iOS 13 Apple Pay Suica: Move along folks there’s nothing to see here…

As I wrote previously, “if you are using iOS 12.3, you are already using iOS 13 Apple Pay Wallet.” The major under the hood Wallet changes of iOS 12.3~4 were completed ahead of iOS 13 for the Apple Card rollout that is coming very soon. For Apple Pay Suica users, and Express Transit users everywhere, the solid Express Transit performance of iOS 12.3~ iOS 12.4 and the UI, are exactly what you get in iOS 13. There is nothing new, a good thing.

The only changes are Suica Notifications which have lost 3D Touch shortcuts for Recharge and Commute Plan Renewal. Since 3D Touch is on the chopping block in iOS 13, this is not unexpected, but it is unfortunate: the recharge shortcut was handy and finally useful with the robust iOS 12.3 Suica Recharge performance. Suica Notifications are still a work in progress however, witness the useless ‘In Transit’ Suica notification, hopefully shortcuts will reappear in some form before the final release.

The Apple Card rollout remains a real head scratcher. There are lots of things Apple Card will be able to do in iOS 12.4 Wallet that other cards, as yet, cannot do. And Apple has not offered anything in iOS 13 PassKit or Wallet for developers to do those dynamic card UI things that Apple Card does. I wonder how well that will go down with developers after Apple Card finally ships.

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Apple Pay Octopus and the Pixel 4 Global NFC Question

Apple Pay Octopus on iOS 13 this fall puts Pixel 4 and Google Pay in an awkward market position. Pixel 3 is a success in the Japanese market because of the inclusion of a dedicated FeliCa chip in Japanese models. Non-JP Pixel 3 models have a global NFC ready NXP PN81 chip but FeliCa is not activated for some reason, inbound users cannot use Google Pay Suica, or anything else, in Japan.

The question for Pixel 4 is this: will Google Pay use all the features of the NXP PN81 chip, or go with a custom implementation of FeliCa on their own chip for a global NFC device along with an enhanced Google Pay that seamlessly incorporates and builds on Osaifu Keitai software (killing off JP carrier Osaifu-Keitai SIM nonsense for good) instead of simply candy wrapping it, like they do for Pixel 3 JP Google Pay.

If Google goes with the first choice, Google Pay Octopus becomes a future possibility. It would also force other Android smartphone manufacturers to follow suit.

If Google keeps that same Pixel 3 arrangement they have for Pixel 4, a separate hardware model for Japan, Google Pay Octopus becomes a murky proposition. More of the same would be a shame. I hope Google does the smart thing and the right thing: global NFC on all devices is the way to go.

Apple Pay Octopus and the future of the Octopus Transit Platform

UPDATE: Hong Kong OCL officially announced Apple Pay Octopus

One downside of breaking a tech story on the internet is news aggregator sites. Responsible tech news sites like MacRumors and AppleInsider post outside sourced news that serves their readership and sends traffic to the original source. And then there are not so nice aggregator operations posing as news sites like The Verge, TechCrunch and 9to5Mac who craft crappy posts, lifting whole chunks from outside stories, or simply lifting without attribution, minimizing any outside contribution to keep traffic on their own site.

So it’s a bummer that SC Yeung’s excellent EJ Insight story “Why Hong Kong can expect Apple Pay support for Octopus Card,” quotes the 9to5Mac ripoff of my piece instead of the original, but it’s an interesting read with good analysis. Yeung makes the same point I did a few months ago that the expansion of Octopus to Apple Pay is an important step forward for the platform. But it can’t stop there: Octopus Cards Limited needs to continue digital wallet expansion and create new business opportunities. Unfortunately it has to accomplish this while parent company MRT Corporation is opening up its transit gates to QR Code and EMV payments which will compete with the subsidiary OCL Octopus card business:

MTR will begin accepting QR code payment starting from next year and the rail operator will also add more contactless payment systems on its gates in future. For commuters, Octopus Card will no longer be the only choice for MTR payments…

<It> is becoming clear that <OCL> needs a new business model to maintain its market-leading position. Using a specific card for payment is no longer a modern way of payment. The core issue for Octopus is transform into something bigger, moving beyond the current payment functions and offer a lot more, perhaps even a mobile banking service, to retain users.

Why HK can expect Apple Pay support for Octopus card

JR East has taken a very different approach. Suica is a central business pillar and JR East will be expanding it with the next generation Super Suica in April 2021. Suica will gain the ability to virtually host other transit card under the same Suica umbrella on plastic and on mobile. Think of it as a national transit and payment card with Express Transit anywhere, anytime. How fascinating it would be if Octopus had a similar kind of opportunity to expand outside of Hong Kong.

Even from the short vantage point of 2.5 years since the launch of Apple Pay Suica, it’s already easy to see the charges that it has brought to the Japanese payments market. It will be interesting to watch the changes that Apple Pay Octopus brings to Hong Kong.

Apple Pay Octopus Launching in Hong Kong with iOS 13 and Apple Maps Transit Integration

Octopus Cards Limited officially announced Apple Pay Octopus July 11, 2019

It’s finally happening. Hong Kong iPhone users have waited eagerly for the ubiquitous Octopus transit card to arrive on Apple Pay ever since the first global FeliCa iPhone models were announced in September 2017. They were disappointed when Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) unveiled the first smartphone wallet version of the FeliCa based Octopus as Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay in December 2017, reportedly an exclusive deal. Needless to say, there was no mention of Apple Pay.

After Apple and OCL set things in motion in December 2018 with tests for a tentative Chinese New Year launch but then put things on hold, Hong Kong iPhone users are finally getting their wish: Octopus on Apple Pay will launch in Hong Kong with iOS 13. The iOS 13 beta contains specific Apple Pay Octopus references along with Apple Pay server side references (link now closed) which indicate that OCL is field testing with the latest beta:

Screenshot of live Apple server link JSON code June 25 10:00 am Japan local time, link was terminated by 3 pm

The June 25 code leak forced their hand and OCL officially announced Apple Pay Octopus on July 11 after not answering earlier requests for a comment, the press release promised more details soon:

Suica Similarities
Octopus is based on the same FeliCa technology used for Suica and both cards are very similar. Octopus is used extensively for fast transit and contactless payments of all kinds. According to Wikipedia there are over 33 million Octopus cards in circulation as of 2018 used by 99 per cent of Hong Kong residents. The addition of the Octopus transit payment platform to Apple Pay will drive its adoption in Hong Kong far more than regular credit/debit cards can ever accomplish, as it has in Japan with Apple Pay Suica.

The digital Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay is very similar to Apple Pay Suica, with fast Express Transit-like use and performance, but the setup is a little more user friendly for inbound visitors: a new virtual Octopus card can be created directly in Wallet without using a separate app like SuicaEng or HOP App. You can transfer a plastic Octopus card, but just like Suica and HOP, the plastic card cannot be used after transfer, and the same virtual card can only be used on a single device at a time. The Apple Pay Octopus experience will be the same and Express Transit a given.

Apple Maps Transit Integration
Earlier Apple Pay Octopus reports mentioned Hong Kong Apple Maps Transit launching at the same time. Sources confirmed that Apple Maps Hong Kong transit directions were ready to roll a long time ago but have been held back for a simultaneous release with Apple Pay Octopus. It makes sense for Apple to offer both services as an integrated whole as they did for the Apple Pay Suica launch. If the Japan launch is anything to go by, confirmation won’t come until very late in the beta test cycle, if at all, Transit will simply appear.

Global FeliCa iPhone and Apple Watch
The Apple Pay Octopus device profile will be the same as Suica: iPhone 7/7 Plus purchased in Japan (models A1779/A1785), iPhone 8/8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS/XS Plus, iPhone XR set up with Face ID or Touch ID, and Apple Watch Series 3 and later. There is a chance that iOS 13 will retroactively enable FeliCa for all iPhone 7 models to support the Apple Pay Octopus launch.

The iPhone XS and XR models have the A12 Bionic exclusive Express Transit with power reserve feature that gives users an additional 5 hours of Express Transit use when iPhone in low battery power reserve mode. A12 powered FeliCa performance is also much improved over previous iPhone models. My experience with Apple Pay Suica performance on iPhone XS has been as fast and reliable as plastic Suica with none of the iOS issues of previous iPhone models, performance on iOS 12.3 is stellar. Apple Pay Octopus performance on iPhone XS/XR models will have the same advantages.

Hong Kong iPhone X users need to be aware of the iPhone X NFC hardware problem found on early production devices that causes endless issues with Apple Pay Express Transit. Apple has quietly provided replacement Revision B iPhone X devices for users who experience Express Transit gate errors in Japan and China. Hopefully Apple will offer the same courtesy to Hong Kong iPhone X users who encounter the issue.

The First Transit Platform Business Model
The Hong Kong Octopus card was the first real transit platform (contactless transit and eMoney) that had a tremendous impact on the development of Transit for London (TfL) Oyster card, Opal in Australia and other transit card fare systems around the world. It’s great for Hong Kong users that OCL is expanding the Octopus platform to include more digital wallets. I hope OCL continues to expand both the service on other digital wallets, and the business opportunities. For Apple this is an important opportunity to kick Hong Kong Apple Pay use into high gear and will certainly drive Apple Pay credit/debit card use on the recharge end far more than regular bank card Apple Pay, last but not least it’s a vindication of Apple’s global NFC “it just works” anywhere vision for Apple Pay.


Related Apple Pay Octopus Coverage
Future of Octopus Transit Platform (6-28-2019)
Global NFC on iPhone and Android (7-16-2019)
iPhone 7 FeliCa and Octopus Support (7-18-2019)
FeliCa Dude Detailed Analysis of iPhone 7 FeliCa and Octopus (Reddit 7-19-2019)
Octopus Coming to Apple Pay (Initial coverage from 12-18-2018)

Apple Pay Suica Recharge Performance in iOS 12.4 b4 and the Apple Card Connection

Okay A12 Bionic and FeliCa fans, try this on iPhone XS/XR with Apple Pay Suica on iOS 12.4 b4:

  • Initiate a Suica Recharge
  • While the recharge is processing swipe up and you will feel the haptic feedback bump indicating the recharge process has been cancelled, the Apple Pay ‘ka-ching’ all done sound and checkmark never happens
  • On the Suica Recharge screen tap cancel and go back to the main Suica card screen where the recharge is processing and updates the Suica balance
Apple Pay Suica recharge just keeps on going even after cancellation

So, the Suica Recharge process barrels along without giving feedback. iOS didn’t do this before, is it a bug or a feature, and what’s happening? It’s related to what I observed in the previous post where the Suica FeliCa prepaid transaction and EMV Apple Pay postpay processing happened simultaneously because the A12 Bionic Secure Enclave processes FeliCa transactions directly without iOS.

We now have an explanation why EMV Express Transit went missing in the first few iOS 12.4 beta releases: Apple was doing lots of heavy duty Wallet optimization to make the prepaid recharge process fast and bulletproof.

But why? We have an explanation for that too: Apple wants the Apple Card EMV postpay to prepaid Apple Cash card recharge performance to be fast and absolutely bulletproof. The Apple Cash connection with Apple Card is a huge selling point, and Apple is making damn sure that people are going to love it for the reliable Apple Cash e-money recharge performance, even if that means breaking Suica recharge a little to do it.

This kind of aggressive optimization is a good ‘problem’ for Suica to have, and because all things Suica, from the UI changes to the Express Transit performance improvements since iOS 12.2 have been a testing ground for Apple Card, unavoidable. After all, Apple Pay Suica is the closest thing to Apple Card with Apple Cash that Apple has going, making Suica a great test environment for new Apple Pay development. Hopefully Apple will fine tune and fix remaining Suica recharge issues before the final release and Apple Card debut.