mobile myki madness

If I had an Australian dollar for every online complaint of Mobile myki, the mobile version of Public Transport Victoria’s (PTV) myki transit card in the Melbourne region, I could probably purchase a nice bit of property there. Reddit forums regularly erupt with mobile myki mind melting nonsense, invariably bashing Apple for refusing to put myki in Apple Pay because Apple ‘doesn’t support HCE’ or because they charge a ‘30% commission’. Neither of them true. myki is MIFARE which has never used HCE and Apple Wallet already supports lots of MIFARE transit cards.

The whole HCE thing is a straw man anyway: embedded secure elements (eSE) are standard on NFC smartphone chips these days. The reason why Île-de-France Mobilités (IDFM) chose HCE for Smart Navigo on Android for example, had nothing to do with Android devices lacking an eSE, it was simply that IDFM didn’t want to deal with Android manufacturer ‘gatekeepers’. Imagine the nightmare of asking every Android manufacture to issue firmware updates for older devices to support Calypso on the eSE. There was no chance in hell they would listen or do it for free, so IDFM and Calypso spent a lot of time and money creating a special HCE version of Calypso, that doesn’t support Express Transit Mode, just for Android (but not for Samsung Pay devices which use native eSE and support Express Transit Mode).

Why IDFM and Calyspso did this is all you need to know about the chaotic mess that is Android NFC. When Smart Navigo comes to Apple Wallet later this year, it will run on iPhone 8/Apple Watch 3 and later without a hitch in full Express Transit Mode glory because firmware, eSE and software are upgraded in a single iOS update. That’s the advantage of having a good gatekeeper who’s on the job.

As for the 30% commission straw man, Apple Pay doesn’t ‘charge a commission’ for using transit cards, they only take a negotiated commission when a credit card is used to add money to the transit card. Why PTV and Apple haven’t reached an agreement yet is a mystery, but judging from myki user complaints, the mobile myki backend system might not be up to Apple’s user experience high-bar. And the myki system is about to get much more complicated: PTV is hitting the reset button.

Open loop envy
PTV has Opal open loop envy and want EMV contactless cards to replace most of myki. This is certainly doable but there is the issue of the native MIFARE myki already on mobile. Oyster and Opal cards are MIFARE too but those systems added EMV contactless support as the foundation for ‘mobile’, relegating MIFARE as legacy plastic. By doing this they offloaded the card issuing operation to VISA/Mastercard/AMEX card issuers, who already have digital card systems in place and agreements with digital wallet operators. myki having come this far with mobile however is going to be a real juggling act, can PVT, or whoever wins the service contract, keep all the service balls in the air while going forward?

There is also the problem of Express Transit Mode support. Look carefully at Apple Express Transit Mode small print and you’ll notice that mobile EMV and mobile MIFARE transit card Express Transit Mode don’t coexist on the same system. It’s one or the other, never both. I suspect a smart Express Mode that chooses the right transit card for the job depends on smart modern transit gate reader hardware with the latest firmware and updated backend software. Getting the latest, greatest transit gates/readers installed takes time and money. Mostly money. Buckle up myki users, it’s going to be a bumpy ride to mobile transit card nirvana.


Apple Wallet Express Transit Mode is basically limited to native transit cards

iPhone NFC misinformation alive and well on reddit

Once in a while I get a surge of traffic from reddit and like to see which post was linked and the attached discussion. This was very hard to do before reddit added comment searches and even so it takes a few days before a new entry shows up in search results. The latest one was about iPhone X and NFC.

Question: What’s the difference between X and XS ? Which is better ? My second question: Recently I bought an X Japanese Version. Is it different from regular X ??

Answer 1: X to XS is Just a small minor cpu upgrade and minor antenna fixes making the iPhone bottom speaker/microphone holes assymetrical, if you bought a X from Japan and are planning to use it for commuting using apple pay there, make sure to check the production date, pre2018 iPhone X has a suica gate problems that got fixed with the Rev B iPhone X. iPhone X suica problem

Answer 2: Also, all Japanese iPhones have a different NFC reader, so they won’t work with non Japanese tap and pay terminals and other NFC points, eg on public transit and similar

Yikes, all the good and bad of reddit in one post. The question is a good one but the good natured answers are equally helpful and utterly misleading.

Answer 1 is a little off in that bad iPhone X NFC was not a Suica problem, NFC was unreliable across the board regardless of type (A-B-F) or protocol (EMV, FeliCa, etc.), with iPhone X NFC crapping out completely later on (after AppleCare expired naturally). The Rev B thing was just my made up name for units manufactured after April 2018 with reliable NFC. And even though most people have moved on to newer iPhone models with much superior NFC performance, the big bad iPhone X NFC problem continues to haunt users. For me, with 3 replacements and a lot of headaches, iPhone X was the worst iPhone ever. iPhone X users deserved a NFC repair program but never got one because at the time Apple Pay Express Transit was only available in Japan. Apple at its Tim Cookian worst.

Answer 2 is completely wrong. The poster has no idea what they are talking about. All iPhone models have the same NFC hardware. It doesn’t matter what country the iPhone was purchased in, it all just works in every Apple Pay supported region for all NFC flavors. That’s the beauty of Apple’s global NFC hardware strategy that began with iPhone 8 along with NFC switching savvy Apple Pay Wallet that Android has yet to match…not even Google Pixel.

iOS 16 Apple Pay and Wallet Fine Print Features

iOS 16 doesn’t have many big new flashy features. There is the Dynamic Island for iPhone 14 Pro, which I would love to have but I’m holding on to my iPhone 13 for another year…or two. Fortunately there are plenty of nice refinements for the rest of us without the latest greatest iPhone hardware, Apple Pay and Wallet are no exception. The full list is on the New features available with iOS 16 page. As usual the iOS 16 and watchOS 9 pages for each country are edited to reflect available, or coming soon, “Key Features and Enhancements” for the region balanced against the full spec USA feature set.

An interesting thing about iOS 16 Apple Pay and Wallet is that not all the listed features apply to regular users…at least not at first. Some are behind the scenes stuff for merchants and developers that will take time to land in our Apple Pay Wallet as features we can use. Let’s take a quick look by breaking down the categories.

1) General improvements (for everybody)
Quick access menu: a handy new shortcut menu for all Wallet cards and passes via tapping the More button. The menu varies according to the card feature set. Transit cards like Suica have the most, payment cards without notifications (all Japanese issue payments cards) have the least. It’s a nice tweak most useful as a fast way to toggle individual card notifications on and off. Zollotech posted a video that covers quick access menus for Apple Card and Apple Cash along with an overview of iOS 16 Apple Pay and Wallet option settings.

Apple Pay Order Tracking: announced at WWDC22, this new Wallet button sitting next to the ‘Add’ button seems like a no-brainer: when I order something with Apple Pay I get automatic tracking…nice but I wonder how it will play out. Apple Store app for example already has robust tracking and accepts Apple Pay, so do a lot of other apps. Will they remove the function from their app, offer choice between in-app or Wallet order tracking, or something else? Either way it will be a while before we see merchant updates.

2) Digital key features (for most markets): iOS 15 was the Apple Pay and Wallet upgrade that set the course for the next few years with keys and ID. The iOS 16 improvements are about making adding a key and family sharing easy. Hotel keys are now sharable like car and home keys, gotta let the kids have access and all…though I suspect office keys remain on the un-sharable list.

Key sharing (coming with an update later this year): in addition to Messages and Mail, 3rd party messaging apps such as What’s App will support key sharing. In Japan the only 3rd party messaging app that matters is Line. iOS 16 looks to be the breakout year for keys in Wallet.

Add keys from Safari: more important that it might seem at first, there are plenty of uses for loading a key into Wallet from a time sensitive Safari web page link instead of the usual time wasting mess of downloading an app, creating an account, making a reservation, etc. You know the drill. Digital key issue remains a complex thing that usually requires an app with an account to securely issue a mobile key remotely with set limitations (time, area, etc.). Hopefully adding keys in Safari gives developers easier service options, but connecting identity with access remains a challenge.

It’s important to note that issuing digital keys is only one step of the complex process that allows guests to bypass the front desk. Apple’s announcement certainly does not spell the end of the hotel app as we know it…

It’s a big step toward streamlining a process that has, until this point, prevented many guests from using their phone as a digital room key. But, Wallet only solves one segment of the end-to-end operation required to get a guest checked in and room access issued. The bigger issue is connecting identity with access, which requires many more steps beyond issuing a key.

How Apple’s Newest Features Will Affect Hotel Check-in

The solution to this is the new iOS 16 ID in Wallet features for apps in the next section.

Multi-stay hotel keys: if you stay in the same hotel chain on your trip that already supports Wallet hotel keys, you might have the opportunity to use this feature where you load one hotel key into Wallet that works across all your reservations. Like order tracking I think this one will take time for the major hotel chains to get onboard, and of course the devil is in the check-in/activation details.

Easy device migration for keys: I assume this refers to the Previous Cards Wallet category that came with iOS 15. The iOS 16 features page text blurb suggests a possible UI tweak, but I don’t have any key to test. We’ll have to wait and see.

3) ID in Wallet features (USA only): the next big step for ID in Wallet after getting them out the door is app support. This is where digital ID moves beyond airport TSA security checks and becomes really useful.

ID cards presented in apps and Verify your identity in apps sound exactly the same so you have to read the fine print carefully. ID cards in apps describes 2 specific pieces of information: identification and age, validated by Face/Touch ID. Taking a wild guess, there are plenty of account registrations that only need to confirm your identity and age as part of a signup process. Digital ID can vastly simplify the process.

Verify identity in apps describes ‘verified information’, i.e. more than just ‘I am this person, I am xx years old’. The iOS 16 pages shows a car rental app confirming a user’s driver license status and driving privileges. This has a lot more use (and abuse) potential. The hotel app and key issue verification problem mentioned earlier is exactly what digital ID in apps can help solve. MaaS apps are another example where verification is essential for offering special discounts for seniors, locals, inbound visitors, etc. Reliable, secure and universal digital ID would solve a lot of service problems, but privacy, how does the app use digital ID information, how long is it stored, etc., is always a concern.

Apple Pay features for merchants and developers: It’s a little strange that Apple is listing Merchant tokens and Multiple merchant support on the feature page. These are backend additions to PassKit and it will take time for merchants and the developers they employ to implement them. Both of these expand the Apple Pay experience. For me merchant tokens is the more powerful feature, one that enable reoccurring and auto-reload payments. It could be a boon for subscription services and much easier auto-recharge in apps and transit cards like Suica and PASMO. Auto-recharge is one of my favorite Apple Pay Suica features and it would be great if JR East freed it from the shackles of Suica App and View Card and added Apple Pay auto-recharge.

4) Apple Pay Services (for the USA): aka longtime USA only services: Apple Cash and Apple Card with the new addition of Apple Pay Later…coming later this year. All of these fall squarely in heavily regulated banking services, so don’t expect them to expand beyond the USA any time soon. The iOS 15.5-ish rebranding of iTunes Pass into Apple Account card, now with Wallet reload in iOS 16, should expand more quickly.

As with all recent iOS releases, the fun features comes later on in the life-cycle. I’ll update this post as with new information as the iOS 16 Apple Pay and Wallet story unfolds. Until then have a happy cashless, er, you know what I mean.


Region Setting and Apple Pay (updated)

The iOS Region Setting and Apple Pay are linked together in interesting ways that has changed with iOS versions. Up through iOS 10, devices needed to have the region match the country they wanted to add and use cards in: iPhone had to be set to Japan to add and use Japanese credit cards in Apple Pay, and so on.

iOS 11 through iOS 14
This changed in iOS 11 with global FeliCa iPhone and NFC switching. Region setting only needed to be changed to add a card for any particular country and had nothing to do with using it. This is because Apple Pay Wallet displays card options that match the Region setting, it acts like a filter that removes outside clutter. The add card animation cycle shows what’s available:

After adding a card, the Region setting can be anything, as Apple Pay ignores it and takes care of the rest. Many inbound users don’t realize this and have avoided adding Suica to Apple Pay under the misconception that the iPhone/Apple Watch Region has to be set to Japan to use it.

Wallet behavior is the same in iOS 12, even with the iOS 12.2 UI tweaks, but the region setting can be ignored when adding cards to Apple Pay with an app like Suica. Another small change from iOS 11 is that if you have a Suica card deleted from Wallet that is parked on Apple Pay iCloud, Wallet will show you the Add Suica option no matter what the iPhone Region setting is. It’s a nice touch and reminder in case you ever forgot you had one.

Wallet location based prompts for adding Suica and PASMO iOS 13 and iOS 14. Prompt appear under the following conditions: (1) iPhone location is Japan, (2) the Apple ID account has never added a Suica or PASMO to Wallet. Suica and PASMO are then added without changing the device region.

iOS 15
iOS 15 revamped the Wallet add card UI considerably. Transit cards are now region free, anybody can create new transit cards. Add Suica or PASMO regardless of your device setting. See Suica • PASMO Guide for details. There is also a new ‘Previous Cards’ category for quickly re-adding cards, keys and ID that were removed from Wallet but are saved on iCloud. Some options such as adding nanaco and WAON e-Money cards and Driver’s License ID in Wallet are still region-setting dependent.

Apple Pay Suica Express Card Performance Timelines

Express Cards on iOS/watchOS have a special place on the Apple Pay platform. First of all there are only 3:

Express cards share common features:

  • they are stored value
  • they can be recharged with Apple Pay credit cards or cash
  • they don’t require Apple Pay authentication
  • they are multi-purpose and are used for purchase, transit and opening door locks

Apple Pay credit/debit cards in both EMV or FeliCa flavors use middleware to work the transaction magic but Express Cards like Suica and Student ID don’t use middleware. They are pure card emulation residing in the super exclusive PassKit NCF Certificate Nirvana zone where they can do anything they want.

There is a weakness on pre-Bionic architecture however: iOS/watchOS has to babysit all the card emulation and is a somewhat fragile. Changes in the OS affect performance and reliability. Here is a timeline of my experiences with iOS 10 Apple Pay Suica Express cards on the iPhone 7 JP model.

iOS Suica Express Performance Timeline

Apple Pay Express Card performance on pre-Bionic hardware tends to be cyclical: each new iOS has unstable performance at first but improves with later updates. It happened with iOS 11 and the rocky Apple Pay Cash start. And it’s happening again with iOS 12 and iOS 12.1 both of which have Express Card performance issues.

iOS Suica Express Performance Timeline 2

That is why A12 Bionic and Express Cards with reserve power are a big deal. Express Cards with power reserve are the latest Apple Pay Wallet feature to arrive with A12 Bionic on iPhone XS and iPhone XR. Express Cards with reserve power operate without iOS up and running and bypass iOS for basic operations even when it is running. This removes a huge layer of potential problems. My experience with ‘bulletproof’ Apple Pay Suica Express cards on iPhone XS simply blows everything else away.

At some point this feature will be standard across iOS and watchOS. The reliability benefits are huge, as is peace of mind in a power pinch.

And finally there is iPhone X Suica Express Card performance which is in a dog league all its own. Taken together with the iOS 11~iOS 12 timeline, it illustrates how complicated and confusing the current iOS 12 situation is for iPhone X Japanese users. Until Apple comes clean and provides some guidance for iPhone X devices with defective NFC, I don’t see things improving for these users. I’m glad to be out of it but cringe reading iPhone X user experiences and feel for the users as I’ve been there myself.

Suica Express Card performance and iPhone X production timelines compared
iPhone X only had 6 months of defective free NFC production. Until Apple goes public with the iPhone X NFC problem, many users will never know they have a defective device. Taken together with the iOS 12 performance issues, it’s a perfect storm of confusion.