Here we are again. Apple Pay Octopus has been languishing in beta test hell for over a year with no public release in sight. The last official news was the 2019 year end launch delay to ‘later in 2020’ and the Octopus App v5.6 update that added support for iPhone recharge/top up of plastic Octopus cards. Hong Kong beta testers found code references in v5.6 that clearly indicated Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) originally intended to release Apple Pay Octopus and v5.6 app together.
A few weeks ago a reader contacted me that OCL is updating the Schedule of Fees and Guidelines on March 1, 2020, which could indicate a minor Octopus App update, or nothing at all. Then out of nowhere Twitter user Jason Tjong (who lists himself as a IT journalist, without a listed publication…freelancer? blogger?) put out a series of tweets saying everything that was supposed to be coming, first with Chinese New Year 2019, then later with iOS 13, is finally coming in March 2020 along with Octopus App v6, in other words the whole shebang.
To which I say…hope for the best but we’ll see how it plays out. There have been too many delays to be optimistic and Tjong has not revealed any sources or given reasons to back up his tweets. If his statements turn out right, great, if not we’ll wait for the next rumor or a real announcement from OCL.
We do have a Apple Event March rumor for iPhone 9 and new iPad, but an event looks increasingly unlikely during the coronavirus COVID‑19 crisis. At last year’s spring event Tim Cook mentioned Apple Pay HOP, Ventra and EMV Express Transit for MTA OMNY for 2019. Reality and results were mixed. Apple Pay HOP launched without a hitch, OMNY Express Transit launched on schedule but MTA users stuck with manual swipe MetroCard are irritated by Express Transit (default Express Transit in a long term system migration environment was not a good idea), and Apple Pay Ventra is stuck in coming soon hell.
Tjong says the Apple Pay Octopus delay is Apple’s fault not OCL, but again I am skeptical. From a technical side OCL already has extensive mobile experience with their Smart Octopus on Samsung service and has field tested Apple Pay Octopus since December 2018, OCL feedback to beta testers indicated everything was set to launch right up until the delay announcement. From a business side I find it hard to believe that OCL would dump resources into extensive Apple Pay beta field testing and Octopus App development without the business contract ends tied down. I think there are other reasons..reasons related to the Hong Kong protests and the unexplained takedown of Smart Octopus during the Hong Kong Polytechnic University siege, but this is not a popular view.
We can put aside all doubts and pretend that March will be insanely great. Tim will announce Apple Pay for Octopus and more at the March Apple Event, Octopus Cards Limited CEO Sunny Cheung will be invited on stage to unveil the service. Joking aside, the only clarity from the murky chaos that was 2019 and is 2020 is this: Hong Kong is in a very different place than it was back in December 2018 and there’s considerably less interest in Apple Pay Octopus.
Tjong also tweets that Apple Pay Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Foshan T-Union transit cards announced by Apple in early January could appear with iOS 13.4 which sounds about right, he also suggests that T-Union card mobile integration is less complex than Octopus, again without citing sources or offering explanation. Given the circumstances of the Octopus delay I don’t agree with his tech angle, but Apple Pay Lingnan/ShenZhen/Foshan coming more or less simultaneously with Apple Pay Octopus crossed my mind back in December. It certainly makes sense for Apple Pay to align transit card region support whenever possible. A release that eventually straddles both Hong Kong and surrounding mainland area transit cards, not dual mode exactly but close, is a win for iPhone/Apple Watch transit users.