Octopus 2.0

The Apple Pay Octopus launch in June 2020 marked the end of an era of Octopus as the exclusive Hong Kong MTR home grown transit platform, and the start of MTR integrating into China mainland transit fare standards. In August 2020 Octopus Cards Limited announced they would join China T-Union. My take about it and the eventual migration of Octopus from FeliCa to PBOC 2.0, struck a raw nerve and did not go down well with some Hong Kong folk:

Can someone tell the ill-informed, self-centred, attention-seeking blogger to stop spreading fake rumours about octopus ditching FeliCa? Not in this lifetime…The self-proclaimed expert blogger’s been wrong on so many levels I’m amazed people still follow him like religion and never question his fantasy stories. Utterly annoyed by him dropping quotes from people out of context and use them to his benefits.

In April 2021 new OCL CEO Angus Lee Chun-ming said in a South China Morning Post interview that OCL had applied for China T-Union membership as planned, and will launch a dual mode Octopus card for mainland transit use:

“We have applied to join the China T-Union, the nationwide one-card payment system led by the Ministry of Transport. That will enable Octopus physical-card holders to pay for public transport fares in mainland China,”…

The service can be upgraded to digital Octopus cards in the phase two development. “The card will be denominated in Hong Kong dollars. Octopus will arrange the currency settlement with the mainland partner,” said Lee.

A one-card nationwide payment system eh? Sounds like an plug for China T-Union instead of an Octopus presser. Phase 1 is a physical dual mode Octopus card that appears to be 2 separate chips (PBOC and FeliCa) in one card with a common HKD ePurse. This is novel as Greater Bay Area dual mode cards up to now used separate ePurses for each currency. It’s also complicated because mainland transit operators have to do the currency conversion. A digital wallet version is phase 2. The elimination of FeliCa on the Hong Kong side will be the final phase, though that depends on the Ministry of Transport removing the current PBOC restriction that limits it to transit use and T-Union branding issue, or Octopus coming up with something else. We shall see.

On the mobile side Hong Kong iPhone users already have a dual mode Wallet option to add China T-Union cards if they have a China UnionPay credit or debit card. It’s not dual mode on one card and there is an Express Transit issue when turning on a China T-Union card turns off Express Transit for Octopus, but it works.

Dual mode transit cards on Apple Pay don’t exist yet but they are technically possible. Apple Pay already uses dual mode NFC switching for Japanese issue payment cards, FeliCa for contactless use in Japan, EMV for contactless use abroad. Another option might be the multiple secure element domain/multiple NFC protocol support of Mobile FeliCa 4.1 outlined by FeliCa Dude for dual mode transactions using just Mobile FeliCa with NFC-A/NFC-F.

On the transit gate side it will be interesting to see what design MTR uses for multiple protocol open-loop. NFC requires the reader side to specify the NFC protocol used for the transaction. This is a not a problem at store checkout, but how does the user specify the transaction protocol on transit gates? Answer: by tapping different readers. Perhaps the new MTR gates will host a NFC-A reader (EMV and PBOC), a NFC-F reader (FeliCa) in addition to the already separate QR reader? And if those Touchless UWB rumors are true, UWB and Bluetooth could be joining the MTR next generation gate party. One thing for sure, transitions are messy, and expensive.

SmartGo Staple: smart Mobile Suica solution for COVID era business travel

As more companies transition work style away from daily commuting to a central office to telework with direct business trips from home, there is less need for commuter passes but that means more corporate virtual paperwork and paper trails for filing and processing transit expenses. How nice it would be if Mobile Suica had a plug-in for SF expense reporting. It does actually: SmartGo Staple a co-venture between JR East and NTT Communications.

The service is straightforward: for a ¥1,000 (w/VISA card option) or ¥600 (w/o) per Mobile ID monthly service fee, SmartGo Staple provides live Mobile Suica ID SF transaction data of registered accounts to corporate management and accounting, who then calculate and reimburse employee on the go, or teleworking at home for corporate related Mobile Suica use, reducing the paperwork at all levels. The flexibility of Mobile Suica and Suica App which discretely attaches a credit card to a Suica card, allows users to set up a Suica card just for corporate use with a corporate credit card attached.

This is the idea behind the SmartGo Staple prepaid VISA card option which management can ‘recharge’ remotely. SmartGo Staple a service for the COVID era but the interesting thing is that with more people doing without commuter passes, Apple Pay Suica and Mobile Suica easily covers nationwide transit and payment use. Commuter passes are the only reason for all those Japanese Transit IC cards. One Mobile Suica does it all. There are still weak spots, i.e. non SF Suica ID # attached services like smartEX and Shinkansen eTickets. Using a transit card ID number to attach separate services is flexible but involves the extra step of corralling the separate transaction histories into one expense report.

Young employees tell the department manager to get with the times

UPDATE 2021-09-22
Along the same lines a similar but important co-venture service was announced by JR East and SAP: Suica transaction record integration for SAP Concur Expense systems. The SAP promo video shows it in action. The matchup of SAP and Mobile Suica will make Suica the default transit tool for corporate Japan.

WWDC21 Apple Pay Wish List: new Wallet app

It’s that time of year again, to ponder the mysteries of Apple Pay, Wallet, PassKit and Core NFC in the next major iOS release. I wasn’t planning a list this year because all the things covered last year: UWB Touchless CarKey, QR Code Payments, etc., are still lurking in PassKit calls and internal beta test builds and have yet to see the light of day. And then there is App Clips, a solution that finally leverages the versatility of NFC tags and iPhone NFC with reader mode was the big WWDC20 story, but it didn’t come into focus either. Too many COVID distractions.

No, no, the only thing that mattered to users and developers was this: when will Apple do something about the Face ID with face mask problem? The eagerly awaited iOS 14.5 Unlock with Apple Watch feature will almost certainly be the most popular feature of iOS 15 too. There are some interesting new PassKit tidbits in iOS 14.5: PKRadioTechnology type properties for NFC and bluetooth, the later for UWB Touchless use. This is the same pattern we saw at the end of the iOS 13 cycle with PassKit Secure Element Pass references replacing NFC Certificate Pass.

So what’s on the slab for all things WWDC21 iOS 15 Apple Pay? I have no idea. UWB Touchless and QR payment support lurking in the background might see the light of day, App Clips might get some refinements. Nothing really new. So I asked readers what they wanted for iOS 15 Apple Pay and the answer was clear: a Wallet app reboot. I didn’t think much about it until I saw the list of China T-Union add card Wallet options for mainland China.

The Apple Pay China Transit card list is long and getting longer

More Apple Pay Transit cards are on the way but there’s another problem, digital ID cards (passports, driver’s license, national identity cards, etc.). Apple Pay Student ID MIFARE cards landed back in iOS 12, but Apple has grander plans revealed in a NFC digital ID patent filing. The Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) has plans for a digital version of My Number Card (Individual Number Card) and is already in negotiations with Apple. Where and how do digital ID cards fit in the current Wallet model that only holds a maximum of 12 cards? Something has to give.

Wallet has a very simple rule: any card that loads a Java Card applet into the secure element has to reside in Wallet, the maximum number depends on how many Java Card applets it can hold at any one time. Any card or developer that wants to loads applets and use the secure element also has to have a PassKit NFC/Secure Element Certificate Pass. This is covered by NDA but a company called PassKit (not Apple) gives us an idea what Apple’s NFC/Secure Element Pass guidelines are:

Apple care a great deal about the user experience. Before granting NFC certificate access they will ensure that you have the necessary hardware, software and capabilities to develop or deploy an ecosystem that is going to deliver an experience consistent with their guidelines.

Yeah, the end to end user experience, the whole reason behind the success of Apple Pay. But the Apple Pay user experience has seriously declined in the Face ID with face mask era. The current Wallet with its card metaphor has reached a wall, stuffing digital ID and Code Payments into the mix along with non-secure element Wallet tickets, boarding passes and reward cards, all using same old card UI, will only break the user experience on top of the Face ID with face mask inflicted damage.

Even if Apple doesn’t add new functions to iOS 15 Apple Pay, they must lay groundwork for a new, flexible and far more useful next generation Wallet app, for adding, storing, configuring and most of all, using an even growing collection of payment cards, transit cards, CarKey, reward cards, passes and digital ID items. Anything to save us from the cacophony of payment services, apps and reward goodies chasing our money and slowing us down at checkout with finding, unlocking, displaying a reward code (if the WiFi connection is good, heaven help those waiting in line when it’s bad) and finally paying. Whew.

The whole point of Apple Pay Wallet was to free us from physical card clutter. After 7 years of Apple Pay and payment apps we have digital clutter that’s almost worse than the original problem that digital wallets and smartphones were supposed to free us from. Let’s get our eyeballs and attention spans back.

Also see: UWB Touchless Express Transit and Apple Pay for iOS 15?

The Super Suica Reference

The new features that make up 2 in 1 Suica are called many things. JR East calls it ‘Next Generation Suica’ and ‘2 in 1 Region Affiliate Card’. Yanik Mangan came up with ‘All-in-one Suica’ moniker in his limitless possibilities podcast. I call it, and will continue to call it, Super Suica because I see wider Suica platform initiatives built off the new FeliCa OS features used for 2 in 1 • next generation Suica. It’s a looser, fuzzier platform evolution definition instead of one card that does it all.

That doesn’t mean that Super Suica or all-in-one Suica will ever happen they way we envision it. The aim is to give people convenient, easy to understand concepts to discuss and categorize ongoing developments until something official comes along.

This is a list of announcements, launches and posts related to Super Suica as a platform with links to JR Group PR releases, color classifications as follows:

🟩= Suica cards • Suica region extensions
🟧= Mobile FeliCa, Mobile Suica + derivations (Mobile PASMO, Mobile ICOCA)
🟥= FeliCa Standard SD2• New FeliCa OS
🟦= Cloud Suica (transit fare) • JESCA-Cloud (e-Money payments)
🟪= ID-PORT Services

DateCategory • AnnouncementLaunched
September 2018🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 • FeliCa Standard SD22021
June 2019🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 for Tochigi
🟧Rakuten Pay Suica
2021-03
2021
September 2019🟩🟥Cross Region Commuter Passes for ICOCA-TOICA-Suica2021
October 2019🟧Mobile PASMO (hosted on Mobile Suica)2021
December 2019🟥🟧UWB Touchless Mobile FeliCa2024(?)
January 2020🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Iwate Green Pass (Iwate)2021-03
March 2020🟪Eki-Net Shinkansen eTicket service2020
May 2020🟧Garmin Pay Suica launch
🟧Rakuten Pay Suica launch
September 2020🟥FeliCa Standard SD2 cards with new FeliCa OS features ships
November 2020🟧wena 3 (smartwatch+band) Suica launch
October 2020🟧Apple Pay PASMO launch
🟧Mobile ICOCA
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Iwate
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Hachinohe

2023-03
2022-03
2022-03
November 2020🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Aomori
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Akita
🟩🟧🟪 Maebashi MaaS Suica services linked with My Number ID card
2022-03
2022-02
2020-12
January 2021🟩Cross Region Commuter ICOCA-TOICA-Suica launch with TOICA & ICOCA region extensions2021-03
March 2021🟩Cross region exit gates installed at Maibara and Atami stations
🟧Fitbit Pay Suica launch
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Yamagata announcement
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Gunma announcement (Nolbé)


2022-05
2022-03
April 2021🟦🟩Cloud Suica & Suica region extension announcement
🟪 Eki-Net reboot: cloud services and JRE POINT integration
2023-03
2021-06
June 2021🟧Fitbit Pay Suica expansion
🟩🟪Disabled fare Suica • PASMO announced for later in 2022

2022
August 2021🟩🟧🟪Suica Smart-Lock2022
November 2021🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 Shuhoku Orange Pass
🟩🟥Suica 2 in 1 TOWANDA
2022-03
2022-05
January 2022🟧🟪Mobile Suica support for day passes, student commuter passes2022-03
February 2022🟩🟧🟪Suica bike parking2022-02
October 2022🟧Google Pay Suica for WearOS2022
November 2022🟦🟪 Eki-Net QR Tickets2024-10

🟩🟥Next Generation Suica 2 in 1 cards
A new card for integrating Transit IC and region cards in new ways focusing on Suica 2 in 1 Region Affiliate transit cards and FeliCa Standard SD2 • FeliCa OS as the core development. JR Cross Region Commuter Passes included as I suspect they also use SD2 Extended Overlap and represent a step towards cross region through transit for Transit IC.

🟧Mobile FeliCa • Mobile Suica
The evolution of Mobile FeliCa to include UWB touchless and multiple secure element domains for digital ID, Mobile Suica service expansion and hosting Mobile PASMO and Mobile ICOCA.

🟦Cloud Suica • JESCA-Cloud & 🟪= ID-PORT Services
Cloud based fare transaction processing and e-Money store payment processing reduce local processing hardware costs for easy expansion

The truth is in the tap

The Nankai Visa Touch test launch launched endless Twitter discussions about slow EMV contactless tap speeds and performance issues compared with Suica and other Transit IC cards. EMV contactless transit in Japan is novel so this is expected. But suddenly people are also referencing Junya Suzuki’s 2016 pre-Apple Pay Suica launch era ‘Is Suica Over-spec?’ piece. This has long been a favorite theme in Japanese tech media: Suica is more than we need, EMV contactless is ‘good enough’ so let’s do everything with one card, life is more convenient that way. Be careful what you wish for.

The 2016 launch of Apple Pay Suica was a great success of course, that changed the Japanese payments market and opened the door for the proliferation of QR payment services you see everywhere now. The one card must do it all concept is old hat but Tokyo Olympics sponsors Visa Japan and SMBC are trying very hard to convince Japan that Visa Touch cards are the transit future.

My position was and remains that one size never fits all. It doesn’t have to be a EMV or nothing choice portrayed in tech media, nor should it. Different technologies complement each other for a better user experience. Apple Pay Suica/Mobile Suica combines the convenience of EMV cards on the recharge backend with the speed and reliability of FeliCa based Suica cards on the NFC front-end, for a best of breed closed loop transit user experience. One interesting thing I pointed out in my retweet of Suzuki san’s Nakai open loop launch piece was that QR Nankai Digital Ticket gate performance in the his video is faster than Visa Touch because it’s closed loop.

The comment touched off an odd but interesting set of tweets from Suzuki san and his followers about gate design, reader performance and walk flow that boils down to this: if the reader transaction speed is slow, increase the distance between the reader and gate flap to keep people walking instead of stopping.

His follow up piece deconstructs ‘FeliCa is faster’ as half misunderstanding transit gate antenna design and RF communication distance because EMVCo reader certification dictates a smaller RF distance, the result of using the EMV contactless supermarket checkout spec on transit gates it was never intended for. All I can say is the truth is in the tap. In theory all NFC flavors and protocols offer the same performance but in real transit use they don’t. Better to get next generation Ultra Wideband Touchless gates in service and dispense with the ‘redesign transit gates for slow EMV contactless/QR transit’ debate nonsense. Design things for the future not the past.

The current Transit IC local stored fare model does have weak points as suggested in FeliCa Dude’s tweet: discount ticketing, rebates and refunds. If you purchase a Mobile Suica commuter pass, you can easily get a refund back to the bank payment card used to purchase the commuter pass. This is because Suica extras like commuter passes and Green Seat upgrades are supplemental attached services that don’t use the SF purse.

Rebates and refunds via the SF (stored fare) purse are a bottleneck. Suica App has a mechanism for dealing with some of this called ‘Suica Pocket’ for JRE POINT exchanges and refunds back to the SF purse. Mobile Suica card refunds are another matter and can only be refunded to a Japanese bank account. Octopus Cards Ltd. (OCL) has a special Octopus App for Tourists that refunds a card balance back to original credit card used for the initial digital card issue. OCL also charges tourist users an arm and a leg for Octopus Wallet recharge and refunding. It would be nice if JR East could do the same…without the outrageous OCL surcharges.

For inbound discount ticketing JR East has adopted a similar approach they use for Eki-Net Shinkansen eTickets: discount plans attached to plastic Suica cards. This is the whole purpose of the Welcome Suica + reference paper proving validity for inbound discount plan purchases at station kiosks. It would be great if JR East figures out a way to do the same thing on Mobile Suica.

Domestic discount ticketing and passes are still the glorious, mostly paper ticket maze that is Eki-Net and similar services. Eki-Net itself is still in a slow motion transition towards a Transit IC/Mobile Suica orbit with some things transitioning to QR paper ticketing that replaces expensive mag-strip paper. Eki-Net App is still limited to Shinkansen eTickets and ticketless express train seat purchases. The Eki-Net web site is where you access all the bells and whistles although the experience feels like navigating the Transit IC interoperability chart. Discounts are starting to change somewhat with Suica 2 in 1, totra is the first Suica for disabled users but exclusive to the totra fare region. Hopefully Extended Overlap will see wider use not only for Suica but across all Transit IC cards for more special, and interoperable, discount services.