Apple Global NFC Lineup 2019

With the removal of iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2, the new 2019 iPhone and Apple Watch lineup on the Apple Store is finally global NFC across the board. The Apple Watch Series 5 S5 chip did not gain ‘Express Card with power reserve’ or NFC background tag reading this time. The former would be a very welcome addition for the eternally battery challenged Apple Watch, while the later is necessary at some point if Apple wants to use the ‘yet to be formally unveiled’ NFC Tag Apple Pay to kick QR Code payment systems to the curb.

There is something missing in the lineup however: a low cost entry level global NFC iPhone that’s even lower than the price cuts Apple implemented with the 2019 lineup. As Ben Thompson of Stratechery explains in a great post:

That means that this year actually saw three price cuts:
•First, the iPhone 11 — this year’s mid-tier model — costs $50 less than the iPhone XR it is replacing.
•Second, the iPhone XR’s price is being cut by $150 a year after launch, not $100 as Apple has previously done.
•Third, the iPhone 8’s price is also being cut by $150 two years after launch, not $100 as Apple has previously done.

The rumored A12 chip iPhone SE2 may well be pie in the sky, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t market appeal for an inexpensive global NFC iPhone for places like Japan and Hong Kong. Those markets have highly integrated transit networks coupled with highly evolved transit card systems like Suica and Octopus. With both of these on Apple Pay there’s a good opening for a small SE size inexpensive global NFC iPhone, it would do very well.

UPDATE: What’s the best iPhone for Suica?
A reader asked for my recommendation of a good Suica use iPhone in the 2019 lineup. I do not recommend iPhone 8. The superior NFC and Suica performance, plus the Express Card with power reserve and background tag reading features of A12 Bionic and later is a huge leap over previous models. These enhanced NFC functions are important for new Apple Pay features yet to come. I think it comes down to a choice between iPhone XR and iPhone 11, and how long you plan to use it in Japan.

It’s also helpful to remember that 2019 is the last lineup of 4G/LTE only iPhone. I think iPhone 11 is better optimized for 4G in the long run as Japanese carriers start to switch over bands to 5G. There is also the much better camera to consider. Last but not least is battery. The power optimization of A13 Bionic is going to deliver much better battery performance over a longer period of time.

It boils down to this: if you plan to use the iPhone for 2 years iPhone XR is a good choice, if you plan to use iPhone for 3~4 years iPhone 11 is the better choice.

Advertisements

Waiting for iOS 13 Apple Pay Octopus

With the rollout of Apple Pay Octopus approaching the contents of this post has been consolidated into More Apple Pay Octopus Details. Instead of separate posts new information and developments will updated there.

Pour one for the iPhone X Suica NFC Problem

On the eve of new iPhones and new Apple Pay features with a growing transit card footprint, it is good to take a moment to remember the less than stellar NFC performance of the original iPhone X. The 2 year iPhone X Apple Care clock hits dead hour on November 3. I heart any iPhone X transit users with Apple Pay Octopus in Hong Kong or Apple Pay Ventra in Chicago who…

  1. discover their iPhone X NFC is wonky on transit gates
  2. discover their iPhone X Apple Care is expired

As much as my iPhone X Suica performance was a headache, my iPhone XS Suica performance is a joy. To be honest, I have not kept up with the iPhone X Suica NFC issue as most of the users who complained about having the problem have long since gotten Rev. B iPhone X replacements and moved on, or moved on to Pixel 3 JP FeliCa devices.

There are a few holdouts. Some report that iOS 12.4 has mostly eliminated transit gate errors for them, but that iPhone X NFC performance is still sluggish and wonky. Other holdouts report that iPhone X NFC is still a problem.

Most iPhone X NFC problem devices are sleeper cells, the user doesn’t live in a demanding enough NFC use environment to actively notice the issue. The iOS 13 release is due September 19, Apple Pay Octopus and Apple Pay Ventra should be online soon after, barely a month before iPhone X Apple Care dead hour.

Getting a replacement iPhone X for unacceptable NFC performance was never easy, but it’s about to become extremely difficult, if not impossible. Good luck to all iPhone X users out there, may the NFC be with you.

Apple Pay Octopus Details and Launch

A Hong Kong reader steered me to the source used in the previous screenshot post, there is quite a lot of detail from this September 2 post on the Lihkg.com site. Apple Pay Octopus device specs listed there are in line with expectations, an exact match with Apple Pay Suica:

A machine translation of the Chinese suggests:

  • Plastic card transfer and direct virtual Octopus card creation in Wallet supported, but unlike Suica Octopus plastic card deposits are not added to the balance when transferred to iPhone. The initial required balance for creating a virtual Octopus card is HK $100 with $50 as a deposit, shown in the screenshot. The Octopus deposit serves as emergency transit fare in case the Octopus balance is zero.
  • Service fees for Apple Pay Wallet Recharge are unclear. There are service fees on Samsung Smart Octopus for Samsung Pay Wallet recharge with Mastercard and Visa cards.

I get the feeling that some of these details might be different for the official Apple Pay Octopus rollout, we shall see. The current OCL schedule will almost certainly be updated with the Apple Pay Octopus release.

The post also says that, ‘most of the original’ transferable services of plastic Octopus are supported on the virtual version such as Automatic Add Value Service (AAVS), using Octopus for building access, etc., the same as Samsung Smart Octopus where some services are not transferred automatically from plastic Octopus, such as MTR Park and Ride, and need to be registered manually to virtual cards.

Other screenshots from the same site show Wallet Recharge apparently limited to China UnionPay (CUP) branded cards for the beta test period but should open up with the official release. A new beta test version of the iOS Octopus app (v6) and creation of Adult and Elder Apple Pay Octopus cards is also shown.

All in all it is clear that testing is far along, remember that this all started back in December. Apple Pay Octopus is ready for the iOS 13 rollout. Official service details from Octopus Cards Limited and Apple should be coming on, or shortly after the September 10 Apple Event. iOS 13 will be released on September 19.


Apple Pay Octopus Launch Day

The iPhone 11 Apple Event did not mention iOS 13 at all. Perhaps the simultaneous iOS 13 and iOS 13.1 beta release was unprecedented and too awkward to fit in the keynote. There was more riding on iOS 13.1 than people realized: highly anticipated items like Apple Tag were not mentioned even though there is plenty of evidence of it all over iOS 13.

The same is true for Apple Pay Octopus. The Apple Pay Wallet blurb has this transit card reference when the Region setting is Hong Kong: “Add credit, debit and travel cards to Apple Pay to make secure purchases and to use public transport”, both in the latest iOS 13.1 beta 3 and the iOS 13 golden master. This means everything is a go from iOS 13. Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) already announced “Octopus coming soon to iPhone and Apple Watch”on July 11 promising it “later this year.” We have some dates to consider:

  • September 19 iOS 13 release
  • September 25 Apple Pay Octopus release

There’s a small chance of an Apple Pay Octopus start announcement from OCL on September 19 iOS 13 release day, which is September 20 in Hong Kong. The actual start date will likely be offset a few days because there is huge pent up demand for Apple Pay Octopus. Apple and OCL would be wise giving their online system and support teams enough breathing space after the iOS 13 release weekend to avoid an Apple Pay Suica launch like meltdown.

In this scenario September 25 local Hong Kong time looks like the best target launch date for Apple Pay Octopus.

A press release from Apple would be nice but I’m not holding my breath. The days of announcements for transit additions to Apple Pay may be over. If the Apple Pay HOP service launch earlier this year is any indication, OCL should be lining up local Hong Kong media beforehand to cover startup day.

Keep an eye out for updates to the Hong Kong Apple Pay web page, it will certainly get the same Apple Pay Octopus artwork featured on the Octopus Cards Limited site at some point, and a graphic similar to the Japanese Apple Pay page outlining the different device support configurations for transit (Octopus: iPhone 8 and later) and payments (Octopus: iPhone 8 and later, or credit/debit bank cards: iPhone 6 and later). The Hong Kong Apple Pay NFC use device profile is very unique, there is nothing quite like it anywhere else.

9/15 UPDATE: Some readers have wondered if a later, as in iOS 13.1 later, launch date makes more sense in connection with a rumored October event. Anybody’s guess is as good as mine but there is no technical reason to wait. From the software side Apple Pay Octopus is ready to fly with iOS 13. It’s all up to OCL to push it out of the nest.

9/19 UPDATE: Octopus Cards Limited CEO Sunny Cheung said that Apple Pay Octopus would not launch in tandem with the iOS 13 launch on September 20, but would “start as soon as possible within the year.”

10/14 UPDATE: the October 14 update to Conditions of Issue of Octopus Mobile Device section added ‘wearable’, which means Apple Watch.

10/15 UPDATE: with no reference to Apple Pay in the updated Schedule of Fees and Guidelines, and only a hint of Apple Watch in the updated Conditions of Issue of Octopus, nor any sign of a launch announcement from OCL, yet another miss. Given the current situation in Hong Kong and long rocky road of OCL delivering Octopus on Apple Pay, time for me to get out of the Apple Pay Octopus prediction business. It will come when it comes. Until then stay safe and happy transit wherever you may be.

Multifunction cards and iOS 13 Apple Pay Wallet

Leaks continue as Apple Event Day (September 10) and the iOS 13 release date (September 19) approach. The latest screenshot shows an Octopus Card Limited (OCL) co-brand multifunction credit card.

Octopus multifunction cards are similar to JR East View + Suica cards that combine credit and transit card functions with auto-recharge in one plastic package. When loading multifunction cards into Apple Pay only the credit portion is added. The functionality of the transit card is preserved instead of killing the plastic card altogether, which is the case when regular Octopus or Suica plastic transit cards are added to Apple Pay, a one way trip.

This ‘only adding the credit card to Apple Pay’ feature allows users to migrate back to the plastic combo transit card at any time. These cards are expensive to make and maintain, and card issuers want the full functionality of the card to be preserved. For this reason I doubt the ability to read multifunction cards into Apple Pay will ever happen. It’s far easier to only add the credit card portion and leave the plastic card untouched. The user can easily create a virtual transit card directly in iOS 13 Wallet and link it to the credit card for auto-recharge with the Octopus App or Suica App.

It’s only natural that Octopus multifunction cards join the parent Octopus transit card on iOS 13 Wallet to make one big happy Hong Kong Apple Pay family with multiple Express Transit Card (FeliCa and EMV) goodness. I sincerely hope the EMV Express Transit support shown in the screenshot does not mean that super slow EMV Contactless will be bolted onto MTR transit gates any time soon.

At any rate there should be some other Apple Pay goodies along with the official Apple mention of Apple Pay Octopus on September 10. Enjoy the show.

Update: a Hong Kong reader reached out to inform me that Octopus co-branded credit cards have been available on Apple Pay since the service started in Hong Kong. It’s nothing new. However, the multifunction angle is a new wrinkle when adding the Octopus co-branded cards to iOS 13 Apple Pay Wallet. Hong Kong iPhone users with multifunction Octopus cards will have to create a new Octopus transit card for Wallet use. OCL will undoubtedly update Octopus App with more auto-recharge options that relink the cards in Apple Pay Wallet.

Update 2: more Apple Pay Octopus service details, screenshots and new in development version of Octopus app