus, but it works.

Dual mode transit cards on Apple Pay don’t exist yet but they are technically possible. Apple Pay already uses dual mode NFC switching for Japanese issue payment cards, FeliCa for contactless use in Japan, EMV for contactless use abroad. Another option might be the multiple secure element domain/multiple NFC protocol support of Mobile FeliCa 4.1 outlined by FeliCa Dude for dual mode transactions using just Mobile FeliCa with NFC-A/NFC-F.

On the transit gate side it will be interesting to see what design MTR uses for multiple protocol open-loop. NFC requires the reader side to specify the NFC protocol used for the transaction. This is a not a problem at store checkout, but how does the user specify the transaction protocol on transit gates? Answer: by tapping different readers. Perhaps the new MTR gates will host a NFC-A reader (EMV and PBOC), a NFC-F reader (FeliCa) in addition to the already separate QR reader? And if those Touchless UWB rumors are true, UWB and Bluetooth could be joining the MTR next generation gate party. One thing for sure, transitions are messy, and expensive.

SmartGo Staple: a smart Mobile Suica solution for COVID era business travel

As more companies transition work style away from daily commuting to a central office to telework with direct business trips from home, there is less need for commuter passes but that means more corporate virtual paperwork and paper trails for filing and processing transit expenses. How nice it would be if Mobile Suica had a plug-in for SF expense reporting. It does actually: SmartGo Staple a co-venture between JR East and NTT Communications.

The service is straightforward: for a ¥1,000 (w/VISA card option) or ¥600 (w/o) per Mobile ID monthly service fee, SmartGo Staple provides live Mobile Suica ID SF transaction data of registered accounts to corporate management and accounting, who then calculate and reimburse employee on the go, or teleworking at home for corporate related Mobile Suica use, reducing the paperwork at all levels. The flexibility of Mobile Suica and Suica App which discretely attaches a credit card to a Suica card, allows users to set up a Suica card just for corporate use with a corporate credit card attached. This is the idea behind the SmartGo Staple prepaid VISA card option which management can ‘recharge’ remotely.

It’s a service for the COVID era but the interesting thing is that with more people doing without commuter passes, Apple Pay Suica and Mobile Suica easily covers nationwide transit and payment use. Commuter passes are the only reason for all those Japanese Transit IC cards. One Mobile Suica does it all. There are still weak spots, i.e. non SF Suica ID # attached services like smartEX and Shinkansen eTickets. Using a transit card ID number to attach separate services is flexible but corralling all the separate transaction histories into one expense report is still a chore.

Young employees tell the department manager to get with the times

WWDC21 Apple Pay Wish List: new Wallet app

It’s that time of year again, to ponder the mysteries of Apple Pay, Wallet, PassKit and Core NFC in the next major iOS release. I wasn’t planning a list this year because all the things covered last year: UWB Touchless CarKey, QR Code Payments, etc., are still lurking in PassKit calls and internal beta test builds and have yet to see the light of day. And then there is App Clips, a solution that finally leverages the versatility of NFC tags and iPhone NFC with reader mode was the big WWDC20 story, but it didn’t come into focus either. Too many COVID distractions.

No, no, the only thing that mattered to users and developers was this: when will Apple do something about the Face ID with face mask problem? The eagerly awaited iOS 14.5 Unlock with Apple Watch feature will almost certainly be the most popular feature of iOS 15 too. There are some interesting new PassKit tidbits in iOS 14.5: PKRadioTechnology type properties for NFC and bluetooth, the later for UWB Touchless use. This is the same pattern we saw at the end of the iOS 13 cycle with PassKit Secure Element Pass references replacing NFC Certificate Pass.

So what’s on the slab for all things WWDC21 iOS 15 Apple Pay? I have no idea. UWB Touchless and QR payment support lurking in the background might see the light of day, App Clips might get some refinements. Nothing really new. So I asked readers what they wanted for iOS 15 Apple Pay and the answer was clear: a Wallet app reboot. I didn’t think much about it until I saw the list of China T-Union add card Wallet options for mainland China.

The Apple Pay China Transit card list is long and getting longer

More Apple Pay Transit cards are on the way but there’s another problem, digital ID cards (passports, driver’s license, national identity cards, etc.). Apple Pay Student ID MIFARE cards landed back in iOS 12, but Apple has grander plans revealed in a NFC digital ID patent filing. The Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) has plans for a digital version of My Number Card (Individual Number Card) and is already in negotiations with Apple. Where and how do digital ID cards fit in the current Wallet model that only holds a maximum of 12 cards? Something has to give.

Wallet has a very simple rule: any card that loads a Java Card applet into the secure element has to reside in Wallet, the maximum number depends on how many Java Card applets it can hold at any one time. Any card or developer that wants to loads applets and use the secure element also has to have a PassKit NFC/Secure Element Certificate Pass. This is covered by NDA but a company called PassKit (not Apple) gives us an idea what Apple’s NFC/Secure Element Pass guidelines are:

Apple care a great deal about the user experience. Before granting NFC certificate access they will ensure that you have the necessary hardware, software and capabilities to develop or deploy an ecosystem that is going to deliver an experience consistent with their guidelines.

Yeah, the end to end user experience, the whole reason behind the success of Apple Pay. But the Apple Pay user experience has seriously declined in the Face ID with face mask era. The current Wallet with its card metaphor has reached a wall, stuffing digital ID and Code Payments into the mix along with non-secure element Wallet tickets, boarding passes and reward cards, all using same old card UI, will only break the user experience on top of the Face ID with face mask inflicted damage.

Even if Apple doesn’t add new functions to iOS 15 Apple Pay, they must lay groundwork for a new, flexible and far more useful next generation Wallet app, for adding, storing, configuring and most of all, using an even growing collection of payment cards, transit cards, CarKey, reward cards, passes and digital ID items. Anything to save us from the cacophony of payment services, apps and reward goodies chasing our money and slowing us down at checkout with finding, unlocking, displaying a reward code (if the WiFi connection is good, heaven help those waiting in line when it’s bad) and finally paying. Whew.

The whole point of Apple Pay Wallet was to free us from physical card clutter. After 7 years of Apple Pay and payment apps we have digital clutter that’s almost worse than the original problem that digital wallets and smartphones were supposed to free us from. Let’s get our eyeballs and attention spans back.

Also see: UWB Touchless Express Transit and Apple Pay for iOS 15?

The Super Suica Reference

The new features that make up 2 in 1 Suica are called many things. JR East calls it ‘Next Generation Suica’ and ‘2 in 1 Region Affiliate Card’. Yanik Mangan came up with a great ‘All-in-one Suica’ moniker in his limitless possibilities podcast. I call it, and will continue to call it, Super Suica because I see wider Suica platform initiatives built off the new FeliCa OS features used for 2 in 1 • next generation Suica. It’s a looser, fuzzier platform evolution definition compared to Yanik’s tighter all-in-one card solution focused one.

That doesn’t mean that Super Suica or all-in-one Suica will ever happen they way we envision it, but at least we have some convenient handles to discuss and categorize ongoing developments until something official comes along.

This is a list of announcements, launches and posts related to Super Suica as a platform. Announcements are italic with links to JR Group PR releases, launches are bold, color classifications are as follows:

🟩= Suica cards and Transit IC region extensions
🟧= Mobile FeliCa, Mobile Suica + derivations (Mobile PASMO, Mobile ICOCA)
🟥= FeliCa Standard SD2• New FeliCa OS
🟦= Cloud Suica and cloud account services

DateCategory • Announcement** • Launch*Estimated Start
September 2018🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 • FeliCa Standard SD2**2021
June 2019🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 for Tochigi**
🟧Rakuten Pay Suica**
2021~2
2021
September 2019🟩🟥Cross Region Commuter Passes for ICOCA-TOICA-Suica**2021
October 2019🟧Mobile PASMO** (rebranded Mobile Suica)2021
December 2019🟥🟧UWB Touchless Mobile FeliCa**2022~3?
January 2020🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Iwate Green Pass (Iwate)**
🟧Mobile PASMO**
2021
March 2020🟧Mobile PASMO for Osaifu Keitai*
🟦Eki-Net Shinkansen eTicket service*
May 2020🟧Garmin Pay Suica*
🟧Rakuten Pay Suica*
September 2020🟥FeliCa Standard SD2 cards with new FeliCa OS features*
November 2020🟧wena 3 (smartwatch+band) Suica *
October 2020🟧Apple Pay PASMO*
🟧Mobile ICOCA**
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Iwate**
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Hachinohe**

2023
2022
2022
November 2020🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Aomori**
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Akita**
2022
January 2021🟩Cross Region Commuter ICOCA-TOICA-Suica launch details** with TOICA and ICOCA region extensions (TOICA extensions explicitly for cross region pass support) March 2021
March 2021🟩🟥Cross Region Commuter Passes for ICOCA-TOICA-Suica*
🟩Cross region exit gates installed at Maibara and Atami stations*
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 totra and Iwate Green Pass*
🟧Fitbit Pay Suica launch
*
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Yamagata announcement**
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Gunma announcement (Noblé)**




2022
2022
April 2021🟦🟩Cloud Suica with Suica region extension announcement**
🟦 Eki-Net reboot: more cloud based attached services and JRE POINT integration
2023
2021

🟩🟥Next Generation Suica cards
A new card for integrating Transit IC and region cards in new ways focusing on Suica 2 in 1 Region Affiliate transit cards and FeliCa Standard SD2 • FeliCa OS as the core development. JR Cross Region Commuter Passes included as I suspect they also use SD2 Extended Overlap and represent a step towards cross region through transit for Transit IC.

🟧Mobile
The evolution of Mobile FeliCa to include UWB touchless and multiple secure element domains, Mobile Suica service expansion and re-branded assets for Mobile PASMO and Mobile ICOCA.

🟦Cloud
Cloud Suica: cloud based fare transaction processing and MaaS Suica payment services without a reader, cloud account attached services.