2019 Tidbits

The end of the year season is down for the count. Barring any news items like Apple Pay Octopus really launching this year, this is probably my last news post for 2019. Not news really, just tidbits.

Lingnan Pass and ShenZhen transit cards coming to Apple Pay in 2020
This piece of news came from Twitter users noting that the Lingnan Pass will come to Apple Pay in 2020. The Lingnan Pass and ShenZhen Transit pages show announcements released today (December 11), a machine translation roughly says Apple Pay support is coming soon. China has had the PBOC 2.0~3.0 contactless standard and T-Union transit card architecture in place for some time, with local transit cards slowly being updated to the new format. Beijing and Shanghai transit cards arrived on Apple Pay with iOS 11.3. Additional China transit cards were tested in an early developer preview of iOS 11.4 but dropped before the developer beta. Beijing/Shanghai transit cards were labeled beta up until iOS 12.2. Apple Pay Lingnan Pass and ShenZhen Transit will likely follow the Beijing/Shanghai transit card model with bank card recharge limited to China Union Pay (Interesting side note: Octopus and Lingnan Pass have a dual mode transit card). If Tim Cook does visit Hong Kong and China on his trip, things might shape up to be an excellent Apple Pay transit card year end Asian adventure.

Tim Cook’s Excellent Asian Transit Adventure?
The Tim arrived unannounced in Tokyo a few days ago, his first public appearance here since September 2016 and the first public demo of Apple Pay Suica just before the service launch. With Tim’s arrival in Tokyo I noticed an odd uptick in views from Hong Kong. When Tim landed in Singapore, Hong Kong views ticked up again. Obviously Hong Kong iPhone users are hoping that Tim will visit Hong Kong and launch the long delayed Apple Pay Octopus. I hope so too. Update: Apple Maps Hong Kong Transit information is available to China mainland users after a long absence.

12/19 UPDATE: Apple Pay Octopus has been delayed to later in 2020.

1/8 UPDATE: Apple announces new transit cards for China but not Octopus

Apple Pay Ventra
This was promised as ‘coming later this year’ back in May. As of December 10 Ventra Twitter support is still promising users to “stay tuned.” Let’s hope Cubic is working overtime to make it happen. Update: Ventra has changed the Apple Pay Ventra blurb from ‘coming later this year’ to ‘coming soon,’ we’ll see Apple Pay Ventra in 2020.

JP POST going Cashless
This was announced some time ago but is worth repeating: Japan Post is going cashless starting February 2020 in select central post offices, rolling out to all branches by May 2020. Your favorite plastic credit cards, eMoney cards (iD, QUICPay, Suica, etc.) and QR Codes (The PayPayPay crowd) can be used to pay for postage, sending packages, stamps, postcards, catalog items, etc. It would be nice if cashless payments improve post office lines and wait times, but I guarantee that’s not going to happen.

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One down, two to go on Apple Pay Express Transit 2019 'coming later this year' list

Apple Pay Express Transit arrived on the Transport for London system over the weekend, some 6 months after it was announced. The other 2 remaining Apple Pay Transit cards announced for later this year are Chicago Ventra and Hong Kong Octopus. I already wrote about Octopus not launching this year. The Ventra odds seem a little better. On the bright side Ventra is run by Cubic, the same folks who operate the TfL and New York OMNY systems and already have EMV Apple Pay Express Transit support up and running. Also the Ventra Chicago Twitter account did mention Apple Pay Ventra as ‘coming later this year’ in a Nov 30 tweet.

On the not so bright side, Apple Pay Ventra is the native MIFARE transit card, the first native transit card that Cubic has ported to a digital wallet and a big complicated transit system at that. Nevertheless, Ventra is telling users that Apple Pay is coming this year. Let’s hope for a successful 2019 launch in the next few weeks.

Last call for Apple Pay Octopus 2019 launch

Apple Pay Octopus was announced in July as ‘coming soon’ with no official indication from Octopus Cards Limited when coming soon would happen. Today is the last day of November, on December 1 an updated Octopus Schedule and Fees Guideline went into effect. From December 1 all Octopus issue switched over to a new 3,000 HKD stored value limit and users can upgrade older cards to the new limit:

Starting from 1 December 2019, the stored value limit of all newly issued Octopus products – including On-Loan Octopus, Sold Octopus, Bank Co-Brand Octopus, Smart Octopus and Octopus Mobile SIM etc., will be HK$3,000.

From a technical standpoint it makes sense to host a new service when the system is ready to automatically upgrade older physical Octopus cards to the new stored value limit when transferred to smartphones. However, I seriously doubt the new stored value limit is a factor in the Apple Pay Octopus launch delay. The protests in Hong Kong that started just before the OCL July announcement are a much bigger factor. I suspect the protests were also a factor in OCL suspending Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay services without any explanation.

The Apple Pay Octopus launch has been on a long damn winding road since beta testing started a year ago. The clock is ticking, if a launch doesn’t come in the next 2 weeks or so, Apple Pay Octopus is a no show for 2019. My take is it will happen in 2020.

Smart Octopus Offline Until Further Notice

UPDATE: Smart Octopus services are online again after a 15 hour or so outage, let’s see if OCL offers up an explanation for an unscheduled, and so far, unexplained service outage.

Octopus Cards Limited suspended Smart Octopus online services on November 18 around 6pm local time: All online services for Smart Octopus are temporarily unavailable until further notice. It was impossible to figure out what exactly stopped working as the OCL site did not list details.

It sounded like select Smart Octopus backend services were offline (for adding cards, credit card recharge, etc.) but Smart Octopus was not blocked at the gates (hard but not impossible to do with hotlist management). Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay users were the only ones who knew what worked and what didn’t.

It could be that OCL parent MTR wanted to discourage mobile transit use and divert transit users to recharge Octopus cards at machines that can be turned off by area or station as needed at a turbulent time with Hong Kong Polytechnic University under siege. It could also be that nothing was really offline as MRT has done similar things before, such as taping ‘out of service’ notices on fully functioning kiosks, perhaps to discourage protesters and supporters from moving around freely. Without an official explanation for anything, we don’t know.

In the current state of affairs I don’t think Apple Pay Octopus will launch this year even though everything is ready to go. It’s impossible to launch a new service when MTR and OCL are showing signs of reining services in without notice. Whatever is really happening, it feels like Hong Kong is under a kind of lock down. Stay safe.

Hands Free Suica

After iOS 13.2 hit the final beta I migrated my Suica from iPhone to Apple Watch to give watchOS 6 Apple Pay Suica a proper shake down. Even after only a few days I can already say that Apple Pay Suica performance on watchOS 6 is far better than any version of watchOS 5. Not only does it feel more responsive, Suica Express Transit seems more sensitive further away from the gate reader hit area, crazy as that sounds.

Going back to Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch also brings back a great feature I missed on iPhone: hands free Suica. Incredible as it sounds, Apple Watch is still the only wearable device for Suica, the only choice for hands free Suica. Once you get used to hands free Suica Express Transit with Suica Auto Recharge, it spoils you for any other kind of cashless payment. Hands free shopping and transit is a breeze that makes everything else feel like a huge step backwards.

Apple should be marketing the hell out of it in Japan but don’t. What a waste of a huge and exclusive marketing opportunity. When Apple Pay Octopus finally, finally, finally launches, I expect Hong Kong Apple Watch users will really appreciate hands free Octopus.