VISA Touch Transit Boutiques

VISA Japan announced VISA Touch support on Kyoto Tango Railway, most media outlets simply ran edited versions of the VISA Japan press release. The infrastructure uses a slightly modified stera store reader platform, which VISA has a hand in. Willer Inc. is hailing this as the first ‘VISA Touch’ solution on Japanese train systems but they ignored the fact that stera VISA Touch was already announced for Ibaraki Transit highway bus service back in July.

Japanese journalist comments on Twitter were fun to read with the ‘let’s just dump FeliCa and Suica already and go all in with EMV’ supporters club checking in as usual. Nobi Hayashi asked good questions regarding real user convenience. Junya Suzuki said he plans a trip to investigate the new service, his next ‘Pay Attention’ column promises to be a good read.

Just what kind of end user are these VISA Touch transit installations targeting anyway? Let’s do a quick profile:

  1. VISA Touch JP plastic cards are being issued in Japan but they are new and few and dwarfed by the number of Transit IC cards (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, etc.) that can be bought by anybody at any station kiosk machine with cash. Apple Pay Japan users cannot use it because VISA JP refuses to support Apple Pay JP FeliCa/EMV dual mode NFC switching. This service is not targeted for domestic transit users.
  2. Both of these VISA Touch installation transit areas market heavily to inbound tourists, neither of them support Transit IC cards.
  3. VISA Touch is not compatible with PBOC Union Pay cards technology, the installations also support QR Code AliPay and WeChat Pay for inbound Chinese tourists

The short summary is these installations are for inbound tourists with VISA Touch contactless credit cards, a transit boutique for marketing purposes more than real use.

Japanese media is quick to dismiss FeliCa as a technical failure in the face of EMV but I think that is the wrong analysis. Looking back it’s easy to see a huge mistake was that the big push for Mobile FeliCa credit cards on smartphones was not matched with an equally big push for plastic credit cards with FeliCa support.

And the big EMV push instead of FeliCa has not worked out so great either. Instead of making a technology agnostic unified push for NFC contactless, EMV bank card interests pushed their own agenda. All that did was provide a big opening for domestic QR Code payment players like Line Pay and Pay Pay which they took and continue to take.

What I find fascinating is that the mainstream Japanese IT media has not written much about the Super Suica 2 in 1 card strategy or rollout plans. Low cost transit IC card infrastructure sharing that delivers consistent and seamless transit service on mobile and legacy plastic while offering local area branding and services is a compelling vision that I don’t see bank card companies matching.

The challenge for JR group companies (JR West, JR Central, JR Kyushu, etc.) is working with JR East to offer Super Suica 2 in 1 card solutions in their own regions, because if they do not we’ll see more VISA Touch transit boutiques.

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.

Apple Pay Contactless Adoption Outlook 4Q 2020

MacRumors posted an interesting comment Tim Cook made in the 4Q 2020 earnings call

As you can imagine in this environment, people are less wont to hand over a card. Contactless payment has taken on a different level of adoption and I don’t think we’ll go back. The United States has been lagging in contactless payments and I think the pandemic may very well put the U.S. on a different trajectory there. We are very bullish on this area and there are more things that Apple can do in this space so this is an area of great interest to us.

What exactly are the ‘more things that Apple can do in this space’ Tim is talking about? There are two iOS 14 Apple Pay features that haven’t arrived yet: App Clips and Apple Pay QR Code Payments.

App Clips are ‘here’ but you wouldn’t know it. An October 22 tweet announced 2 Tokyo coffee shops offering App Clips, the debut locations for Japan. NFCW reports ExxonMobil’s ‘point and pay’ App Clip with App Clip Code stickers at USA gas pumps though only the NFC tag part is working. ExxonMobil rolled those out the same time as Japan. Ken Nishimura of Coral Capital has an interestingly detailed write up of the Tokyo App Clips launch with a screen recoding of the App Clips order process.

We are cashless…App Clips at Tailored Cafe but the nifty Apple-designed App Clip Code stickers aren’t available in Japan yet (Coral Capital blog)

The problem is that the Apple-designed App Clip Codes aren’t fully ready yet and require a future iOS 14 update (iOS 14.3?) to enable optical code reading, as noted in the iOS 14 web page fine print. Also note the 2 flavors of NFC tag reading iPhones: 1) automatic NFC with reader mode (iPhone Xs and later), 2) manual Control Center NFC scan mode (pre-iPhone XS).

I expect iOS 14 Apple Pay QR Code Payments to arrive at the same time. It only makes sense to enable and launch App Clip Codes + Apple Pay QR Code Payments together as one rollout. The only question is announcement timing. We already have the ‘soft’ App Clips Code October 22 launch in Japan and USA. If Apple holds another event this year, I think there’s a very good chance we’ll hear about it.

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.

Public tests for new JR East Suica/QR combo transit gate (Updated)

The new JR East Suica/QR gate design was unveiled back in December along with the new Takanawa Gateway station details. Test gate installations have been in service at Takanawa Gateway and JR Shinjuku New South exit these past few months but only for Suica and the QR reader covered up. If you have your heart set on trying one out, go to Takanawa Gateway where JR East officials will take the cover off the QR reader from September 15~29 (except for 9/24~27) for public tests.

QR will eventually replace mag strip paper tickets which are increasing expensive to recycle, and the new gates will gradually replace those ingenious paper ticket/Suica combo transit gates made by Omron. I have tried the new gate in Shinjuku and all I can say is…I’m glad I wear my Apple Watch / Apple Pay Suica on the right.

No moving parts is boring…but cheaper than intricate mag strip reading mechanisms

UPDATE: Conflicted Impressions
Junya Suzuki has posted a deeper dive into the QR reader design on the new JR East gates with his usual fascinating analysis. Suzuki san is very big on the evolution of Suica away from local processing to a centrally processed unique ID model that does away with stored fare.

His IT background experience really shines through as he makes a convincing argument that a centralized unique Suica ID approach greatly simplifies the IT system by reducing hot-list/off-list refreshes that have to be coordinated between local and central systems.

We’ll have to see how things pan out with next generation FeliCa and next generation ‘Super Suica’ in 2021. There will be a definite focus on cloud + local, but I have doubts that Suzuki san’s centralized everything vision is always the best approach.

Perhaps I am missing something in his analysis, but I think there’s a happy medium that leverages the strengths of both for a robust innovative transit fare payment system as the centerpiece of the transit business platform.

Here’s a recap of his observations and reader feedback:

Separate QR reader placement
In Suzuki san’s piece JR East tech leads explain that widely separate NFC and QR readers work much better than an all-in-one approach. NFC always reacts faster than QR and this creates problems with the all-in-one reader and smartphones when fast, clean, precise read times are required. The gate QR sensor is made by DENSO. If you have ever used a poky DENSO POS QR+NFC reader at store checkout, you can relate.

Security Invisible Ink
As FeliCa Dude points out, JR East is likely using IR transparent ink to create unique ID codes for security. Apparently this is already used for Okinawa Monorail Okica QR paper tickets.

Poor Walk Flow
One of the great things about the mag strip paper ticket gates is they pull the ticket into the machine and spit it out at the other end of the gate. This is clever guided incentive to keep walking to pick up the ticket. With QR code transit gates people stop and wait for the reader to do something. Another nice thing about mag ticket machines is they eat the used tickets. The QR paper ticket downside not mentioned by JR East or the media: where do people put their used tickets for paper recycle? Who and what collects them, a bin?

Hama Pay adds dual NFC/QR as iOS 14 Apple Pay QR payments loom

The recent Bank of Yokohama Hama Pay app update created some buzz with the addition of an Apple Pay iD Prepaid card option. It’s similar to the Toyota Wallet approach: the bank app links the user’s bank account to an open front end bank payment service with QR code payment for debit and credit and NFC payment for prepaid.

The difference with the Hama Pay prepaid card is that VISA JP issues the iD card which means it cannot be used internationally the same way that the Toyota Wallet Mastercard iD card can; Mastercard supports iOS NFC switching, VISA JP does not.

Another weird thing: the Hama Pay ad blurb uses the ‘Touch Payment’ branding phrase with iD. Up until now VISA JP reserved that exclusively for EMV contactless card issue but not for FeliCa cards, which of course iD is. Does this mean VISA JP will finally sign with Apple Pay? Probably not.

The Toyota Wallet also uses a QR+NFC frontend

IT journalists approach the story as a NFC vs QR dilemma for banks, but I don’t think this captures the whole story. iOS 14 Apple Pay is adding QR code payments for the first time and this means that QR Code Wallet payments don’t need to launch an app, they will work directly from the lock screen just like any Apple Pay card.

This represents a big evolution of Apple Pay from NFC only to an open front end approach that includes NFC, Code payments and Ultra Wideband. It will be very interesting to see how bank apps evolve in the iOS 14 era as we move away from the plastic era ‘A vs B’ mind set to the bewildering variety of ‘A~Z take your pick’ era of mobile payments. We still have the Apple Pay/Face ID with face mask passcode nonsense…but that’s another post for another day.

iOS 14 Apple Pay is adding Ultra Wideband and QR into the mix