Open loop wishful thinking trashes Apple Pay Express Transit reputation

The latest OMNY bump in the road perfectly captures the downside of making contactless credit/debit cards a one size fits all solution. As the New York Post piece (via MacRumors) points out, some Apple Pay Express Transit users are being double charged for fares. Perhaps they didn’t know that Express Transit was enabled in the first place, perhaps the iPhone passed too close to the OMNY transit gate reader. It’s a classic “you’re holding it wrong” situation that has nothing to do with Apple Pay Express Transit and everything to do with the current EMV architecture and how banks implement it.

Part of the problem is that OMNY is new, it’s not working across the entire MTA system yet, and open loop EMV bank cards will never replace all classic MetroCard fare options. That job is for the MIFARE based OMNY transit card due in late 2021. Until the system is complete Metro users will have to juggle different cards and deal with a very long transition. Transport for London (TfL) users have had MIFARE based Oyster cards since 2003, contactless credit/debit cards have been ubiquitous since the 2012 London Olympics when open loop was added to the TfL Oyster fare system.

To Biometric or not Biometric?
Open Loop credit/debit cards on transit gates instead of native transit cards always come with banking and credit industry baggage. Even in the contactless card heaven that is said to be London, there are a surprisingly number of gotchas: minimum limits for using cards, max limits that require PIN codes. It’s an endless loop of banks pushing one way and merchants pushing back.

The golden uptake for Apple Pay in Japan was Suica and is the same story everywhere: it’s all about getting rid of coins for transit, coffee, sandwiches, etc. The small stuff. This is the 20,000 JPY prepaid heavenly region where Apple Pay Suica sings and banks so desperately want to shut out all other players and keep all the marbles. But bank cards have an authorization problem: banks set spending limits not the card architecture. The line is always changing, what works today might not work tomorrow. The prepaid Suica architecture itself is the firewall that does away with user authorization because local processing transaction at the transit gate or store reader is all the authorization necessary.

Express Transit was developed for Apple Pay Suica in 2016, it remains the best matchup because the feature is a basic part of the Suica card architecture that is not a bank card. Apple Pay Express Transit for EMV payment cards that appeared with iOS 12.3 is a retrofit job that I predicted would have problems because retrofits are about dealing with baggage, not creating a better long term solution. 7 months later we are already there. This problem isn’t going away, not as long as banks and EMV keep operating the way that they do.

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Suica joins Coke ON IC, is it worth it?

Coke ON is one more point gimmick app that offers a free beverage for points, bottle top ‘stamps’, earned with purchases via FeliCa/Coke ON IC (Transit IC, Rakuten, nanaco, PiTaPa, WAON), credit cards and QR (LinePay, PayPay aka Line PayPayPay) linked via Coke ON. Up until now Suica was excluded from earning stamps but will join the other Coke ON IC cards starting January 14.

The Coke ON app is not particularly user friendly. It wants your data, your location and your Bluetooth to connect to Bluetooth enabled Coke vending machines. And it seems overly aggressive, at least according to a very long Twitter thread. I’m not sure what exactly the issue is for the user but it seems related to location services and suspect card reads.

Japanese users have complained about Apple Pay Suica location based transaction notification details since the default feature appeared with the iOS 12.2 Suica make over. I have no problems using Apple Pay Suica on iPhone 11 Pro to buy drinks without Coke ON. The problem described in the tweet thread could be a Coke ON incompatibility with Mobile Suica despite Suica compatibility listed on the vending machine side. Hopefully this is fixed for the Coke ON Suica debut, however I don’t plan on giving away my iPhone data to collect Coke ON app bottle top stamps.

A consolation prize for Octopus users with iPhone

After the unfortunately delay of Apple Pay Octopus earlier this month, Octopus Card Limited released an updated version of the iOS Octopus App that offers a small consolation prize: Octopus App on iPhone 7 and later can now recharge Octopus cards. This was made possible by the enhanced iOS 13 Core NFC Read Write functions that support a wide range of NFC protocols including FeliCa.

The iPhone 7 and later device configuration specification exactly matches Apple’s Core NFC documentation but readers report that Octopus App strings reveal that Apple Pay Octopus will be limited to iPhone 8/Apple Watch Series 3 and later. This is inline with expectations and solves the iPhone 7 FeliCa support mystery: iPhone 7 only supports FeliCa Read/Write, iPhone 8 and later supports both FeliCa Read/Write and Card Emulation functions.

The Android support spec is a little fuzzy too. NFC-F is a requirement for NFC certification so many recent devices support FeliCa Read/Write but far fewer Android devices have the software support for FeliCa Card Emulation, Samsung Galaxy being one of the few in the Hong Kong market.

Oh and one last consolation prize for iPhone users until Apple Pay Octopus appears: Octopus on Apple Pay is designated as “Smart Octopus”…sounds familiar. Also it appears that Smart Octopus Apple Pay was originally due to launch with iOS 13.2, read Smart Octopus Apple Pay details while the link is valid.

Coming later this year attractions that didn’t make it, and one that did

Now that Apple is in full holiday season vacation mode, here is one last look at some promised ‘coming later this year’ services that didn’t make it (and a last minute one that did).

Apple Maps 2.0 USA
The highly detailed Apple Maps 2.0 remake was first announced in mid 2018 with a rollout to be in place for the United States by the end of 2019. The West Coast and Upper East Coast made the cut but half of Mississippi, the rest of the Southeast and most of the Central US are still missing (look for the green). This is not a good sign that Apple can deliver on their promise of providing better map services in Japan before the Tokyo Olympics.

UPDATE: A few hours after posting, MacRumours reports Apple Maps 2.0 data rolling out to all Southeast and Central areas following reports from Justin O’Beirne of beta testing earlier this month. I do not see updated map details from Japan yet but it will take time to show up on devices worldwide. Apple cut it close but kudos for keeping their 2019 delivery promise with 4 days to spare.

Apple Pay Ventra
The native Chicago Ventra transit card on Apple Pay is a big deal that was announced back in March. It represents the first major native transit card for the USA on Apple Pay. The much smaller Portland transit system HOP card landed safely in Wallet in May, but Ventra is still listed as ‘coming soon.’ The fault is not with Apple but with Cubic Transportation Systems who operate transit fare systems for Ventra, New York OMNY, Transport for London (TfL) Oyster, Sydney Opal, Washington DC Metro, and many more. For all of their supposed system expertise, Cubic was extremely slow rolling out Apple Pay Express Transit on TfL and has yet to deliver a single native transit card on Apple Pay or Google Pay. I hope Cubic does a better job in 2020.

Apple Pay Octopus
The Apple Pay Octopus ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ saga of 2019 was strange and ultimately sad. The Apple support side was all ready to roll with iOS 13. Octopus Cards Limited announced Apple Pay support back in July with ‘coming soon’ website artwork that was pulled when the launch was officially delayed on December 19. My take is that OCL parent Hong Kong MTR made, or was forced into, a political decision to limit services, starting with the unexplained service outage of Smart Octopus during the Hong Kong Polytechnic University siege. This is not a popular opinion.

Readers have reported riot damage to MTR infrastructure and suggest this might be a reason for the Apple Pay Octopus delay. I don’t buy it. Hong Kong MTR, or someone higher up, wants to limit services and control movement, not open them up. But this introduces great risk: moving people are moving money. Limit services and the flow of people, and you limit the flow of money. In this scenario Hong Kong doesn’t have a future. More than anything, I hope Hong Kong gets it’s future back in 2020.

December Bookends

It is exactly one year ago today that I broke the first Apple Pay Octopus story when a good source with inside connections tipped me about Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) beta testing Apple Pay for a Chinese New Year launch. As we all know, that launch did not pan out. Very little has panned out since: Samsung marketing tweaked the Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay tag line in January, Apple Pay servers yielded an Apple Pay Octopus code reference in June, OCL officially announced the service as “coming soon” in July, OCL CEO Sunny Cheung said Apple Pay Octopus would “start as soon as possible within the year” in September. Nothing since then except a few flutters from beta testers and my overactive anticipation.

The obstacle facing Apple Pay Octopus at this point is purely political, not technical. The obstacle facing Hong Kong is lack of clarity. I won’t comment on the political angle but the unexpected, unexplained service outage of Smart Octopus during the Hong Kong Polytechnic University siege says all that you need to know about how things go down in Hong Kong now: in the dark. Hong Kong MTR wants to control movement, not open it up. Tim Cook visiting Japan, Singapore and Thailand this month, but not Hong Kong or China is another indication how touch and go things are. I hope the situation improves for everybody in 2020.

Speaking of the new year, I started blogging in earnest from the spring of 2018 when I was in Salt Lake City taking care of my dad after he suffered a cerebral infarction. There was a lot of downtime and writing this blog kept me focused on fun things. A few days ago my partner of more than 10 years suffered a cerebral infarction at age 51. It doesn’t look like there will be much downtime though I do hope to keep blogging in 2020. There are fascinating changes happening in the Japan payments space to write about. Time will tell.

I hope to see you in 2020, if not you’ll know the reason why. Whatever the outcome, I want to thank all the readers of this blog and the people who reached out with questions and comments. I really enjoyed them.

A very happy and productive 2020 to all.

UPDATE
How surreal is this: OCL officially delayed Apple Pay Octopus one year to the day after I first reported it, a few hours after posting the above. Coincidence? At least we have closure now but the complete erasure of Apple Pay Octopus artwork from the OCL website suggests the launch will be considerably delayed, perhaps indefinitely. The original source for the story was prophetic: “I won’t believe it (Apple Pay Octopus) is really happening until Apple (not OCL) announces it.” Unfortunately he was right: the strange sad Apple Pay Octopus saga of 2019 is a reflection of where Hong Kong is right now. I hope things turn out better in the new year.

Later in 2020 is a lot of leeway