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.

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Apple’s Secret Weapon

Technology is hard to cover well in a way that’s clear and easy to understand, that educates and elevates without dumbing down the technology or it’s intended audience. Technology like Apple Pay Suica is especially hard to cover well because it is multifaceted: it merges the Apple Pay platform of Global NFC technology deployed on iPhone and Apple Watch, with the Suica Transit Platform of FeliCa NFC deployed for transit and eMoney on a national scale, and how Apple delivers all of this to a global user base.

With so many parts it’s difficult to explain the greatness and importance of Apple Pay Suica, simply and clearly, and what connects it to Apple Card. Ken Bolido who is the production lead and creative director for Austin Evans, has created a video titled Apple’s SECRET Weapon. Ken ‘get’s it’ and captures all of it brilliantly: why Apple Pay is Apple’s Secret Weapon, how Apple Pay Suica is a perfect embodiment of that secret weapon, and how it relates to Apple Card. If you want to understand any of this and how it will play out, watch Apple’s SECRET Weapon. It’s essential viewing and a perfect primer for the role Apple Pay Suica will play in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

AWS outage takes down PayPay

The Amazon Web Service outage that started around 1pm August 23 local Japan time took down some PayPay service along with it. Japanese users tweeted about payment and recharge not working. AWS service was completely restored by 8pm Japan time. Engadget JP’s Takahiro Koguchi posted a complete rundown.

Since QR Code payment systems depend on centralized processing, a cloud outage can easily bring down the system for all transactions. While this is a minor annoyance for paying at a convenience store where you can always pay on the spot using something else, it’s not the case when QR is used for transit where large numbers of people can suddenly be stranded. This is exactly what happened in Chengdu last April. It’s a risk of using QR Codes for transit.

Locally processed transactions like Suica are resilient because it was designed to avoid the trap of central processing, the stored balance is held on the card and not on the cloud. When things do go wrong with cloud services like Mobile Suica or Apple Pay, damage is limited to the credit card recharge side. Cash recharge at the convenience store, the station, the ATM is always there as a backup because it only deals with the card, not the cloud.

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

Bad Dance: EMV Express Transit slows down Apple Pay Suica

The EMV Express Transit option that arrived with iOS 12.3 is completely useless in Japan. Japanese transit companies will never support it because EMV is a poor technology match, not only because it kneecaps fast transit gate performance but also because complex fare structures cannot be supported on the EMV payment card read only format. Things might have been different if EMVCo had incorporated NFC-F and some FeliCa technology into their spec, but that will probably never happen either.

Nevertheless, people like me are intrigued by the multiple Express Transit card support in Wallet for native transit cards and EMV payment cards. I use Apple Pay Suica everyday and decided to turn on EMV Express Transit to see if there is any performance overhead. There is.

After a week of testing I can definitely say that turning on EMV Express Transit and using Apple Pay Suica is a bad dance. Express Transit momentarily forgets which way the NFC reader needs to spin. Instead of a smooth Suica waltz, there is a momentary pause and uncomfortable interlocking of arms. EMV Express Transit seems to introduce some new NFC dance steps into the usual read/write process that slows things down at transit gate readers a little and store readers by a noticeably wide gap.

Take it with a grain of salt as I can only test Apple Pay Suica + EMV Express Transit on a single iPhone XS running iOS 13 beta 7. Other devices running iOS 12.4 or the official iOS 13 release may be OK. A good rule of thumb is to forgo multiple Express Transit cards and stick with a single Express Transit card. Leave EMV Express Transit off if you don’t need it.

I’d love to hear any Apple Pay Suica + EMV Express Transit user feedback, please tweet @Kanjo if you have some observations to share.