Tokyo Cashless 2020: Blame the Japan Cashless Payments mess on VISA and EMVCo, not FeliCa

1️⃣ Dear JR East, we need a new Suica Charge App
2️⃣ Consumption tax relief with the CASHLESS rebate program
3️⃣ Are Apple Maps and Siri really Apple Pay level ready for the Tokyo Olympics?
4️⃣ > Blame the Japan Cashless Payments mess on VISA and EMVCo, not FeliCa

Tokyo Cashless 2020 is a series covering all things cashless as Japan gears up for the big event. If there is a topic that you’d like covered tweet me @Kanjo


Japanese journalist Akio Iwata just published a piece explaining why VISA has not signed with Apple Pay in Japan. It is paywalled and I have not read it, but Japanese readers noticed similar points in my earlier piece Why Visa refuses to join Apple Pay Japan and tweeted about it. The subject is timely and worth visiting again after the events of the past year.

Some western business journalists and industry pundits look at the Japanese payments market and write about failure: the failure of FeliCa to be universally accepted, the failure of Japanese society to use cashless payments instead of hard cash. It’s a kind of cut and paste narrative construct journalism that you see too much of these days, like the recent Financial Times piece, or worse the NFC TIMES. The narrative is persuasive enough to blind some Japanese journalists as well.

This kind of reporting plays to the expectations of a certain readership, but it completely fails to capture or explain the massive changes happening in Japan right now, set in motion by the arrival of Apple Pay in late 2016. The bulk of the cut and paste argument is that FeliCa failed to take off in Japan and because Japan failed to switch to the EMV ‘world standard’, that’s why we have the current messy situation. End of story. I don’t buy this argument at all.

FeliCa was around long before the EMVCo consortium got it’s NFC act together in the early 2000s. NFC-A is Philips, NFC-B is Motorola, NFC-F is Sony. The ISO/IEC 14443 standard was supposed to include NFC-F but the ISO ultimately decided not to include it. EMVCo created the EMV contactless standard on ISO/IEC 14443 NFC A/B.

With lots of help from JR East, NFC-F was added to the ISO/IEC 10373-6 and GSMA/GCF (Global Certification Forum) TS. 26, TS. 27 specifications. From April 2017 GCF certification for all NFC mobile devices requires NFC-A, NFC-B and NFC-F support.

It is this later development, and especially the fruit of that development, Apple Pay Suica, that I believe is unacceptable to VISA and by extension EMVCo. VISA cooperates with Apple Pay in other countries because it promotes EMV, VISA refuses to cooperate with Apple Pay in Japan because it promotes FeliCa. Instead of promoting bank card use and new services VISA is promoting technology.

I have long suspected that VISA simply does not want anything to do with Apple’s support of the Global NFC standard put in place by the NFC Forum and GSMA/GCF in 2017. It’s not only Apple…VISA refuses to support dual mode (EMV/FeliCa) Docomo iD/NFC for Android Osaifu Keitai users abroad which Mastercard, American Express and JCB do. VISA simply wants to bide time until NFC Pay/EMV contactless support in Japan is everywhere and then simply ignore FeliCa (NFC-F) all together…

Unfortunately this strategy has only accomplished one thing: it provided an opening for QR Code payment system players…

Why Visa refuses to join Apple Pay Japan

My argument is simple. The VISA and EMVCo mindset is stuck in the one size fits all single mode plastic card era. This is easy to understand as the plastic card issuing business is a very lucrative one.

But like all things there is a downside: instead of embracing the full promise of global NFC digital wallets that can match the best NFC technology for the job with multiple mode cards that do everything and ‘just work’ everywhere, we have the contactless payment turf wars which are really just plastic era fighting moved to a digital arena.

Instead of pursuing the advantages of digital wallets that merge the best of native transit cards on the front end with the best of bank cards on the back end, where they perfectly complement each other, we have bank cards fighting to be everything, which they are not and will never be. This is why Apple markets Apple Card as ‘a new kind of credit card, created by Apple, not a bank.’ It’s the reason why Apple Card is Mastercard brand, not VISA.

In Japan specifically we have VISA refusing to join Apple Pay Japan and for the most part Google Pay, and VISA Japan key player Sumitomo Mitsui fighting on and off with Mobile FeliCa key player Docomo. And the result? None of this nonsense helped strengthen VISA Japan’s market position one bit. On the other hand VISA’s arrogance pulled all the other card companies down with it and provided a huge opening for the Japanese QR Code players like PayPay.

When I wrote Why Visa refuses to join Apple Pay Japan the frenzy of Japanese QR Code payments was just getting underway. Over a year later I think this conclusion is stronger than ever and the only one that explains the reality of the current market. VISA may like to think that the Tokyo Olympics is the last great opportunity to finally kill FeliCa. That’s not going to happen.

Only by setting aside the past and embracing the multimode digital future with forward looking cooperation, can VISA (and by extension EMVCo) help bring order to the payments chaos of the Japanese market. Only cooperation can deliver the promise of cashless payments to Japan, and strengthen the long term market opportunities for all players.

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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 aka Your iPhone has Super Powers…in Japan. 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.

Apple Card and Apple Cash Trademark Applications for Japan

The CoRRiENTE.top site reports a JP trademark bot tweet that shows Apple applied for Apple Card and Apple Cash trademarks in Japan on July 16, the trademark bot tweet itself is dated August 4. The application follows recent similar moves in Europe and other countries. The official launch of Apple Card in America is expected in the next week or so.

Japan will likely be unique in that Apple Card and Apple Cash in other countries will be EMV only, but FeliCa and EMV dual mode for Japanese digital issue. Mastercard, American Express and JCB already offer dual mode service for Japanese issue Apple Pay credit cards, which work well with NFC switching introduced in iOS 11 and global FeliCa iPhone/Apple Watch.

If Apple really wants to innovate with Apple Card, leverage the global NFC capabilities of iOS 13 and iPhone, and leave outdated single mode plastic credit card business practices in the past, they should go all in with dual mode Apple Card for all regions. After all it is Apple’s card, and virtual like the Apple Card tag line says, “Apple Card lives on your iPhone, in the Wallet app. And that makes all kinds of new things possible.”

Mastercard has been the most aggressive card company offering dual mode for Japanese Apple Pay card holders. Offering dual mode for virtual Apple Card customers everywhere can be done and would be one heck of an innovation for inbound visitors with iPhone and Apple Card for the Tokyo Olympics.

It will be interesting to see how Apple integrates Apple Card with the Japanese contactless payment networks: iD, QUICPay, and NFC Pay, how Apple Card/Apple Cash integrate with Suica Recharge and what kinds of reward points are offered.

WWDC19 Keynote and Apple Pay

There hasn’t been a single Apple Pay mention in tech site iOS 13 feature roundups for the WWDC19 keynote. I think there will be a few. The WWDC19 Apple Pay wish list includes developer stuff to be covered in sessions. The keynote short list is…

New ‘Apple Card’ Wallet UI
Apple Card UI goodies are available to all iOS 13 Wallet cards.

NFC tag Apple Pay
Shown by Jennifer Bailey at the closed session Transact keynote last month, NFC tag Apple Pay is an important new development for the platform.

Apple Pay Transit
Apple only mentions Apple Pay Transit when they are planning to add new transit cards or new transit systems. In this scenario Express Transit support on TfL would only get a mention if Apple Pay Oyster is coming, which it is not. Nevertheless I think transit will get a mention for 2, possibly 3, new additions coming after the iOS 13 release:

The WWDC19 keynote is June 3, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. PDT

More Apple Pay Suica Wallet UI Tweaks for iOS 12.3

I wrote in my iOS 12.2 review that the new Wallet changes felt unfinished, and I was right. The constant Wallet UI tweaking of iOS 12.2 continues unabated in iOS 12.3 beta 4 Apple Pay Suica. The biggest changes are the elimination of separate info and transaction screens. All transaction are now on the main screen, and good old blue highlights are back on the card itself, but Wallet still retains the black theme. It still feels unfinished with more tweaks to come. Here are comparison screenshots.

Transaction details now show location details again, as they did up until iOS 12.2 beta 3, but 3D Touch is missing for ‘pop-up’ transaction details, and transactions cannot be swipe deleted like they can in iOS 12.2 (though they can still be swipe deleted in the Suica transaction list in Settings> Wallet> Suica, what gives?). Icon colors are less garish but only come in 2 varieties: transit and everything else. It would make more sense, and be much more helpful, to have at least one more color to distinguish between transit, purchase and recharge.

This constant hit and miss tweaking is very weird for Apple, almost as if the iOS 13 beta process started with Wallet in iOS 12.2. But I think it has more to do with the unfinished state of Apple Card and the new Wallet UI card design that Apple will probably announce for iOS 13. If nothing else it certainly suggests that the Apple Card UI is a rush job for a product that was pre-announced too soon.