Japan Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in discussions with Apple for Wallet My Number Card Support

IT journalist Junya Suzuki posted an interesting “Pay Attention” column today regarding the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) plans for a digital version of My Number Card (Individual Number Card). MIC wants to extend card use and smartphone support for a digital My Number Card is seen as an important driver as many people in Japan have yet to even get the plastic version at the local city office. Abe government officials stated they planned to create a digital My Number Card in 2019.

MIC digital My Number Card proposal for smartphones

The MIC proposal for putting out a digital My Number Card uses FeliCa and the MIC laid out security policy details on November 12 (download the full set of PDF docs). Smartphone support requires a ‘Global FeliCa’ embedded Secure Element (eSE). This means SIM card FeliCa support is out of the question, the reality is SIM cards lost out in the ‘secure element wars’ years ago. Some 80% of Android smartphones currently sold in Japan have FeliCa eSE chips, Apple has had global FeliCa (aka global NFC) in place in A/S series chips since iPhone 8 / Apple Watch Series 3. Apple Watch will likely be the only ‘wearable’ My Number Card when it launches.

今回Android端末が対象となっていますが、Android端末といってもいわゆる『グローバルFeliCa』と呼ばれる2018年度に発表された新しい方式に対応した端末が対象となっています。2020年秋モデルで対象となるAndroid端末は8割程度ですが、2022年内のサービス開始時点ではさらに拡大することを見越しています。 FeliCaを採用した理由は、スマートフォンの保護領域(SE)に安全にアクセスできる仕組みを提供しているのがフェリカネットワークという点で、同様の仕組みが提供されるのであれば特にFeliCaにこだわっているわけではありません。 またiPhoneが日本でシェアを多く持っているという現状も認識しており、Appleと交渉を行なっている段階です(総務省)

Deciphering Digital My Number Card Support (Japanese)

Suzuki’s article has a direct quote (above) from the MIC, the relevant Apple bit is the last sentence: “We recognize that iPhone has a large share in Japan and we are in discussions with Apple.” Not particularly earthshaking but confirmation is always good to have. The digital My Number Card is expected to launch in 2022 but it’s not clear if Apple Wallet support will launch simultaneously with Osaifu Keitai Android. The digital My Number Card MIC documents only outline Osaifu Keitai Android with dedicated FeliCa chips but Apple Pay would work the same way even though the FeliCa eSE is implemented in the A/S Series.

Suzuki san does not discuss this but I wonder if digital My Number Card will utilize the new security features of next generation FeliCa that just started shipping and is the basis for Super Suica launching early 2021. I also wonder if Google Wallet support will come much later, if at all. Google has been content to ride the coat tails of Osaifu Keitai and candy wrap it instead of rolling their own native support. That strategy likely won’t work for direct My Number Card support in Google Wallet.

JR East Ticketless Touch and Go Shinkansen expanding system wide

The yellow area is new

Another day, another Suica related announcement. JR East ticketless Touch and Go Shinkansen service for Suica and other compatible Transit IC cards will be expanding in March 2021. It will basically cover all Shinkansen lines directly managed by JR East. Previously it only covered the Kanto region. Touch and Go differs from Eki-Net Shinkansen eTickets in that Touch and Go uses the Suica balance for Shinkansen fare, eTickets do not.

The service is very simple: register Suica, PASMO, etc. at any JR East station pink recharge kiosk for Touch and Go. Then waltz through the Shinkansen gate and get on a non-reserved Shinkansen seat. A typical use case looks like the diagram below.

Touch and Go Flow
Touch and Go Flow: recharge before you go

Of course the new service area comes with a campaign: 10% JRE POINT fare reward for Touch and Go travel in the new area for the first 3 months. As I have said before, JR East is busy ramping up for Super Suica. Now that we have expanded Touch and Go Shinkansen, a larger Super Suica stored value purse is a given. Do I hear ¥30,000? ¥40,000? The latter would put Suica on par with WAON.

Suica linked My Number MaaS and JRE POINT for Off-Peak Suica Commuting

My Number Card linked with Suica for MaaS in Maebashi

JR East announced some interesting services today: Suica linking with My Number ID cards (aka Individual Number Cards) and a JRE POINT campaign for off-peak Suica commuting.

The off-peak commute campaign starts March 1 and runs for an entire year. JR East wants to encourage commuting without COVID risky crowding with off-peak commuting rewards. On my own daily commute I have noticed a sharp increase of people with the colder weather in the morning peak commute hours.

Peak-hours are 7:00~8:30 am, off-peak is defined as ‘early commute’ 6:00 am~7:00 am that earns 15 JRE POINT and ‘easy commute’ 8:30 am~9:30 am which earns 20 JRE POINT. In my case the ‘easy commute’ reward works out to about 500 JRE POINT a month. This is in addition to the regular monthly JRE POINT transit rewards. I wish I could be in the top earning ‘easy commute’ bracket but ‘early commuter’ will be my only choice. Such is life.

A second reward for non-commute plan Suica fare regardless of time or route offers a free fare in JRE POINT with 10 transits with an additional 10% of fare rewards for each additional transit. Mobile Suica earns more than plastic Suica, so think of this as a kind of ‘welcome to Suica Suica’ run up campaign.

The My Number Card linking scheme, via NFC tags, is designed to drive local MaaS services for local residents by linking age and local residence confirmation to Suica. Local transit discounts for elderly and children are the start point, the press announcement also highlights shopping discounts and local government services. It’s proof of age and local residency just by using a linked Suica. The MaaS service area is scheduled to start from December in Maebashi.

It’s an intriguing service that finally promises to deliver some of the features that My Number Card was designed to do. But in this case I think the service needs some kind of on the spot hook, like a instant cash-back PayPay kind of gimmick to get people to really use it. People like instant gratification. Looking at a monthly Suica or JRE POINT transaction list to find the rebate just isn’t sexy enough for most people to try something new.

Mobile PASMO Device Support

FeliCa Dude points out that Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5 devices use the latest Mobile FeliCa 4.1 but are not yet qualified for Mobile PASMO even though they run Suica just fine. PASMO support lists them as in the works.

Worse than that however is that OEMs are still releasing Osaifu Keitai devices with older Mobile FeliCa 3.x/4.0 factory fixed firmware that either forces the user to choose between installing Mobile PASMO or Mobile Suica, or doesn’t work with Mobile PASMO at all. It’s a real snapshot of the Android hardware dilemma.

Apple Pay PASMO is supported in iPhone 8/Apple Watch Series 3 and later. iPhone 7 JP model users are not happy about that but the writing was on the wall with the Apple Pay Octopus ‘iPhone 8 and later’ configuration. Going forward, iPhone 8 and two-factor authentication Apple ID will be the base configuration for using Mobile ICOCA, Super Suica and other mobile transit IC cards.

App Clips at Kitasando Coffee

Kitasando Coffee was one of the Japan debut sites for App Clips. I finally had time to check it out today. The overall experience was similar to the Starbucks app mobile order and pay. Regulars would use the full blown Coffee App but I wanted to see how fast the App Clip ‘point and pay’ experience would be.

My iPhone 11 NFC reader mode kicked in and launched the Coffee App Clip, I ordered and paid with Apple Pay, all just under a minute even with first timer ‘what do I do now’ pauses, then waited for the order to be filled. There was no ‘Sign in with Apple ID’ step, just point, order, pay, pickup. The video shows the whole process with the order wait time edited out.

App Clips does a very good job of utilizing NFC reader mode and loading time with 4G LTE was also good. I still have doubts about the experience in a marginal WiFi environment (the WiFi Assist factor) and hope to test different places as App Clips gain traction. Bottom line: if NFC with reader mode is this slick, why would anybody bother with QR or App Clip Codes?

UPDATE
iOS 14.3 beta has support for Apple designed App Clip Code scanning. Here is a quick screen recording of the scan process and animation. The App Clip Code is a photo of the ExxonMobile gas pump stickers that launched October 22. The App Clip does not load because the ExxonMobile App is not available in Japan.