NFC tag Apple Pay Levels the Play Field with QR Codes

QR Codes has gotten a lot of hype in Japan, partly because merchants want to capture Chinese tourist money with AliPay and WeChat Pay, but also because the lower cost of QR payment systems appeals to small merchants who don’t want to buy or rent expensive NFC enabled POS systems.

Inexpensive NFC tags and NFC stickers are a logical payment alternative to full blown NFC POS systems and QR, but have remained out of the mainstream. NFC tags are great technology but they remain deeply geeky for the majority of users. The key is making NFC tags as friendly, easy and secure to use as Apple Pay. This is exactly what Apple plans to do.

At the TRANSACT 2019 conference Jennifer Bailey announced NFC tag Apple Pay. NFC tag Apple Pay works with or without apps. All the user does is tap a NFC tag and Apple Pay takes care of the rest as shown in the demo video using a SmartPlate NFC tag:

The easiest way to think of it is that instead of tapping a reader to pay with Apple Pay, NFC tag Apple Pay turns your iPhone into the reader. An NFC tag and iPhone is all that you need to Apple Pay at a store.

What does this sound like to you? Yep, this is exactly what QR Codes do and NFC tag Apple Pay is aimed right at the ‘but the store doesn’t need an expensive NFC reader to use QR’ sweet spot that QR Codes have occupied up to now. NFC tag Apple Pay levels the play field, neatly eliminating the QR advantage while offering security that QR Codes cannot match.

However don’t assume that the QR players are chained to QR Codes, it’s an inexpensive and convenient technology for building payment system app services, not particularly sacred. NFC tag Apple Pay also works in an app and this offers Japanese QR Code payment systems such as Line, PayPay, etc., a way to incorporate Apple Pay NFC support in their app, if they choose to do so.

A12 Bionic iPhone XR/XS are the only devices that support background NCF tag reading and the native ability to read tags without an app. The big question in my mind is how Apple plans to implement NFC tag Apple Pay on older devices

We’re going to hear a lot about this at WWDC19. More coverage on the WWDC19 Apple Pay Wish List.

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EMV Express Transit Missing in iOS 12.4 Beta 1

Developers who installed iOS 12.4 beta 1 after todays’s release are reporting that the EMV Express Transit feature that just went live in iOS 12.3, is missing from iOS 12.4 b1. These kinds of things can happen in early beta test cycles, my guess is this is why iOS 12.4 public beta has not been released.

What this really means is that the heavy construction and under the hood changes in Wallet and Apple Pay that started in iOS 12.2 and iOS 12.3, are still ongoing. It’s one more indication of many new Apple Pay things we’ll hear all about at WWDC19.

It is going to be a fun but hairy ride until Apple Card arrives. Be safe and stay away from iOS 12.4 beta and leave it for professional developers. Stick with iOS 12.3 and enjoy the great Apple Pay Express Transit performance.

Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch: First Impressions

Now that iOS 12.3 is out with great Apple Pay Suica performance and no more bugs, I have a new side project: Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch. I moved my daily Commuter Suica to Apple Watch and it’s an interesting experience. Some first impressions.

  • Apple Pay Suica performance on watchOS 5.2.1 on Apple Watch Series 4 is great, but not as great as iOS 12.3 on iPhone XS. Because A12 Bionic removes the iOS overhead for Express Cards with power reserve, Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XS/XR feels light and snappy like a plastic Suica card. I can’t wait for Express Cards with power reserve on Apple Watch.
  • Suica Recharge on Apple Watch sucks and I have discovered how wonderfully useful Suica App really is. I have a Commuter Suica on Apple Watch and a My Suica on iPhone. Both of these can be recharged and managed (with different credit cards attached to each Suica!) in Suica App. It’s super convenient and has opened my eyes to a major Apple Pay Wallet design weakness: iPhone Wallet and Watch App Wallet should just be one thing that manages all of my Wallets cards on both devices in one place. Apple Watch Wallet is great, in a pinch, but it’s a lousy UI experience for managing transit card options and Suica Recharge. Apple Pay transit prepaid card users access those card options far more than credit cards. I added a unified Wallet request for iOS 13 to the Apple Pay WWDC19 wish list.
  • Suica Reminders for low balance and commuter plan renewals are another Apple Watch weak point. They don’t exist. Suica App to the rescue again with Notification Sounds. The 3 beep Suica low balance reminder (¥1,000 or less) works everywhere and is a life saver. It’s far more attention grabbing than Apple Pay Suica Notification Center reminders on iPhone.

A true story: I was buying lunch at a family owned Daily Yamazaki convenience store. You might know the kind, a Showa style convenience store stocked with Yamazaki breads, homemade sandwiches and bento, usually run by an older couple, a store from a different era that will unfortunately disappear.

I bought a bento and paid with Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch. The Suica 3 beep low balance reminder sound from the reader caught the attention of the owner who looked to be in his late 70s. “Suica works on that? It’s so small.” I assured him Suica worked on Apple Watch.

He smiled and said, “That’s really convenient. You’ll never lose it or have to find it when it’s on your wrist.”

It is indeed.

Jennifer Bailey Lifted the Apple Pay Skirt at TRANSACT…a little

Everybody knew that Jennifer Bailey was giving a keynote at the TRANSACT 2019 conference but finding any evidence of it was damn hard. Fortunately I came across a tweet from Steve Moser delivering some of goods: NFC tags and stickers for Apple Pay with no apps, NFC tags and stickers for Apple Pay with apps. We already saw that coming but it’s nice to know that Apple’s NFC tag strategy is centered on Apple Pay, it makes the most sense for most users, ‘NFC is Apple Pay’ is the easiest thing to understand. WWDC19 is certainly looking to be a fun show for all things Apple Pay Wallet.

The MTA OMNY EMV Launch

The most surprising thing about the new OMNY system service starting May 31 isn’t that it’s EMV contactless credit/debit card only, or that Cubic is working with Apple to bring Apple Pay EMV support in June, or even that mag strip MetroCard is hanging around until “at least” 2022.

The most surprising thing is that MetroCard is manually swiped on the new OMNY contactless fare gates (the YouTube video 1:30 mark).

Dear lord, have MTA commuters really been manually swiping MetroCards all these years? Living in Japan since the 1980s, I have never manually swiped a mag strip card at a transit gate ever. Lots of people don’t like Trump, but let’s make America great again by not manually swiping MetroCards anymore.

It’s very interesting that MTA and Cubic decided to launch OMNY with standard fare only EMV contactless cards for those who have them, and leave the majority of transit users with MetroCard, which has all the fare options (student fares, discount fares, etc.), until the real MetroCard replacement, OMNY transit card, arrives in late 2020.

Usually it’s the other way around, the new transit smartcard card comes first, EMV support comes much later after the system kinks are worked out. My theory is that MTA did it the other way around to road test the system with a smaller group of transit users, while pushing out the expense of installing all that OMNY card related hardware (kiosks, recharge stations, etc.) in the hope that lots of transit users will happily end up using only EMV, thus magically reducing said OMNY card related hardware investments. It’s wishful thinking, like Transport for London wishing that Oyster cards go away.

Once the real OMNY card appears is when things get interesting. All the different fare types will be supported on a smartcard, real MIFARE cards will be faster than EMV at the gate, smartphone apps from Cubic will be there for credit card linking and recharging OMNY plastic cards on the fly. Last but not least, OMNY card can finally be hosted on Apple Pay with fast secure Express Transit, just like Chicago Ventra and Portland HOP coming this summer. New York is a great city that deserves a great transit system. Here’s hoping OMNY helps make that happen.