iOS 15 Apple Pay Wallet: the Express Mode difference

Express Transit Suica ruins the Apple Pay experience for using anything else. You want Apple Pay to work that way everywhere but it doesn’t. Most of the time we trudge along using Apple Pay Wallet with face mask Face ID authorization, although the Apple Pay experience on Apple Watch is a big improvement as well as being a trusted device for secure intent.

iPhone users in America are finally getting a taste of Express Transit en masse with the rollouts of Apple Pay for SmarTrip, TAP, Ventra and Clipper. Apple recently rebranded Express Transit as Express Mode on their new Wallet webpage (in Japanese it’s called Express Card). The branding change may seem trivial but it has bigger implications because for first time users of new Wallet services in iOS 15, Express Mode goes places that Express Transit cannot: digital keys and digital ID.

These functions are not new of course, Express Transit cards and Student ID cards have been opening transit gates and doors these past few years. But Express Mode is for everyone and personal: your keys and badge to unlock your home door, unlock and start your car and get you into the office. With these refinements and additions it’s safe to say that iOS 15 Wallet finally delivers the digital wallet dream people have been talking about since 2010. Wallet can replace your wallet.

What’s new
Last year I covered ‘coming soon’ Ultra Wideband Touchless and Code Payment (codeword Aquaman) Wallet developments. The Code Payments feature is still waiting in the wings. Steve Moser kindly confirmed that Aquaman code references are alive and well in iOS 15 with minor changes but this post will focus on announced features. In the WWDC21 Keynote Apple Pay section Jennifer Bailey announced keys and ID. The Wallet features you get from the ones listed on the iOS 15 preview page depend on the device:

Car keys with Ultra Wideband support (shareable)
iPhones and Apple Watches equipped with U1 chip* (iPhone 11 and later, Apple Watch 6)

Car keys without Ultra Wideband support (sharable)
Home keys (shareable)

iPhone XS • Apple Watch 5 and later*

Office key
Hotel key

Apple Watch is not listed: “Device requirements may vary by hotel and workplace.”

ID in Wallet
iOS 15 devices
watchOS 8 devices (the fine print: Not all features are available on all devices)

None of the new features will be available when iOS 15 launches. Expect them with the iOS 15.1 update or later. NFC Car keys launched on iOS 13 and iOS 14 in 2020.

The A12 Bionic • iPhone XS and later requirement for Wallet keys is easy to understand: Express Cards with power reserve. It is vital that people can unlock car and home doors even when their iPhone battery is out of juice. Up to 5 hours of power reserve makes a huge difference, but only for iPhone. *Apple Watch supports Express Mode but not power reserve.

The bigger story is UWB because it is new technology that works with the Secure Element to create a whole new experience. Up to now the Secure Element was exclusively NFC. Not anymore, the Car Connection Consortium (CCC) Digital Key 3.0 specification “maintains support for NFC technology as a mandatory back-up solution.” Digital car key is first and foremost a UWB solution with NFC relegated to the back seat.

UWB connectivity adds hands-free, location-aware keyless access and location-aware features for an improved user-friendly experience…

3.0 addresses security and usability by authenticating the Digital Key between a vehicle and the mobile device over Bluetooth Low Energy and then establishing a secure ranging session with UWB, which allows the vehicle to perform secure and accurate distance measurement to localize the mobile device.

Car Connectivity Consortium Delivers Digital Key Release 3.0 Specification

NTT Docomo and Sony demonstrated UWB car keys in action last January running on Android Osaifu Keitai hardware. Sony (FeliCa) and NXP (MIFARE and UWB chipsets) have worked closely to extend both FeliCa and MIFARE into the UWB Touchless era. The CCC Digital Key specification is open to any Secure Element provider. UWB + Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is simply another radio communication layer in addition to NFC.

Diagram from Car Connectivity Consortium (CCR) Digital Key 2.0 White Paper, the recently released 3.0 spec adds UWB
Mobile FeliCa UWB Touchless diagram from NTT Docomo, NXP MIFARE works exactly the same way

This is significant as it opens up UWB to anything that currently uses the Secure Element and NFC. Apple has not spelled it out but suggest UWB might work with Home keys and there is no reason UWB cannot work with all keys, transit cards and Student ID. The WWDC2021 session video Explore UWB-based car keys is a great introduction and highly recommended viewing if you have any interest in the subject. The session is a bit unusual in that the discussion covers RF hardware and performance design more than software. It feels like the target audience is car manufacturers. There is a lot of detail to get lost in but here are some simple but essential points:


Secure Element improvements: the SE has always used unique keys for mutual authentication, this has been extended with ranging key deviation

Secure communication at a distance: UWB and BLE identifier randomization with secure ranging is an important security feature as UWB Touchless works over much greater distances than NFC reader tapping

Zones: the precise motion and positioning tracking of a paired UWB device with a unique key allows for ‘passive entry’ action zones, walking towards the car unlocks it, walking away locks it, etc. without any other user interaction

RF transceiver and antenna system design: is a deep and difficult art that echos the Suica creation story

JR East (Suica) and Hong Kong MTR (Octopus) have both said they are developing transit gates that incorporate UWB. This makes sense as Mobile FeliCa is now UWB savvy but after watching the WWDC21 session video I can only marvel at the complexity of the big picture because UWB is about mapping and using space and movement to perform an operation.

The engineers face countless problems and challenges to juggle in their quest to build a transit gate that delivers the same FeliCa NFC speed and reliability with UWB…at rush hour. They have to consider radiation patters, system latency and processing power, localization algorithms and much more. If they achieve their stated goal, 2023 could be a banner year for transit.

ID in Wallet
Lots of people are excited about the possibility of adding a digital driver’s license to Wallet but as 9to5 Mac’s Chance Miller wrote, we don’t know much about about it at this point. Actually in Japan we do. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) released an English PDF: First Summary Toward the Realization of Electronic Certificates for Smartphones with a diagram that explains their digital ID system architecture. MIC remarked back in November 2020 that they are in discussions with Apple to bring the digital My Number ID card architecture to Wallet. The Android version is due to launch in 2023 and will likely employ the Mobile FeliCa Multiple Secure Element domain feature described by FeliCa Dude (FeliCa using NFC-B instead of NFC-F). A similar basic architecture with different protocols and issue process will undoubtedly be used for adding digital drivers licenses.

The Privacy question
I’ll be very interested to see how ID launches in America this fall. Which outside partner company or companies are providing the service to participating states and running the backend? I suspect it will be something similar to Student ID with Blackboard running the service for participating universities. The biggest security question in my mind is who besides the TSA will use ID in Wallet, and more importantly, how? Some governments and transit agencies are pushing face recognition as a convenience in addition to security. My preference will always be for having my ID on my own Secure Element rather than somebody’s cloud server, an ID that I authorize with my own secure intent.

Wallet UI and usability improvements
Wallet App didn’t get the makeover that some users asked for, but there are are a few small improvements. Archived passes and multiple-pass downloads help make Wallet more useable and remove some housekeeping drudgery.

I finally got my WWDC19 Apple Pay Wallet wish granted: dynamic Wallet cards. Sorta. Apple Card does UI things in Wallet no other card is allowed to do. As far as I know this first changed with Disney’s MagicMobile launch on iPhone, Jennifer Bailey calls them “magical moments when you tap to enter.” There are similar low-key card animations in Home key and ID cards. It’s a very small step but I hope Apple adds more over time than just sprinkling seasoning card animations. Done wisely, dynamic cards could improve Wallet usability that convey important card status and account information.

Wallet card animations are slowly making their way into the picture, but will they ever be more than silly pretty fun?

Summary
The overall reaction to iOS 15 has been somewhat muted but there are lots of new details. Apple Pay Wallet additions for home keys, office key, hotel key and ID build on technologies that have been on the Apple Pay platform for some time but Apple is leveraging them in new ways.

The unveiling of UWB Touchless is important and cutting edge, that might revolutionize secure transactions. The next step not only for car keys but for transit and other services that up to now have been limited to NFC. And this time, unlike NFC, Apple is leading the way for UWB.

The bottom line is that UWB opens up a lot of possibilities for many current NFC based solutions. Expect UWB Touchless support for Wallet cards in the near future that use Express Mode in new ways, and new UWB based features for a much smarter Wallet.


UWB Gallery
Screenshots from the Explore UWB-based car keys session video

Zones
Zones are is one of the exciting aspects of UWB Touchless, where functions are triggered by the simple act of walking towards or away from the car. It will be interesting to see how this is applied to UWB Touchless transit gates.

Space and movement: the UWB process

Last but not least, Power Reserve mode now supports Find My Network

iOS 15: A12 Bionic fine print features

Japanese media reaction to Apple’s WWDC21 Keynote was a big ‘meh’. Not surprising as many iOS 15 features won’t be available for Japanese iPhone users who are well acquainted with being a 1st tier market for selling Apple hardware but a 3rd tier market afterthought for Apple services. They also probably read the iOS 15 preview website fine print at the bottom of the page, every other line reads: available on iPhone (XS/XR) with A12 Bionic and later. Bottom line: to run all the iOS 15 bells and whistles you need iPhone XS and later. Here’s the list of iOS 15 features that require A12 Bionic and later:

  • FaceTime: Spatial audio, Portrait mode
  • Wallet: Car keys, Home keys, Office key, Hotel key and ID in Wallet (listed as iPhone XS and later instead of A12 Bionic for some strange reason, Home key and Office Key ‘coming in a software update to iOS 15’)
  • Maps: Interactive globe, Detailed new city experience, Immersive walking directions
  • Live Text
  • Siri: On-device speech processing, On-device personalization, Offline support, Fast on-device processing,
  • Dictation: On-device dictation, Continuous dictation
  • Weather: New animated backgrounds
  • Health: walking Steadiness

There appears to be a mistake that lists iPhone XS for UWB car keys. It should read iPhone 11 and later for UWB Car keys with remote keyless entry controls.

The A12 Bionic and later requirement for Wallet keys is easy to understand: Express Cards with power reserve. It is vital that people can unlock car and home doors even when their iPhone battery is out of juice. Up to 5 hours of power reserve makes a huge difference and it even works with UWB car keys, a surprising new development I hope to examine in the next post. Note the plural name difference: Home keys can be shared like Car keys. Hotel key and Office key are only for one.

The new Wallet car keys feature is rumored to be coming from Toyota, Honda and Nissan but nothing has been announced even though NTT Docomo demonstrated UWB car keys in action last January. Likewise there are no local 3rd party announcements regarding home keys and office key but the FeliCa and MIFARE support that comes standard in iPhone 8 and later makes it easy to implement local digital key services for Wallet. The Japanese My Number ID digital card is due to launch on Android Osaifu Keitai smartphones in 2022. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications who oversee the project have said they are in discussions with Apple to bring My Number ID card to Wallet.

For Japanese iPhone users however there are many features that just won’t matter because they won’t be available. The gap between services announced for USA/Europe/China is wide and can take years to make it to Japan. For iOS 15 a comparison looks like this:

Live Type for Japanese will be sorely missed, Weather maps is a tossup, Apple Maps JP is the usual mess. However even Japanese locations get the completely new cartography design unveiled in iOS 15 beta 1, the first real makeover since the 2012 launch. Only A12 Bionic and later devices get the full range of redesigned cartography but even on older devices iOS 15 new city maps do a nice job of minimizing the previous mess of orange, blue, red, brown Point of Interest clutter. Unfortunately the new cartography also has some major weirdness:

The new iOS 15 map cartography touched off an interesting Twitter thread:

A: Maps are supposed to be a reflection of reality. I’m sure they wouldn’t show a curve in a road that is straight in real life, so why put curves on square buildings? How can someone at Apple look at this and think “These curves sure do make usability better!”

B: As a counterpoint for discussion, where does “reflection of reality” fit with tube/metro/underground rail maps (eg. London, Tokyo)? I think ‘realistic’ and ‘accuracy’ are two different things for maps. As for thinking the style choices are useful and aid comprehension, well🤔

C: With iOS 15 emphasizing 3D/AR viewfinder navigation for pedestrians, I’m definitely expecting my square buildings to stay square and round buildings to stay round. Otherwise the feature will be useless for me!

B: Ok, now this is a use case that demonstrates the problem in the design choice🙇‍♂️👍

I plan to cover iOS 15 Apple Pay and Apple Maps in detail after WWDC21 wraps this week.

UWB Touchless Express Transit and Apple Pay for iOS 15?

A recent sudden surge of hits from Hong Kong accessing my December 2019 UWB Touchless Mobile FeliCa post seemed odd. I dug around and it appears that Hong Kong MTR, like JR East, is making noises about incorporating UWB technology in next generation transit gates.

iOS 14.5 added a new PassKit call for Bluetooth and the U1 chip integration since iPhone 11 and Apple Watch 6, coupled with global FeliCa support certainly puts Apple ahead of the game. I have no idea what WWDC21 will deliver but more UWB integration is a given.

Apple only mentioned UWB Touchless at WWDC20 in connection with digital car key without showing anything because the Car Connectivity Consortium Digital Key 3.0 spec was a work in progress. Now that the spec is in-place with BMW said to deliver car models incorporating UWB Touchless this year, will Apple show it in action? I think it’s highly likely, but since Car Key is a ‘Wallet Card’, and Wallet app Express Cards come is 3 types: Transit, Student ID, and Car Key, the more interesting question is…will Apple also show Touchless Transit and Student ID Express Cards? And what about Apple Pay?

People think Touchless is a completely new thing for ‘keep smartphone in pocket’ transactions, and they worry about security. You can’t blame them because marketers are selling the in-pocket payment experience. However, Touchless is simply long distance NFC without NFC. All UWB Touchless does is describe the frequency to use Bluetooth instead of NFC. The background stuff, secure element and so on, is exactly the same. This means user interaction is the same. For walking through transit gates and security doors, or unlocking your car, the convenience of Touchless is easy to understand: no more NFC tapping, just keep moving.

What about Express Card payments? The current Apple Pay Suica payment checkout experience: the user taps Suica on a touchscreen, or tells the clerk “Suica” then holds the device to the reader. The user has to give consent before the transaction is activated by checkout staff or the self checkout reader. For Apple Pay EMV transactions users have the extra step of confirming a transaction by Face ID/Touch ID to complete it.

Realistically however, in what situations does Touchless make store checkout more convenient and faster? Drive thru certainly, supermarkets…maybe, but most stores will probably not want to invest in Touchless without a good reason when the NFC readers they already have installed get the job done. There is one more interesting role that Apple has planned for UWB however, one that promises to improve the entire Apple Pay and Wallet experience: communicating with the reader before transaction to select the right Wallet card for the job, at a distance, for a truly smart Wallet app. With national ID cards, passports and more coming to Wallet at some point, UWB could be the Wallet reboot we really need.

And then there is EMVCo. The problems with UWB Touchless for EMVCo are that: (1) Touchless only works with devices with batteries, á la AirTag, and doesn’t work with the current plastic card model, (2) UWB + Bluetooth level the digital playing field with FeliCa and MIFARE, no more ‘real’ vs ‘who cares’ NFC hardware flavors to split hairs over. The plastic card NFC limitation is probably a bitter pill for everybody but especially for EMVCo members and issuers as plastic card issue is big business, and many customers are more comfortable with plastic cards. For those reasons I think EMVCo will be the last to support UWB Touchless, if they do at all. On the plus side Touchless does give digital wallet platforms an edge to create smart aware wallets, digital does NFC and Touchless, plastic only does NFC. We’ll find out about Apple’s UWB Touchless roadmap at WWDC21.

Apple Pay Clipper

UPDATE 4-15: Apple Pay Clipper launched April 15, digital card issue in Wallet and plastic card transfers are supported with matching real-time transit info in Apple Maps. Interesting details: (1) iPhone 8 or later with iOS 14.3, or Apple Watch Series 3 or later with watchOS 7.2 or later, (2) Adult, Youth, Senior, and RTC Clipper cards can be transferred, (3) in order to use Clipper with Apple Pay on SFMTA cable cars and other transit services using handheld card readers, all customers must authenticate with Face ID, Touch ID, or passcode (sounds like those handheld readers need a serious upgrade). Download Clipper App from the App Store.


February 18

Apple announced Clipper Card for Apple Pay today on a special page, Apple Pay Express Transit is finally coming to Apple’s San Francisco Bay Area home turf. Clipper is due to launch on Google Pay the same time. There are few details other than it works on all Bay Area transit and since open loop isn’t a thing there, it will be the same MIFARE card on Apple Pay that we saw with SmarTrip, TAP and HOP.

Unfortunately the Apple Pay Clipper image does not show an ‘Add Money’ button, it’s on a reader after all. Apple carefully crafts images to show card features. To me Apple not including an image showing the ‘Add Money’ button could mean that users reload/recharge the Clipper stored fare card balance with an app, like Apple Pay Ventra and Apple Pay HOP, instead of directly in Wallet like Apple Pay SmarTrip.

This could be a problem for Apple Watch users as they would have to use an iPhone Clipper Card app to reload and basically chains Apple Watch to iPhone. A Clipper app doesn’t exist yet but has to be in place on iOS and Android for a mobile Clipper service.

Some transit agencies stupidly keep the recharge backend locked in their app instead of leveraging the convenience of Apple Pay Wallet reload which makes the digital transit card less flexible and useful than it could be.

Let’s hope for the best launch day outcome. Meanwhile Apple Pay Suica remains the first and best implementation of a native mobile transit card on the Apple Pay platform, the best role model for a transit company to follow.

UPDATE 2-23
Good news. Apple Pay Clipper testers report on Reddit that direct Wallet reload/recharge is supported. Apple Watch transit users can rejoice. Both plastic Clipper card transfer and direct Clipper card creation in Wallet are supported and just like Suica transfer, the plastic card cannot be used afterwards. Could be a iOS Clipper app won’t be necessary for basic housekeeping after all.

UPDATE 2-18
There were a number of interesting and thoughtful Twitter threads in connection with the Apple Pay Clipper announcement.

> lordy if only we had suica in north america

>> Imo, successes like Suica is a testament to solving back-end issues (fare integration, product partnerships beyond transit, UX) and using the front-end tech to unleash full potential…Apple/Google Pay for local transit cards in the US is just not that level of breakthrough

> Yeah, exactly; the frontend technology can only be as useful as the backend system allows.

Thread

It’s heartening to discover comments that ‘get it’, that is a great mobile transit platform leverages a great front-end to unleash the potential of back-end while adding new services and product partnerships beyond transit. If only North America had Suica indeed, folks would really enjoy Apple Pay Express Transit for purchases too.

I know you’re on the closed loop side of this but imo it depends on relative power of transit vs. credit cards. In Japan CCs are not as popular so Suica was ready to take over contactless (and back integrating into CC top-up. In London both are popular so they got both…but most in US don’t use transit enough to justify a top-up card, so I’d prefer NY’s open loop over SF asking frequent travelers to switch from Clipper to Apple Pay Clipper, despite all the limitations in riding experience.

Reply

Popularity doesn’t matter, solutions matter. For years London TfL used EMV open loop in an attempt to get rid of Oyster cards but open-loop cannot replace closed-loop cards, only complement them. So now we have open-loop 2.0: EMV closed-loop cards that hide the slow and dumb limitations of a EMV front-end with a beefed up back-end. This is the Cubic + Mastercard transit solution coming to Cubic managed transit fare systems near you. Enjoy.

Contactless Payment Turf Wars: EMV closed loop transit dumb cards

  1. Contactless Payment Turf Wars: Transit Platforms
  2. Contactless Payment Turf Wars: PiTaPa Pitfalls
  3. Contactless Payment Turf Wars: Why Oyster is missing from mobile
  4. Contactless Payment Turf Wars: Tapping the potential of TAP
  5. Contactless Payment Turf Wars: Apple Card and the Prepaid Innovation of Apple Pay Suica
  6. >Contactless Payment Turf Wars: EMV closed loop transit dumb cards

Prepaid transit smart cards are micro bank accounts on a card. What started as plastic in the mid 1990’s first transitioned to the cloud based mobile digital card era with Mobile Suica in 2006. Transit cards on mobile digital wallets are much more powerful and malleable than their plastic forebears, and occupy a coveted position in the mobile payments market. Credit card companies and banks spend enormous resources and effort to capture this transit fare business.

Background
Many smart cards use FeliCa and MIFARE. The technology has been on the market since 1994 and one of the reasons for platform popularity and longevity are the rich application development environments they offer (Calypso is also popular but limited to transit applications).

Developers can design a card architecture as ‘smart’ (like Suica) or as ‘dumb’ (like iD) but they are all smart cards because they contain an IC chip. In Japan FeliCa powers not only company ID cards, but also transit cards (Suica, PASMO, etc.), bank payment cards (iD, QUICPay) and rechargeable prepaid eMoney cards that anybody can buy and recharge at convenience stores (WAON, nanaco, Edy). Mobile FeliCa has been in place since 2004.

Smart/Dumb card architecture depends on use case, system processing cost efficiency and need. In a transit fare system, a dumb card use case is slower centralized processing, like waiting at the store checkout for card verification to clear. A transit smart card use case is instant locally processed stored value to keep people moving through the gates because centralized processing isn’t up to the task. This is why transit cards have used the stored value local processing model…until now.

Open Loop 1.0
EMV contactless credit cards arrived on the payments scene starting in 2007 but uptake was slow. Since EMV contactless uses the same NFC A as MIFARE based transit cards, the big EMVCo members (VISA, Mastercard, American Express) came up with a great marketing idea: use EMV contactless credit cards as a transit card. Thus EMV open loop transit was born.

EMV Open Loop 1.0 transit that debuted on Transport for London (TfL) Oyster system in 2014 filled mutual needs for TfL and bank card companies. Despite the success of Oyster, TfL wanted to reduce plastic card issue and management costs:

The current Oyster system, though very popular, is expensive and complex to administer. Contactless bank cards use existing technology, responsibility for issuing cards would lie with the banks rather than TfL, and the operating costs should be lower.

The Future of Ticketing London Assembly (2011)

In 2017 there was a push to nudge people away from their Oyster cards and towards contactless. One announcement rang out all over London’s tube stations: Why not use your contactless bank card today? Never top up again, and it’s the same fare as Oyster.

How Long Does The Oyster Card Have Left? Londonist (2018)

Using bank cards in place of MIFARE Oyster cards accomplished that and because MIFARE was late to the mobile party TfL management decided decided their mobile strategy would be Apple Pay and Android Pay EMV card support. Meanwhile the bank card companies captured transaction fees from mundane transit fares at the gate, got the benefit of using the float instead of TfL, and got people into the habit of using credit cards for tiny purchase amounts. Our parents thought buying coffee with a credit card instead of small change was ridiculous because credit cards were reserved for ‘serious purchases’. Not anymore.

TfL Open Loop was judged a big success and got rave reviews from tech journalists around the world who hailed it as the future of transit ticketing: time to dump those proprietary transit smart cards and go all in with ‘open standard’ EMV open loop if you want the latest and greatest transit fare system. This gave transit agencies and the governments that run them the wrong idea that EMV is a cure all transit fare system solution.

1.0 shortcomings
The problem is that EMV is not an open standard, it is owned and managed by the proprietary EMVCo that is wholly owned by the major credit card companies. EMV is a ‘one size fits all’ payments technology created for the needs of credit card companies and banks. It was never designed as a transit fare solution and will never evolve to incorporate transit needs. Experts agree:

A universal truth is that each transport market is highly unique. While EMV may be the best solution for some, the reality is that a standardized deployment of this model is not best suited to everyone.

Transit systems shouldn’t confuse open loop pay with EMV

The U.S. has been a tough market for transit agencies to deliver successful open-loop systems into, as banks have not been in step with these ambitions.

Is now the time for open-loop transit in the United States?

There is no escaping the basic reality that EMV is a slow dumb smart card. It works well for what it was designed for: store purchases where card transaction latency is not a problem while the checkout terminal communicates with the bank system that has your account information.

Transit fare systems don’t have your bank account information on file, and there are limits with what the backend transit fare system can do when an anonymous bank card number appears on gate reader where long transaction latency is unacceptable. There are tradeoffs: the card gets verified but the transit bill gets settled long after the transit. This is why EMV open loop 1.0 only works for simple or flat fare structures. The result was a 2 layer fare system on London Oyster, Sydney Opal and Chicago Ventra:

  • Plastic and digital EMV open loop dumb card with basic fare transit for users with approved bank cards
  • Plastic transit MIFARE smart cards covering all fares including special fare discounts, commuter passes, etc., for everybody else

Oyster, Opal and Ventra wanted to add mobile support across the board but this meant supporting EMV and MIFARE. All of these are managed by Cubic Transportation Systems who worked with the bank card companies and came up with a new product to solve the dilemma: EMV closed loop transit dumb cards.

Open Loop 2.0
Apple Pay Ventra is this new EMV closed loop mobile transit card product, the launch gave us a first glimpse of the 3 layer fare system:

  • Plastic and digital EMV open loop dumb cards with basic fare transit for users with approved bank cards
  • Digital EMV closed loop dumb cards that cover regular fares and commute passes with special fares to be added later
  • Legacy plastic MIFARE transit cards for everybody else

It’s still a mixed EMV and MIFARE environment but MIFARE is limited to legacy plastic transit cards that can be bought with cash at station kiosks. But we can be sure that MIFARE will be phased out at some point.

The Apple Pay Ventra model is being used for digital Opal trials on Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, and is on tap for digital Oyster and digital OMNY. A basic outline:

  • The transit card is actually a EMV Mastercard prepaid debit card issued by 3rd party bank
  • The Mastercard as transit card is ‘closed loop’ and can only be used for transit and nothing else
  • The user must create an account to use the digital card. The transit account and prepaid/debit information is centralized and managed by the card issuer, nothing is stored value
  • All digital transit card management and housekeeping (adding or transferring cards, recharge, checking the balance, etc.) must be done in a separate app (Ventra App, Opal App, etc.), nothing can be done directly in Wallet
  • Express Transit is not part of the native EMV card architecture and has to be added as part of broader open loop support on the backend fare system by the operator and Apple, this is why Express Transit is missing in the initial test phase of digital Opal: the current Opal fare system does not support it

As this is an EMV bank card dressed up as a transit card, it is still limited by EMV card architecture and bank card network protocol. In place of local stored value it uses the bank card account model. On mobile this means all card housekeeping is in the app, users can’t create, transfer or recharge transit cards directly in Wallet like Suica, PASMO, SmarTrip or TAP. Direct reload/recharge in Wallet is not supported because the EMV format itself does not support local stored value. Apple Watch users can’t recharge EMV transit cards without the iPhone app. And like all cloud dependent services everything stops when networks goes down.

Mobile Suica does an excellent job of balancing and combining the strengths of local processed stored value performance, usability and reliability with the power of cloud attached services. It’s the gold standard of what a transit payment platform on mobile can achieve: leveraging transit card micro accounts to attach services and build business instead of giving it away to banks. Digital Opal testers familiar with Suica notice the difference and missing features:

Open Loop 3.0?
For centralized cloud proponents, including Junya Suzuki, the ultimate dream is having one cloud based account using facial recognition for all payment and transit needs. Cubic and centralized account proponents are already looking to speed up London transit gates beyond slow EMV card technology with barrier free face recognition transit gates:

according to CUBIC…their ‘fastrack gateless gateline’ concept, which is currently conducting small user testing, eliminates physical barriers to form an extended corridor-like gateway that between 65 and 75 users can walk through in a minute, whilst their faces are being scanned and synced for payment with their smartphones

Facial recognition to be your future ticket on the London Underground

The joke here is that, (1) JR East achieved those over 60 people per minute walk through levels with FeliCa based Suica cards and open barrier transit gates long ago, (2) the COVID face mask era is a huge challenge for face recognition systems, (3) Touchless transit, Express Transit on steroids, is already in the works.

Personally I think the Ultra Wideband Touchless approach that leverages personal biometric authentication from the user’s smartphone secure enclave instead of having it hosted on somebody else’s cloud system is the safer and more practical way to go. Privacy advocates will agree.

Speed is safety
Tap speed matters more than even in the COVID era

The next installment of the Contactless Payment Turf Wars
If nothing else closed loop EMV transit dumb cards reveal how bankrupt the ‘open loop is open’ argument really is. All Cubic and the card companies did was swap MIFARE for EMV, neither of which are open. And tap speeds are slower than ever with EMV the supermarket checkout protocol, so now we need Face ID transit gates to speed things up.

It’s fake debate. The real debate is online centralization for fare processing where everybody is forced to have a mobile account whether they need it or want it or not. And once everybody is forced to have an account to use transit the next step is forcing facial recognition.

The short term lesson here is that when transit agencies let banks and card companies run the transit fare concession they will never be free of them: there’s too much private money to be made off of running the backend services attached to public infrastructure. The long term lesson is that the mobile digital wallet solutions for Ventra, Opal, Oyster and OMNY are not about transit user convenience and all about convenience for misguided transit operators and their subcontractors.


Reader Questions
Instead of answering questions or comments via Twitter etc., I’ll answer here for the benefit of all readers.

Q: Not being able to recharge within Apple Pay has nothing to do with EMV vs. stored value though, right? If anything, that should be easier (just move money between accounts).

A: It’s true that MIFARE stored value transit cards such as HOP Fastpass force users to recharge via the app. The point of the piece is that EMV transit card features are defined by the EMV format, bank card protocols and how it’s all implemented on digital wallet platforms. In short, bank issuers control the feature set on the backend. I have yet to see a recharge button on any EMV prepaid card in Apple Pay Wallet, I suspect we’ll always see most operations limited to bank issuer apps, even for transit.

C: The open loathing of banks and credit card companies is honestly quite nauseating (but understandable, considering what Japanese banks are like, apart from the credit card companies).

A: Banks and card companies have an important place in transit, but card company ‘one size solves all’ open loop marketing is misleading and profitable mischief. A good transit fare system is all about balance, flexibility and incorporating innovation such as mobile wallets, for the benefit of transit users and safe operations. Bank cards for example are a wonderfully convenient recharge backend, this is where they shine and add real value to the transit user experience.

But swapping out a native transit fare system with an outsourced bank card account system and tech package that the transit company doesn’t ‘own’ is asking for trouble. How much is the long term cost when it doesn’t solve everything as promised? Who really benefits: the transit user, the transit company, or the system partners and consultants?

These are the questions I think people should be asking and discussing. Hopefully my posts outline the issues clearly so people can discuss them to find the best fit long term solution based on local transit region conditions.

C: Looks like Apple/Google Pay presents the card as a debit card to eligible terminals, which would explain why physical cards can’t be used in their current form.

A: Yes the NSW Transport Minister calls it ‘cross-pollinating platforms”: NSW government set to announce the trial on Tuesday, which will begin mid-year and run until December. Commuters will be able to pay for Uber, Lime Bike, Ingogo Taxi or Manly Fast Ferry with their digital Opal card.