Garmin Pay Suica aka Google Pay on iOS

Garmin Pay Suica went live May 21, effectively breaking the 4 year Apple Watch/Apple Pay Suica monopoly. As any Apple Watch user in Tokyo will tell you, Apple Pay Suica is the killer Apple Watch app. The real secret of course is Express Transit payments. Even now I get the occasional oh and ah from store staff when I hold Apple Watch up to the reader. They really appreciate the speed and social distance. So do I.

Since Garmin only does smartwatches, there are inherent limitations and big differences from Apple Pay Suica: (1) there is no way to transfer a plastic Suica to Gamin Pay, users have to create an account and a new virtual Garmin Pay Suica card, (2) Garmin Pay Suica does not support Suica Commuter Passes, (3) Garmin Pay Suica can only be recharged with Google Pay, (4) Garmin Pay Suica is limited to Japanese Garmin models, it is not global NFC like iPhone and Apple Watch.

Outside of that Garmin Pay Suica is a regular Suica with ‘Rapid Pass’ instead of Express Transit, different name, same thing. It can be registered for SmartEX and Ekinet Shinkansen eTicket travel. iOS users setup and recharge via the Garmin Connect Mobile app.

Garmin Pay Suica limitations limit its appeal for iPhone users who already have the full range of Mobile Suica service on Apple Watch. It’s a boon for Android users who have lusted after a Suica smartwatch. It very weird that it has taken 4 years for Android based device makers to even attempt matching the killer combo of Apple Watch and Apple Pay Suica. I hope Garmin works to improve the service and remove the limitations. Android users would really appreciate having the full Mobile Suica experience on a smartwatch.

UPDATE: there’s some gray area whether all Asian models support Suica or just the devices sold in Japan. I’ll update any discoveries here. Other limitations like Suica Commuter passes are also interesting and suspect they shed some light on the Google Pay~Osaifu Keitai relationship. In many ways Google Pay Suica is a UI skin on top of the Osaifu Keitai stack. In the case of Garmin Pay, no Osaifu Keitai stack means no Commuter Pass support even though it depends on Google Pay for recharge.

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Out of Time (Updated)

Is this the last time? Just a few thoughts as iOS 13.5 closes in on what hopefully will be a late May delivery, also rumored to be the launch iOS for Apple Pay Octopus. Recent beta test feedback says the minimal system for using Apple Pay Octopus was raised from iOS 13.2 to iOS 13.4.5 (rebranded by Apple to iOS 13.5). Also a new Schedule of Fees and Guidelines is due May 20. The Hong Kong Economic Times eZone site has taken this to mean that both iOS 13.5 and Apple Pay Octopus will launch on the May 20 Octopus Fees and Guideline update day.

The enthusiasm is understandable, but a similar situation happened in December with no launch. You might remember that Apple Pay Octopus was announced in July 2019, promised to launch “as soon as possible within the year,” in September, then delayed to “later in 2020” on December 19.

In short, hope for the best but don’t get your hopes up. We’ve been down this road before, but time is running out. If Apple Pay Octopus doesn’t launch in the iOS 13.5 timeframe, it’s not launching at all.

There aren’t any technical reasons for the delay; after all the Smart Octopus mobile service on Samsung Pay has been operating since December 2017 with Mobile SIM service before that. I believe it’s a result of the pressure politics facing Hong Kong, pressures both economic and governmental.

Octopus was the world’s first transit platform business that extended the transit smartcard to include payments and many other services but Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) has been slow extending the service to include mobile. Instead of putting early effort into digital wallet support for Apple Pay/Google Pay/Samsung Pay, OCL wasted time and resources developing the niche Mobile SIM product which really didn’t pan out.

This lag coupled with the rise of AliPay and WeChat Pay QR Code payment empires put enormous pressure on OCL to do something comprehensively mobile which it did with the O! ePay service in early 2019. But it’s not the only pressure: with so much traffic and business from the mainland, OCL owner MTR is looking to add QR Code Open Loop transit support (paywalled link) at some point. There is also the pressure of creating a Greater Bay Area transit card, and pressure from credit cards and banks. Every player wants a piece of the action.

Perhaps MTR gates will eventually look like the ones in Guangzhou with PBOC/FeliCa/QR Code readers supporting Octopus, China T-Union, AliPay/WeChat Pay, perhaps even EMV contactless bank cards:

At which point I say OCL doesn’t have a viable transit platform business anymore. Mainland China dumped the MIFARE based Beijing and Shanghai card architecture for their own slower PBOC 2.3/3.0 China T-Union standard, I don’t think it’s a stretch to see the same thing happening to Hong Kong Octopus at some point.

Supporters will undoubtably point out the technical merits of China using a single transit standard but that’s just a red herring. Smart devices and digital wallets handle all protocols and will continue to incorporate new technologies. The deciding factors will be good old money and politics: is it more profitable to keep Octopus in place or junk it in favor of QR and China T-Union, and who benefits from it all?

Octopus is living on borrowed time. If it doesn’t aggressively expand services on digital wallet platforms, it doesn’t have a future. Apple Pay Suica turned things around for Suica, let’s hope the Apple Pay Octopus launch can do the same for Octopus.


Apple Pay Suica had a huge impact on Mobile Suica use
Modern digital wallets like Apple Pay seamlessly support multiple payment technology protocols

UPDATE: on May 18 at 4:30 PM, an Octopus system glitch temporarily showed an option to add Apple Pay Octopus cards to Wallet to some iOS Octopus app users, but the feature not functional on the Apple Pay Wallet end. The glitch was quickly fixed but could be a sign that a service launch is imminent (edit: post glitch rumors say June 2).

The latest word from beta tester code leakers is that virtual Octopus creation and recharge in Apple Pay Wallet is limited to Hong Kong issue Mastercard, Union Pay and VISA. The May 20 Schedule of Fees and Guidelines update should show any changes for Smart Octopus (edit: “new restriction, 21 (cb), blocks the transfer of money from a Smart Octopus to O! ePay, probably to prevent the abuse of credit card cashbacks since service fees are waived for Apple Pay”).

PS: Barring the Apple Pay Octopus launch or official announcement, this is my last post on the subject.

iPhone SE: more Apple Pay Suica making way for Mobile PASMO?

Suica was the big thing that put Apple Pay front and center in Japan. It still does, everybody loves using Apple Pay Suica Express Transit for Face/Touch ID-free transit and store payment in our face mask era. The funny thing is that Apple is slowing removing Suica as the Apple Pay poster child. The process started with iOS 13.4 Apple Pay Wallet blurb text that removed the hot market brand ‘Suica’ name replacing it with the very pedestrian unmarketable ‘transit’.

Now we have another Suica removal from the iPhone SE spec page Apple Pay section. Other iPhone 11/Pro/XS model spec pages all have the Suica blurb. Why? I said it before and say it again: Suica has massive brand recognition in Japan and Apple Pay has leveraged the Suica brand at every opportunity. Apple would not swap Suica for generic wording lightly, not without a very good reason. That reason is more transit IC cards coming to Apple Pay. Mobile PASMO, please stand when your name is called.

What to say at checkout in Japan with Apple Pay

Japan has the longest history of mobile payments on a large scale thanks to the early cooperation of NTT Docomo and Sony to create Mobile FeliCa and the Osaifu Keitai standard, all in place long before the EMV contactless standard came together and landed in Apple Pay. The longer history means that the mobile payments landscape is richer and complicated than anywhere else and is growing even more complicated with QR Code payment app choices that have proliferated over the past 2 years.

The addition of Apple Pay and Google Pay confuses things even more. What exactly does one say to the checkout staff? Apple Pay, iD, QUICKPay, or Suica? It comes down to 2 basic factors: the POS checkout system and the skill of the store staff. Suica, iD and QUICPay are pretty much standard for contactless checkout but the ‘Apple Pay’ logo only indicates that contactless payment is available. What you say to the checkout staff or tap on the checkout touchscreen is another matter.

Don’t Say Apple Pay
Visitors to Japan, and even many Japanese expect Apple Pay should do what’s explained on Learn where to use Apple Pay and How to use Apple Pay support pages: (1) say ‘Apple Pay’, double-click the side button for Face ID authentication/rest finger on Touch ID and hold to reader to pay with your default Apple Pay card. The Apple Pay instructions for Japan are different: (2) let the cashier know if you’re paying with Suica, iD, or QUICPay. Why no “say Apple Pay?”

The reason for the difference boils down to Express Transit. Only Japan has Apple Pay Express Transit for store purchases in addition to transit use. No other Apple Pay region has it. So there are 2 ways: say Apple Pay at checkout that evokes Face/Touch ID authentication or say Suica that evokes Express Transit which bypasses Face/Touch ID.

Apple Pay makes everything work seamlessly on the iPhone side thanks to global NFC and NFC switching. However the store reader cannot choose automatically, that’s why you have to say Suica, iD, QUICPay, etc. That’s why Apple Pay uses option (2) for Japan. When Apple Pay Octopus finally launches in Hong Kong, it will be the same deal. Users will have to say Octopus at checkout for Express Transit or tap a separate Octopus only reader.

The Contactless Point Card Difference and Inbound Apple Pay
When checking out at a store with all the pieces in place: full spec POS system, trained staff, EMV, FeliCa, VAS and Apple Pay, it’s like option (1). This is how it works at Lawson convenience stores. The ‘say Apple Pay’ option here is for using PONTA or dPoint contactless reward cards with a convenient single tap operation. The Express Transit catch remains however; saying Apple Pay when Suica is your default Wallet card means you don’t get Express Transit checkout, you get Face/Touch ID authentication Apple Pay. For Express Transit checkout you have to say Suica every time.

There’s also the inbound angle to consider. More stores are adding EMV contactless support and this means visitors can use their Apple Pay cards from home directly. However Apple does not cover inbound use in their support page, only domestic JP options. The problem here is there’s no magic catch-all checkout word like Suica, iD or QUICPay. Do you say Apple Pay, NFC-Pay, credit, or something else?

If the staff hasn’t been properly trained (and be sure to check if they have a ‘trainee’ ID badge, usually a sign of trouble), they can’t understand what payment option you are asking for and match it with the right checkout button. Saying ‘credit’ seems to be the most common usage that works, sometimes ‘NFC Pay’, but Visa wants you to say ‘Visa Touch’, Mastercard wants you to say ‘mastercard contactless’, and so on.

I say blame the mess on selfish card companies that can’t get their act together and come up with a EMV checkout word for the common good. If you get in a jam, pointing at the payment acceptance mark you want to use at checkout is the best course of action. Last but not least, keep in mind that the EMV mark on the reader tap area has nothing to do with what works for POS checkout. Always check the payment acceptance marks.

NFC Pay in action on terminal, note the acceptance marks for Visa and Mastercard contactless, the NFC Pay/EMV logo on the reader tap area does not mean the store accepts NFC Pay

The Transit Platform Argument

A reader asked some very good questions regarding the Suica Transit Platform model and Open Loop:

1) Thinking about this recently – is there a non-techie argument for introducing Suica-type cards in the current day in places with preexisting open-loop infrastructure, wide debit card adoption (even kids), and little overcrowding at ticket gates due to lower volumes?

2) As a tech & transit nerd, I obviously love them, but what could be a convincing, economically sound pitch to a transit operator for creating/adopting an integrated transit&e-money system, given the significant expense and questionable added value?

3) Answers to possible q’s about EMV contactless: 1. 定期券 (commuter passes) & discounts can be tied to card no.; 2. solution for visitors: in-app/paper/multi-trip tickets (like in SG). Obv., Suica has superior privacy & speed, but where speed is not an issue, what’s the killer argument?

I tweeted a response but Twitter is a terrible vehicle for long form discussion. I have many posts on the subject scattered over 2 years, it might be convenient to summarize a few things here.

Any argument for building a Transit Platform or going all in with Open Loop transit comes down to transit company priorities for safe operation, better customer service and long term business goals. A few crucial points to consider.

Whose customer?
A vital point that many people miss in the Open Loop debate is that transit users end up as the bank card customer, not the transit company customer. That might seem like an insignificant difference but ‘owning the customer’ is the whole game and key to growing any kind of business, in our era or any era. Which brings us to the next point because the best way to own the transit customer is…

Cards
Cards are the delivery vehicle for all kinds of service goodies from transit, to points, rewards and all kinds of services. The beauty of a non-bank transit pre-paid card is its flexibility, it can be a simple ticket that customers buy with cash from a station kiosk, it can be linked to an online account with credit cards, extended transit services and beyond. Cards are convenient but not transformative however, until they land on a smartphone…

Digital Wallets
The most powerful card incarnation is the digital wallet transit card with a flexible recharge backend, where any bank card can used, or even cash, and a flexible front-end that can be any flavor of NFC, UWB Touchless or even QR. I say it’s better for the transit operator to decide what payment technology works best for their needs and how to deliver better customer service with new payment technologies, not banks.

Value Capture
Value Capture applies to rail and transit operators with the rights to develop the land around their stations, I include station retail development and operations. Owning a transit + payment card like Suica or Octopus combined with retail opens up a whole new levels of value creation and capture.

It’s also important to remember a few other dynamics, (1) Transit is the golden uptake path for contactless payments, (2) Contactless payments are most successful when a transit payment platform, like Suica, is matched with a mobile wallet platform, like Apple Pay. The key is building better services tied to transit cards that benefit customers and businesses of the entire transit region.

Other Details
Regarding detail questions such as attaching commuter passes to EMV cards and special ticketing, I am no systems design expert but a few things come to mind. First of all we have not seen Open Loop commuter passes because the EMV spec doesn’t store anything locally and there are always security and performance issues to consider when everything is done in the cloud with soft-linked registration to system outside numbers.

The classic catch 22 here is that when the soft-linked number changes on one system, everything attached to it on the other system stops working. This is a constant weakness of the SmartEx and new JR East Shinkansen eTicket service. And what happens if the bank pulls a card mid-transit? These things happen. They are endless headaches when linking to any outside system, for this reason Open Loop sticks with the simple stuff while transit operators keep the more complex stuff in-house. In general the more complicated the fare configuration, the less likely it can be synced with an outside system or be hosted on Open Loop.

For low volume specialty ticketing QR Codes are the easiest step up from paper but they can be printed on ordinary paper for transit users without smartphones and needs to be there. This is why JR East is deploying QR code readers in some gates as they prepare to end mag strip ticketing.

NFC Contactless Passes might sound like a good idea but Apple Pay VAS and Google Pay Smart Tap were designed more for retail in mind, and the transit gate reader system would have to juggle a different protocol that isn’t EMV, FeliCa or MIFARE. It could be done, but judging from my experience of using Apple Pay VAS PONTA and dPOINT cards, QR Codes are faster and likely easier to implement.

In the long run there are no easy solutions. The risk of Open Loop is that it is sold as a general easy ‘fix all’ and mobile solution, which it’s not. This lulls transit operators into complacency instead of improving Closed Loop ticketing systems and extending them to the mobile digital wallets. The bigger and more complex the transit system, the less Open Loop can accomplish.

Relevant Core Posts
The Contactless Payment Turf Wars: Transit Platforms (an intro)
Transit Gate Evolution: Do QR Codes Really Suck for Transit? (a deeper dive into transit cards, gates and technology)
Value Capture and the Ecosystem of Transit Platforms (the bigger picture)
The Japanese Transit Platform Business Model (an outside perspective)