VISA Japan finally signs on with Apple Pay (Updated)

UPDATE 11/24
Apple pulled the Apple Pay VISA JP rollout, somebody in Cupertino uploaded a new JSON payload to Apple Pay servers too soon. After showing in Wallet over 18 hours or so, VISA disappeared from the add card animation lineup around 6 pm JST. With a gaff this big at least we know VISA support is coming to Apple Pay Japan very soon and will likely come with the Line Pay Apple Pay card announced in September for launch ‘later this year’. I’m leaving the original post below for now and will have a new post with the official launch.


Japanese credit card otaku tweeted late last night that the Apple Pay Wallet animation started displaying VISA, which it never did until now. Sure enough, a VISA does display in the add card animation for the Apple Pay Japan region on iPhone, Apple Watch and iPad. Wallet only displays supported card brands for the selected Apple Pay region so the change means VISA JP is officially on board.

The trouble is we don’t know what that means without a press release from VISA Japan, Apple, or Japanese card issuers. So far we don’t have one. All we have are 2 questions that will hopefully be answered later today or the next few days.

Does it mean current iD/QUICPay VISA cards in Wallet fully support Apple Pay features?
A quick check adding a digital Kyash VISA prepaid card to my Wallet did not show anything new, just the same limitations: no VISA logo, no In App (Suica recharge) or web purchase support, no EMV/FeliCa dual mode. That doesn’t mean anything by itself: virtual Kyash VISA has limitations but it may be different for major ‘real card’ VISA issuers like SMBC and MUFJ.

Does it mean that Apple Pay is simply matching the EMV only VISA Touch cards already on Google Pay from Sony Bank and others?
This seems more likely but also flies in the face of Apple Pay Japan encouraging ‘it just works anywhere’ dual mode EMV/FeliCa support for Wallet issue. If we don’t get announcements from VISA Japan or Apple, it could be a slow dribble of VISA Touch announcements from VISA JP card issuers, not much fun.

What I really want to know is: did VISA Japan blink, or Apple? I’ll update this post as details come in.

VISA Touch issuers currently on Google Pay
If you look very carefully iPad Wallet displays VISA for the Apple Pay Japan region, indicating In App and Web purchase support which VISA JP didn’t support until now.

VISA Touch Transit Boutiques

VISA Japan announced VISA Touch support on Kyoto Tango Railway, most media outlets simply ran edited versions of the VISA Japan press release. The infrastructure uses a slightly modified stera store reader platform, which VISA has a hand in. Willer Inc. is hailing this as the first ‘VISA Touch’ solution on Japanese train systems but they ignored the fact that stera VISA Touch was already announced for Ibaraki Transit highway bus service back in July.

Japanese journalist comments on Twitter were fun to read with the ‘let’s just dump FeliCa and Suica already and go all in with EMV’ supporters club checking in as usual. Nobi Hayashi asked good questions regarding real user convenience. Junya Suzuki said he plans a trip to investigate the new service, his next ‘Pay Attention’ column promises to be a good read.

Just what kind of end user are these VISA Touch transit installations targeting anyway? Let’s do a quick profile:

  1. VISA Touch JP plastic cards are being issued in Japan but they are new and few and dwarfed by the number of Transit IC cards (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, etc.) that can be bought by anybody at any station kiosk machine with cash. Apple Pay Japan users cannot use it because VISA JP refuses to support Apple Pay JP FeliCa/EMV dual mode NFC switching. This service is not targeted for domestic transit users.
  2. Both of these VISA Touch installation transit areas market heavily to inbound tourists, neither of them support Transit IC cards.
  3. VISA Touch is not compatible with PBOC Union Pay cards technology, the installations also support QR Code AliPay and WeChat Pay for inbound Chinese tourists

The short summary is these installations are for inbound tourists with VISA Touch contactless credit cards, a transit boutique for marketing purposes more than real use.

Japanese media is quick to dismiss FeliCa as a technical failure in the face of EMV but I think that is the wrong analysis. Looking back it’s easy to see a huge mistake was that the big push for Mobile FeliCa credit cards on smartphones was not matched with an equally big push for plastic credit cards with FeliCa support.

And the big EMV push instead of FeliCa has not worked out so great either. Instead of making a technology agnostic unified push for NFC contactless, EMV bank card interests pushed their own agenda. All that did was provide a big opening for domestic QR Code payment players like Line Pay and Pay Pay which they took and continue to take.

What I find fascinating is that the mainstream Japanese IT media has not written much about the Super Suica 2 in 1 card strategy or rollout plans. Low cost transit IC card infrastructure sharing that delivers consistent and seamless transit service on mobile and legacy plastic while offering local area branding and services is a compelling vision that I don’t see bank card companies matching.

The challenge for JR group companies (JR West, JR Central, JR Kyushu, etc.) is working with JR East to offer Super Suica 2 in 1 card solutions in their own regions, because if they do not we’ll see more VISA Touch transit boutiques.

Japan Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in discussions with Apple for Wallet My Number Card Support

IT journalist Junya Suzuki posted an interesting “Pay Attention” column today regarding the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) plans for a digital version of My Number Card (Individual Number Card). MIC wants to extend card use and smartphone support for a digital My Number Card is seen as an important driver as many people in Japan have yet to even get the plastic version at the local city office. Abe government officials stated they planned to create a digital My Number Card in 2019.

MIC digital My Number Card proposal for smartphones

The MIC proposal for putting out a digital My Number Card uses FeliCa and the MIC laid out security policy details on November 12 (download the full set of PDF docs). Smartphone support requires a ‘Global FeliCa’ embedded Secure Element (eSE). This means SIM card FeliCa support is out of the question, the reality is SIM cards lost out in the ‘secure element wars’ years ago. Some 80% of Android smartphones currently sold in Japan have FeliCa eSE chips, Apple has had global FeliCa (aka global NFC) in place in A/S series chips since iPhone 8 / Apple Watch Series 3. Apple Watch will likely be the only ‘wearable’ My Number Card when it launches.

今回Android端末が対象となっていますが、Android端末といってもいわゆる『グローバルFeliCa』と呼ばれる2018年度に発表された新しい方式に対応した端末が対象となっています。2020年秋モデルで対象となるAndroid端末は8割程度ですが、2022年内のサービス開始時点ではさらに拡大することを見越しています。 FeliCaを採用した理由は、スマートフォンの保護領域(SE)に安全にアクセスできる仕組みを提供しているのがフェリカネットワークという点で、同様の仕組みが提供されるのであれば特にFeliCaにこだわっているわけではありません。 またiPhoneが日本でシェアを多く持っているという現状も認識しており、Appleと交渉を行なっている段階です(総務省)

Deciphering Digital My Number Card Support (Japanese)

Suzuki’s article has a direct quote (above) from the MIC, the relevant Apple bit is the last sentence: “We recognize that iPhone has a large share in Japan and we are in discussions with Apple.” Not particularly earthshaking but confirmation is always good to have. The digital My Number Card is expected to launch in 2022 but it’s not clear if Apple Wallet support will launch simultaneously with Osaifu Keitai Android. The digital My Number Card MIC documents only outline Osaifu Keitai Android with dedicated FeliCa chips but Apple Pay would work the same way even though the FeliCa eSE is implemented in the A/S Series.

Suzuki san does not discuss this but I wonder if digital My Number Card will utilize the new security features of next generation FeliCa that just started shipping and is the basis for Super Suica launching early 2021. I also wonder if Google Wallet support will come much later, if at all. Google has been content to ride the coat tails of Osaifu Keitai and candy wrap it instead of rolling their own native support. That strategy likely won’t work for direct My Number Card support in Google Wallet.

App Clips at Kitasando Coffee

Kitasando Coffee was one of the Japan debut sites for App Clips. I finally had time to check it out today. The overall experience was similar to the Starbucks app mobile order and pay. Regulars would use the full blown Coffee App but I wanted to see how fast the App Clip ‘point and pay’ experience would be.

My iPhone 11 NFC reader mode kicked in and launched the Coffee App Clip, I ordered and paid with Apple Pay, all just under a minute even with first timer ‘what do I do now’ pauses, then waited for the order to be filled. There was no ‘Sign in with Apple ID’ step, just point, order, pay, pickup. The video shows the whole process with the order wait time edited out.

App Clips does a very good job of utilizing NFC reader mode and loading time with 4G LTE was also good. I still have doubts about the experience in a marginal WiFi environment (the WiFi Assist factor) and hope to test different places as App Clips gain traction. Bottom line: if NFC with reader mode is this slick, why would anybody bother with QR or App Clip Codes?

UPDATE
iOS 14.3 beta has support for Apple designed App Clip Code scanning. Here is a quick screen recording of the scan process and animation. The App Clip Code is a photo of the ExxonMobile gas pump stickers that launched October 22. The App Clip does not load because the ExxonMobile App is not available in Japan.

Apple Pay Contactless Adoption Outlook 4Q 2020

MacRumors posted an interesting comment Tim Cook made in the 4Q 2020 earnings call

As you can imagine in this environment, people are less wont to hand over a card. Contactless payment has taken on a different level of adoption and I don’t think we’ll go back. The United States has been lagging in contactless payments and I think the pandemic may very well put the U.S. on a different trajectory there. We are very bullish on this area and there are more things that Apple can do in this space so this is an area of great interest to us.

What exactly are the ‘more things that Apple can do in this space’ Tim is talking about? There are two iOS 14 Apple Pay features that haven’t arrived yet: App Clips and Apple Pay QR Code Payments.

App Clips are ‘here’ but you wouldn’t know it. An October 22 tweet announced 2 Tokyo coffee shops offering App Clips, the debut locations for Japan. NFCW reports ExxonMobil’s ‘point and pay’ App Clip with App Clip Code stickers at USA gas pumps though only the NFC tag part is working. ExxonMobil rolled those out the same time as Japan. Ken Nishimura of Coral Capital has an interestingly detailed write up of the Tokyo App Clips launch with a screen recoding of the App Clips order process.

We are cashless…App Clips at Tailored Cafe but the nifty Apple-designed App Clip Code stickers aren’t available in Japan yet (Coral Capital blog)

The problem is that the Apple-designed App Clip Codes aren’t fully ready yet and require a future iOS 14 update (iOS 14.3?) to enable optical code reading, as noted in the iOS 14 web page fine print. Also note the 2 flavors of NFC tag reading iPhones: 1) automatic NFC with reader mode (iPhone Xs and later), 2) manual Control Center NFC scan mode (pre-iPhone XS).

I expect iOS 14 Apple Pay QR Code Payments to arrive at the same time. It only makes sense to enable and launch App Clip Codes + Apple Pay QR Code Payments together as one rollout. The only question is announcement timing. We already have the ‘soft’ App Clips Code October 22 launch in Japan and USA. If Apple holds another event this year, I think there’s a very good chance we’ll hear about it.

UPDATE
iOS 14.3 beta has support for Apple designed App Clip Code scanning. Here is a quick screen recording of the scan process and animation. The App Clip Code is a photo of the ExxonMobile gas pump stickers that launched October 22. The App Clip does not load because the ExxonMobile App is not available in Japan.