Lots of people in Japan and China wear face masks at different times of the year for flu season, pollen season, pollution season, etc. Whatever the reason, Face ID is simply not an option for these people. If it doesn’t work, why bother paying lots of money for a Face ID iPhone model? If Chinese manufacturers are selling under-display fingerprint sensor at a cheaper price than a Face ID iPhone, the choice for a face mask user is a no-brainer.
Whatever the outcome of the China market iPhone rumor, Apple going all in with Face ID has left money and marketshare on the table for others to grab.
After Apple and OCL set things in motion in December 2018 with tests for a tentative Chinese New Year launch but then put things on hold, Hong Kong iPhone users are finally getting their wish: Octopus on Apple Pay will launch in Hong Kong with iOS 13. The iOS 13 beta contains specific Apple Pay Octopus references along with Apple Pay server side references (link now closed) which indicate that OCL is field testing with the latest beta:
Suica Similarities Octopus is based on the same FeliCa technology used for Suica and both cards are very similar. Octopus is used extensively for fast transit and contactless payments of all kinds. According to Wikipedia there are over 33 million Octopus cards in circulation as of 2018 used by 99 per cent of Hong Kong residents. The addition of the Octopus transit payment platform to Apple Pay will drive its adoption in Hong Kong far more than regular credit/debit cards can ever accomplish, as it has in Japan with Apple Pay Suica.
The digital Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay is very similar to Apple Pay Suica, with fast Express Transit-like use and performance, but the setup is a little more user friendly for inbound visitors: a new virtual Octopus card can be created directly in Wallet without using a separate app like SuicaEng or HOP App. You can transfer a plastic Octopus card, but just like Suica and HOP, the plastic card cannot be used after transfer, and the same virtual card can only be used on a single device at a time. The Apple Pay Octopus experience will be the same and Express Transit a given.
Apple Maps Transit Integration Earlier Apple Pay Octopus reports mentioned Hong Kong Apple Maps Transit launching at the same time. Sources confirmed that Apple Maps Hong Kong transit directions were ready to roll a long time ago but have been held back for a simultaneous release with Apple Pay Octopus. It makes sense for Apple to offer both services as an integrated whole as they did for the Apple Pay Suica launch. If the Japan launch is anything to go by, confirmation won’t come until very late in the beta test cycle, if at all, Transit will simply appear.
Global NFC iPhone and Apple Watch The Apple Pay Octopus device profile will be the same as Suica: iPhone 7/7 Plus purchased in Japan (models A1779/A1785), iPhone 8/8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS/XS Plus, iPhone XR set up with Face ID or Touch ID, and Apple Watch Series 3 and later. There is a chance that iOS 13 will retroactively enable FeliCa for all iPhone 7 models to support the Apple Pay Octopus launch.
iPhone 11 Pro/11/XR/XS have the A12/A13 Bionic exclusive Express Transit with power reserve feature that gives users an additional 5 hours of Express Transit use when iPhone in low battery power reserve mode. A12/A13 Bionic powered FeliCa performance is also much improved over previous iPhone models because the Bionic Secure Enclave directly handles transactions and bypasses the iOS. My experience with Apple Pay Suica performance on iPhone 11 Pro has been as fast and reliable as plastic Suica with none of the iOS issues of previous iPhone models, performance on iOS 12.3 was stellar and remains stellar on iOS 13. Apple Pay Octopus performance on iPhone 11 Pro/11/XR/XS will have the same advantages.
Hong Kong iPhone X users need to be aware of the iPhone X NFC hardware problem found on early production devices that causes endless issues with Apple Pay Express Transit. Apple has quietly provided replacement Revision B iPhone X devices for users who experience Express Transit gate errors in Japan and China. Hopefully Apple will offer the same courtesy to Hong Kong iPhone X users who encounter the issue.
The First Transit Platform Business Model The Hong Kong Octopus card was the first real transit platform (contactless transit and eMoney) that had a tremendous impact on the development of Transit for London (TfL) Oyster card, Opal in Australia and other transit card fare systems around the world. It’s great for Hong Kong users that OCL is expanding the Octopus platform to include more digital wallets. I hope OCL continues to expand both the service on other digital wallets, and the business opportunities. For Apple this is an important opportunity to kick Hong Kong Apple Pay use into high gear and will certainly drive Apple Pay credit/debit card use on the recharge end far more than regular bank card Apple Pay, last but not least it’s a vindication of Apple’s global NFC “it just works” anywhere vision for Apple Pay.
9/19 UPDATE: Octopus Cards Limited CEO Sunny Cheung said that Apple Pay Octopus will not launch with iOS 13 (September 19 USA/September 20 Hong Kong), but will “start as soon as possible within the year.”
This is a perfectly understandable concern, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: if you are using iOS 12.3, you are already using iOS 13 Apple Pay Wallet. Apple simply has not told you yet.
iOS 12.3 Apple Pay Wallet is a whole new thing. The changes Apple made to it in iOS 12.2~iOS 12.3 are massive. Express Transit performance gains, and the new EMV Express Transit option are equally massive. Most people assume that the Wallet changes are for Apple Card, which they are, but few people understand that the changes are also for the Apple Pay Transit support of HOP, Ventra, NY MTA, and more, which Tim Cook announced along with Apple Card on March 25.
In short, Rev. B iPhone X users, and all iPhone users, have nothing to worry about anymore. If your Apple Pay Suica or Apple Pay HOP is working great on iOS 12.3, it’s going to work great on iOS 13 too.
Tsutsumu Ishikawa is probably Japan’s premier tech journalist who came up through the traditional print journalism of Nikkei, kind of like Walt Mossberg or Joanna Stern of WSJ. Ishikawa san was also the journalist who broke the Apple Pay coming to Japan story in the summer of 2016 in the Japanese press, which Bloomberg shamelessly reported in English without giving him credit.
Because of his deep connection to Apple Pay, it’s ironic that Ishikawa san is suddenly tweeting that he’s been bitten by the iPhone X NFC Suica Problem:
Japanese tech media did not take up the iPhone X NFC Suica problem in 2018. I don’t expect them to now. Even journalists who were aware of the problem in 2018 like Junya Suzuki, kind as he is, told me, “Let’s leave it up to social media channels.” Unfortunately, in this day and age the reality is that working tech journalists have to pick and choose stories that have legs and get clicks. Otherwise they can’t make a living.
Ishikawa san’s sudden iPhone X Suica problem is intriguing, and worrisome. Is it one of the original problem units manufactured before April 2018? I have no idea, but I have always suspected that all iPhone X units manufactured before the Revision B iPhone X April 2018 switchover will exhibit degraded NFC performance over time.
Other iPhone X users are reporting this too. Even iPhone X device owners who have not had NFC problems are suddenly discovering that their iPhone X NFC is going wonky. I hope this is not a new ugly chapter in the iPhone X NFC Suica problem saga:
I wonder if Ishikawa san and Tanaka san will read this blog and get a Rev. B iPhone X replacement? Probably not, but they should. So should everybody with a problem iPhone X device. I’ll update this post with any new information or developments.
Express Transit only works while Face ID/Touch ID is active. Express Transit stops working when Face ID/Touch ID is disabled. It is easy to disable Face ID without realizing it, resulting in a rude passcode request at the transit gate. iPhone X, XS, XR users need to be extra careful if wearing a face mask during a commute, 5 misreads disable Face ID, or putting the device in a fairly tight pants pocket as pressure on the side buttons also disables Face ID. iPhone X, XS, XR users can avoid these issues by turning off Raise to Wake. If you still have problems the last resort is turning off Face ID for unlocking iPhone, be sure leave it on for Apple Pay.
Express Transit works great on Apple Watch, depending on which wrist you use, but in winter when wearing layers of clothes, iPhone is faster to whip out at the gate. iPhone is also free from ‘left wrist vs. right side’ gate reader issues. As one reader points out: “Apple Watch works great for Express Transit except it’s on the wrong wrist in many cities. I’m a broken record at this point but a smart band would be a terrific addition to the lineup (and would solve this problem).” Adding money/reload/recharge to HOP and Suica transit cards with Apple Pay on Apple Watch is also much less convenient than iPhone.