The Mystery of Apple Pay Octopus and iPhone 7 FeliCa Support

There are a few remaining fuzzy spots in the Apple Pay Octopus saga. The story I broke back in December from trusted sources clearly had a Chinese New Year release target. The story went dark but busted wide open again with the Apple Pay JSON server code leak on June 25 that made it absolutely clear Apple Pay Octopus would finally arrive with iOS 13. Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) had no choice but to issue a premature press release stating ‘Apple Pay Octopus is coming, more details soon’ and nothing else.

Why the delay? It clearly was not the Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay exclusivity window that ended in December 2018. We may never know the whole story but I suspect that iPhone 7 FeliCa support is one reason for the delay, but certainly not the only one.

It makes sense for Apple and OCL to release Octopus that can be used on as many Apple devices as possible, the bigger the potential user footprint, the better. Octopus will work on Apple global NFC devices: iPhone 8/X/Apple Watch 3 and later. The important question is how badly do Apple and OCL want to add iPhone 7/Apple Watch 2 to the supported device list?

I previously wrote that Apple announced iOS 13 Core NFC enhanced tag support (FeliCa, etc.) for (all) iPhone 7 devices and later at WWDC19, but this does not sync with Apple Pay Suica device requirements: Apple is telling developers that all iPhone 7 models are good for NFC Read/Write FeliCa but telling customers that only iPhone 7 JP models are good for NFC card emulation FeliCa.

In a later post I quoted FeliCa Dude:

There are millions of NFC-F phones and devices outside Japan. That is because Type A and FeliCa are core requirements for NFC certification. If a phone supports NFC, it supports FeliCa.
What is required to be compatible with most payment terminals in Japan is an Osaifu-Keitai provisioned secure element: that can be a SWP-enabled SIM card (not available yet), the Mobile FeliCa chipset with embedded SE, or an iPhone 7 provisioned for Osaifu-Keitai.
The international iPhone 7s can do basic FeliCa read/write without encryption, because they embed a FeliCa-capable CLF <contactless frontend>. Apple has chosen not to provision them with Osaifu-Keitai keys, probably to avoid paying royalties to FeliCa Networks for each device.

This sparked some fascinating comments from Twitter user Lukas and, lo and behold, the very FeliCa Dude himself, an unexpected and pleasant surprise:

As always, the Dude delivers. Abide in the Dude, his knowledge and keen insight on all things NFC contactless and FeliCa is without peer. In a nutshell this means that OCL could offer Apple Pay Octopus on all iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 devices and add them to the Global NFC Apple device list…but will they? If OCL and Apple can supply the necessary keys in the over the air (OTA) iOS 13 release via the in-house Apple FeliCa keys server, all the better. Either way I think we will find out very soon, possibly as a ‘Apple Pay Octopus coming to Hong Kong’ side mention in the Apple Card release press kit.

Now that the FeliCa Dude has checked in, I hope he can find an appropriate outlet, blog or otherwise, to enlighten us, whatever the occasion. He is a far better writer than I will ever be. I’ve learned a lot from his writings, I know a lot of other people can too. The world needs to hear from the FeliCa Dude, not my cheap imitation.


UPDATE
FeliCa Dude has answered and posted the definitive take of iPhone 7 FeliCa support for all things from Octopus to iOS 13 Core NFC. We own him thanks for taking the time to cover all the angles in such detail.

The crucial section: “In my opinion there are only three reasons that Apple should not be able to bring Octopus emulation to iPhone 7:

  • If they are unable to allocate IDm (card unique ID) values to these non-blessed devices because that process is tangled up with FeliCa Networks
  • If they shot themselves in the foot and disabled their ability to interface their secure element to the FeliCa CLF (contactless frontend) in the PN67V on those non-Japanese iPhone 7 devices because they didn’t see Octopus coming.
  • They don’t feel like supporting iPhone 7 at all, not even the Japanese models: each device has a different generation of secure element, and additional development/testing/certification work may be required for them. This is again a combination of what Apple is willing to do and on which hardware platforms OCL is willing to authorize Octopus to be emulated on. It’s nothing to do with FeliCa Networks or Sony.”
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iOS 13 NFC for Japanese Individual Number Cards

No sooner than Apple announced iOS 13 with enhanced Core NFC read/write support than developers are quickly preparing to use it. Engadget Japan and Nikkei both report that the Japanese government will add support for iPhone NFC tag reading Individual Number Cards this fall. Individual Number Cards are a fairly recent development for the Japanese national and local governments to gradually tie various social services and income tax filing to a single personal ID number for better management and control. It’s evolving into a general purpose national ID card.

Individual Number Cards are supported by card readers that require a personal computer and additional software. FeliCa NFC tag reading with a smartphone is much easier because it can work out of the box and an app. Android Phones are supported but limited to select AQUOS, Galaxy and Xperia smartphone models. iPhone NFC tag support in iOS 13 will considerably widen the user footprint.

Masanori Kusunoki Japan Digital Design CTO tweets confirmation of Japanese government support for Individual Number Card NFC tag reading with iPhone iOS 13 NFC this fall

Yes, iPhone Carrier Subsidies in Japan are Officially Dead: New Docomo Data Plans

The writing has been on the wall for over a year now, and sluggish iPhone XR sales only confirmed the fact, that iPhone carrier subsidies in Japan which have defined the industry since 2008, were dying. Today’s Docomo announcement unveiled new plans that discard all the complexity of previous plans like ‘FOMA’, ‘Xi’ and ‘docomo with’ all of which disappear on May 31, with 2 simple choices:

  • Giga-Ho: ¥4,980 a month for 30GB
  • Giga-Lite: ¥1,980 a month for 1GB with other date tiers available, 3GB@3,980, 5GB@4,980, 7GB@5,980

Docomo customers can apply for the plans from the Docomo web site or a Docomo shop starting May 22, service starts June 1. There are many configurations and new options available, from home internet bundle discounts to new family data sharing. And it looks like tethering fees are gone. Depending on the configuration savings can be as large as 40% compared to previous plans.

At first glance customers will still need to do some homework via the online cost simulator (something that Japanese love to do), or visit the nearest Docomo shop to find the configuration that fits your needs while giving the best discount. This is just part 1 of the continuing saga of data plans without subsidies. At the end of the announcement Docomo said stay tuned for more. KDDI au and SoftBank should be announcing new plans soon, and we’ll get Docomo part 2 when the new iPhones come out this fall.

iOS 12.2 Update: Apple Card Flavored Suica

iOS 12.2 rearranges the familiar Wallet UI to make way for Apple Card with prepaid cards like Suica along for the ride. The changes on the Suica prepaid side include new ‘Add Money’ and commuter pass ‘Renew’ button designs, transaction icons and other layout tweaks that look more like the Samsung One UI than iOS. It’s a halfhearted attempt to make prepaid functions more accessible than the previous iOS 10.1~12.1 Wallet design, but not very a successful one because of UI changes dictated by the forthcoming Apple Card. The total is less than the sum of the sloppily rushed parts. Let’s take a look.

Wallet UI Changes
The main Wallet view for regular Suica cards now has the Add Money button for easy access next to the balance with the latest transaction listed with a huge icon in a separate area below. This ‘button up front’ tweak is easily the most successful and welcome design change for prepaid cards in iOS 12.2 Wallet:

The new Wallet design for Commuter Suica cards however fails to improve things from the previous design. The commuter pass information still resides on the same line with balance so you still have to tap to another screen to access Add Money and commuter pass renew buttons. There’s plenty of room without that huge useless transaction icon, why not just put it all on the main screen? Apple could have done a better design job here but again Apple Card was dictating the UI changes:

Tapping the new black “…” in the upper right corner brings up the Suica info/transactions view. The previous design had it in the lower right corner which I prefer as I find going down to tap feels more natural that reaching up to tap. Transaction history includes the new huge icons that indicate transaction type: transit-purchase-credit. These appear utter useless to me since the information is already listed in the text. Big icons in a list view are questionable at best, here they are just bad design because transit/e-money prepaid cards like Suica have a vastly different daily use profile than credit cards:

The Suica info window now has ‘Add Money’, ‘Renew’ placed near the top along with shortcut icons to Mobile Suica support. Look carefully and you can see the UI designers botched icon placement because some fool insisted the English word “Web” remain along with the Japanese even though English is completely unnecessary in Japanese localization. More Sloppy:

The ‘black instead of blue’ theme for the new Wallet card UI parts is a mystery and doesn’t mesh well with older Wallet UI parts such as adding cards which retain the older look. Why? Taken all altogether the Wallet UI changes feel lumpy and unpolished, Apple clearly didn’t sweat the details in the rush to get iOS 12.2 Wallet ready for Apple Card.

One last thing on iOS 12.2 Wallet changes, Japanese credit cards no longer list the latest transaction though I can only confirm this for JR East JCB View Card, Docomo Mastercard dCard and Tsutaya JCB T-Card. I suspect the change is part of the new transaction reporting feature unveiled with Apple Card. Perhaps Apple hopes to encourage card issuers to post transaction information dynamically and directly to Wallet instead of shunting it to separate apps. There are probably lots of Apple Pay Wallet changes under the hood that will be revealed at WWDC alluded to by Tim Cook today in the keynote that more Apple Transit like Ventra (iOS 12) and Octopus (iOS 13) would be ‘coming later this year’.

iOS 12.2 Suica Express Card Performance
Last but not least we have Apple Pay Suica performance on iOS 12 which has not been robust so far. The list of Apple Pay Suica performance issues as of iOS 12.1.4 follows, see the most recent post for iOS 12.2 Suica Express Card performance information.

  • Suica Express Card error flicker: occasional error flicker at transit gates with iPhone 7, iPhone 8, iPhone X (Rev. B) and Apple Watch 2~4. This is a completely different issue from the iPhone X NFC hardware defect. There is no workaround and no feedback on iOS 12.2 performance yet.
  • Dead Suica Notifications/No Suica Balance Update: Suica Notifications stop working and Suica Balance fails to update at transit gates, store readers and Suica recharges. This affects iPhone 7, iPhone 8, iPhone X (Rev. B) and Apple Watch 2~4 but is easy to fix by putting Suica in Service Mode for a few seconds. No iOS 12.2 feedback yet.
  • Slow or unresponsive Suica Recharge: a long term issue where Apple Pay Suica recharge fails half of the time especially when recharging from a Suica notification shortcut. The good news is this issue in my iOS 12.2 beta testing appears to be fixed.
  • Dead Suica UI/Express Card power reserve ‘lite’: This only affects iPhone XS and iPhone XR. A kind of ‘Express Card power reserve lite’ bug kicks in occasionally. Suica works flawlessly on readers but the entire Apple Pay Suica UI dies: no notifications, no balance update, no Apple Pay sound, no feedback whatsoever. Service Mode does not revive the Suica UI but restart iPhone and all is good again. Fortunately this issue seems rare. Unfortunately I have experienced on 2 separate iPhone XS devices and the bug was worse in the final iOS 12.2 beta that shipped as the official release: previous iOS 12 versions exhibited this problem every other day, iOS 12.2 (16E227) has it after a few hours.

UPDATE
Right on cue Japanese iPhone users are complaining about the UI changes in iOS 12.2 Wallet:

UPDATE 2
The iOS 12.3 update has greatly improved Suica performance, more Suica card UI changes and is highly recommended

Chinese users reportedly dumping iPhone in retaliation to Huawei arrest

An ominous sign? All NewsNippon (ANN) reports that just 4 days before the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou “a large Chinese technology company” issued a company policy stating any employee caught using an iPhone would be fined the entire purchase price and that any employee using a Chinese smartphone would be reimbursed for 15% of the purchase price. The video reports some evidence out of Hong Kong and various Chinese SNS sites that users are supporting Huawei in the ‘trade war’ and dumping iPhone.

Like all news out of China it’s impossible to know how much of it is real as other news sources report that the Huawei arrest isn’t being reported in official Chinese news channels. Take it with a grain of salt but either way it’s not a good development.