Dear Apple: We need a Global NFC iPad

Now that iOS 13 is almost here, it’s time to sit down and think about the enhanced Core NFC Read/Write functionality and what it means for iOS/iPadOS. Core NFC “requires a device that supports Near Field Communication.” Theoretically this means iPhone and Apple Watch, but the reality is that only iPhone iOS supports Core NFC, NFC Tag Read/Write and new services like NFC Tag Apple Pay that use Background NFC Tag reading.

Until now nobody has discussed the need for a NFC capable iPad. Without the enhanced Core NFC functions of iOS 13 which limited NFC to Apple Pay Wallet card, there wasn’t a reason. After all who would want to use iPad for Apple Pay Suica transit in Tokyo, you’d look as silly as watermelon man (watermelon in JP = suika…get it?).

But iOS 13 Core NFC changes all this: sure you still don’t want to use an NFC iPad at the checkout line, but businesses would love an NFC iPad loaded with all kinds of enhanced Core NFC apps to do all kind of work as all-in-one mobile POS systems, factory inventory NFC tag read/write systems, and much more. Imagine how an NFC iPad bundled with Recuit’s AirPAY would appeal to Tokyo area businesses as they gear up for the 2020 Olympics. The possibilities are interesting and not insignificant.

What is the optimum global NFC iPad hardware configuration? Background NFC tag reading ability is an absolute must which means A12 Bionic is the minimum support configuration. Outside of that I would say: iPad Air and iPad mini, not iPad Pro, a NFC + cellular model, and a WiFi only model. The NFC iPad needs to be as inexpensive as possible with A12 Bionic and Touch ID. I think it could do well.

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iOS 13 FeliCa NFC Reader Apps

With the official release of iOS 13 quickly approaching we are starting to see new app announcements built around iOS 13 enhanced Core NFC Read/Write functions. This is the first time that the full range of iPhone NFC Read/Write has been unlocked for developers. In Japan this is especially important because there are so many FeliCa transit cards out there, almost everyone in Japan has one or more Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, TOICA, etc. There are also the ‘My Number’ Japanese Individual Number Card which is evolving into a national identity card. The Japanese government already supports Android and has announced iOS 13 support.

People need to have an easy way to read card information but for iPhone users this meant buying a separate FeliCa NFC reading device and software for Mac or PC, or borrowing an Osaifu Keitai Android smartphone.

The great thing about iOS 13 on iPhone is that a separate NFC/FeliCa reading device is no longer necessary. iOS 13, iPhone, an app are all you need. Two Japanese FeliCa iOS 13 apps were announced yesterday on Twitter: IC Card Reader and Japan NFC Reader. These are focused on transit IC cards and other FeliCa stored value cards like WAON and nanaco. This is what most people need because there is so much FeliCa plastic out there. People want to know how much balance is left on the card when out and about. Hopefully these and other apps sure to follow, will blossom into full fledged apps that support reading My Number cards and much more.

New Functions for iOS 13 Apple Pay Suica

For some time now I have been scratching my head over the dynamic card feature of Apple Card. I thought that Apple might announce new Apple Pay Wallet features for developers at WWDC19. They did not. Apple Card has been released but there are no details about the special Wallet UI features, or if they are available to other Apple Pay Wallet card developers. NFC card emulation in Apple Pay Wallet requires PassKIT NFC Certificates and an NDA. The only answer we’ll get is when new card designs arrive in Wallet like the refreshed Apple Pay Suica transit card in iOS 12.2.

A reader sent me a link with an updated Apple Pay server JSON file entry for Suica that indicates iOS 13 as the minimum version for installing the card. This is unusual: Apple Pay Suica has been around since iOS 10, other transit card minimum versions listed in the JSON file are iOS 12.x. We already know that direct Suica card creation in Wallet is a new Suica feature for iOS 13. This JSON file entry could be that, but I don’t think so. iOS 12 already supports direct transit card creation for Shanghai and Beijing transit cards, we don’t need iOS 13 for that.

The JSON file entry for Suica indicates a new Suica feature that requires iOS 13. What could it be? I’ve been scratching my head over the low resolution Suica ‘in transit’ notification card art over the course of iOS 13 beta releases. It’s still unfinished and very late for dovetailing that kind of detail.

Could it be a placeholder for something else? I’m going out on a limb here, but I think we will get some form of dynamic Wallet card functionality for Suica and other cards. It’s a long shot, but Apple has held back iOS features from beta releases occasionally to announce them in connection with new products for the Apple Event golden master.

We will undoubtedly have an Apple Pay update segment in the September 10 Apple Event. There is Apple Card of course, but there is also NFC Tag Apple Pay that Jennifer Bailey previewed back in May. It will fit nicely with the new iPhones, possibly even Apple Watch Series 5 if NFC background tag reading makes the cut.

There are also a number of Apple Pay Transit items on tap for iOS 13: Apple Pay Octopus, Apple Pay Ventra, EMV Express Transit for TfL, and (maybe) EMV Express Transit for LA TAP. Of all of these I hope Tim Cook or Jennifer Bailey goes out of the way to reach out to Hong Kong, even just a little. In these troubled times, the people of Hong Kong desperately need kind words of support. At the very least we will finally get an official Apple Pay Octopus launch window.

Update: iOS 13 developer beta 8 also has the same low resolution Suica ‘in transit’ notification card image of previous beta releases. Taken together with the JSON Apple Pay Suica iOS 13 minimum version reference, more than ever I feel the two are connected. I definitely smell a post Apple Event golden master feature.

iOS 13 beta 8 Suica In Transit notification

Titanium Apple Card activation with background NFC tag reading

Apple Card is rolling out to limited number preview users in America with a full release due by the end of August. In case you didn’t notice, Apple has posted 2 videos for activating the Titanium Apple Card: a video for A12 Bionic iPhone XR/XS with background NFC tag reading, and a video for non-A12 Bionic iPhones without background NFC tag reading ability. This marks the first time Apple has put A12 Bionic background NFC tag reading ability to use, almost a year since the new functionality appeared.

For the background NFC tag version, all the user does is wake the screen, unlock and hold iPhone near the card, background NFC tag reading takes over automating the rest. As you might expect the activation process on non-A12 Bionic iPhone is more manual: open Wallet, select Apple Card, tap Activate. The video cleverly removes the card selection process with Apple Card ready and waiting in Wallet.

It’s a small thing, but gives us a clue how Apple will implement iOS 13 NFC Tag Apple Pay on non-A12 Bionic iPhone: open Wallet, select a card, tap, read. It’s not as slick as background NFC tag reading certainly, but gets the job done.

SmartPlate CEO Takes the Softcream Cashless Index Challenge

AquaBit Spirals CEO Tomohiro Hagiwara responded to my post and took up the Softcream Cashless Index (SCI) challenge, promising to deliver a SCI score of “over 5” with his SmartPlate NFC tag payment service that works with Apple Pay and Google Pay:

The Apple Pay side of SmartPlate depends on the background NFC tag reading capability of iPhone XS and iPhone XR models, and the enhanced Core NFC functionality in iOS 13. The new iPhone models this year with A13 Bionic will undoubtedly build on the A12 Bionic NFC functions introduced in 2018. The big questions are: will Apple Watch Series 5 have NFC background tag reading as part of the Apple Pay experience on a wearable, and what about NFC Tag Apple Pay on non-Bionic chip devices?

watchOS 6 does not support Core NFC, but developers with a PassKit NFC Certificate from Apple can do lots of interesting things with Apple Pay NFC functions. Not that I’m asking Hagiwara san to divulge anything because PassKit NFC Certificates come with all kinds of non-disclosure conditions. But I do look forward to all the Apple Pay goodies coming with iOS 13. So far we have Apple Pay Octopus, Apple Pay Ventra, and Apple Pay myki on the transit side, there will be lots of new stuff on the NFC tag side. It would be great if SmartPlate can join the iOS 13 Apple Pay service rollout with backup from Apple Pay lead Jennifer Bailey at the Apple Event.

I look forward to reporting about the NFC Tag Apple Pay experience, and tasting great softcream along the way.