I always like Sachiko Watatani’s articles, she always has practical insights other journalists seem to miss. Her quick review of Apple Pay WAON and Apple Pay nanaco is no exception. As a long time user of WAON and nanaco on Osaifu Keitai, both feature phone and Android, the additions of WAON and nanaco to the Apple Pay Japan e-Money lineup completes it enough for her to migrate to iPhone for daily use. On the face of it both cards are almost exactly alike, they work the same and have the same ¥50,000 balance limit. Wanatani san explains the differences.
Transferring a standard rainbow nanaco card and creating a new WAON in Wallet is a breeze. Creating WAON requires adding a minimum balance of ¥1,000, however one of the nice things about doing it with WAON app is you can create a ¥0 balance card, same for nanaco app.
Yes (standard rainbow cards)
Yes (Blue, GG, YuYu cards)
Yes (Blue only)
Yes (standard rainbow card)
Yes (Blue and custom region cards)
WAON has the most options and no sign-up Wallet creation. A unique WAON app feature is custom region WAON cards, AEON donates part of the transaction purchase to the selected region of the card. There are 159 varieties of custom region WAON. The unique feature of nanaco app is card migration from Android to iPhone. It’s a oneway migration. Watatani san makes the same observation I did yesterday that a nice feature of nanaco card in Wallet is that is displays both balance and points saving users a trip to an outside app.
The big feature for both cards is the Apple Pay recharge backend. VISA brand is the odd man out, again, but mastercard, JCB and American Express credit/debit cards are all good. Users can also set auto-charge options using Seven Card in nanaco app and AEON cards in WAON app. Watatani san is the only review to mention the very unique feature of Apple Pay WAON: parents can setup a WAON card using the Apple Watch family setup option and recharge a child’s WAON card remotely via Messages.
After posting the update chart a reader asked a very good question: why not add the FeliCa reader logo as that is what you’ll often see on NFC readers in Japan. To which I say: ignore reader logos in Japan. Why? Because the reader physical compatibility mark that indicates the antenna location has nothing to do with what payments actually work at checkout. Apple isn’t doing anybody a favor listing the EMV logo in the Apple Pay Japan lineup. It only confuses users.
Let’s play that game again, the ‘which logo is the official NFC logo’ game. Choose:
The correct answer is #2, the NFC Forum logo. The reader physical compatibility mark for EMV is #1, FeliCa is #3. But you never see the NFC Forum logo on NFC readers, what you see is usually something like this:
The Panasonic reader shown above has both EMV and FeliCa logos on the tap area. The store has also attached a card that displays what payments are accepted, in this case both EMV (VISA, mastercard) and FeliCa (iD, Suica•PASMO, WAON, nanaco) are accepted. Looks good right? Not really. The EMV and FeliCa marks are the physical compatibility mark that indicate the antenna location. However, most people assume the physical compatibility mark mean the reader works for all payments…which it does not. Some stores with an EMV physical compatibility marked reader don’t support EMV, and vice versa: FeliCa is supported on the reader but not the POS checkout.
What to do? Let’s see…the NFC Forum is responsible for basic certification of all NFC devices so let’s put their logo on reader instead. Oh wait, can’t do that because people will think it’s a Nespresso machine instead of an NFC reader:
Time for a new NFC logo.
It might seem like a good idea to separate NFC hardware from the payment services that run on top of the hardware. The reality is, it’s impossible to do because all-in-one NFC chips do it all. The NFC Forum could spend a ton of money creating a new NFC logo that can be used everywhere…but what’s the point? Nobody will use it even if they do.
NFC readers come in all kind of shapes and sizes for all kinds of end uses, from supermarket checkout, to transit gates, and vending machines, and much more. If nothing else remember this: the physical compatibility mark is there to indicate the antenna location and show you where to tap, that’s all it’s there for. It can be anything. It should match the service it’s intended to fulfill.
Two of the last big three Apple Pay Japan holdouts are finally coming: AEON announced WAON and Seven & i Holdings announced nanaco for ‘later this year’. These popular prepaid eMoney FeliCa cards have been on Osaifu Keitai and Google Pay for some time. This leaves Rakuten Edy as the last, and largest, Wallet holdout although the iOS Rakuten Edy app recently received an update that supports Apple Pay for physical card recharge.
Despite the uptake of QR Code payment apps such as PayPay, prepaid eMoney cards remain popular and getting them on Apple Pay is an important development. The cards are also more secure: Seven & i Holdings experienced a huge embarrassment when they launched their 7pay QR Code payment service in 2019 that quickly failed due to a security meltdown. Since that disaster they have refocused on nanaco as their in-store payment + loyalty point reward strategy. Currently nanaco has issued 74 million cards, WAON has issued 87 million cards. For comparison Suica has issued 84 million plastic cards and over 14 million Mobile Suica digital cards that includes Apple Pay Suica.
Release details are sparse but it’s safe to assume they are coming after iOS 15 ships (probably 15.1). iOS 15 Wallet includes UI improvements that remove the confusing device region setting requirement and simplify adding transit cards like Suica and non-bank stored value (SV) prepaid cards like WAON and nanaco. As pointed out many times before, all iPhone 8 • Apple Watch 3 and later models support Apple Pay Japan cards thanks to Apple’s global NFC support. The big questions are: (1) Is direct Wallet add card supported that bypasses creating a WAON or nanaco account as part of the digital card issue process on Google Pay? (2) Can physical cards be transferred like Suica and PASMO? None of this is supported on Android.
These and other usability issues have kept these cards from joining Apple Pay. It will be interesting to see if Apple has solved them and persuaded AEON • Seven & i to simplify their digital card issue process to follow the great example set by Apple Pay Suica because that is the high bar: direct Wallet adding with no sign up and open ended Apple Pay recharge. The low bar is the Toyota Wallet app-like model of chaining card issue and recharge functions to a user account app. The cards should support Express Mode as they do for Mobile WAON and Mobile nanaco on Android. The press release Apple Pay WAON image suggests Express Mode, the Apple Pay nanaco image does not, however the dual press announcement does suggest a level of commitment and integration on the Apple Pay side. We’ll see.
Not many of new iOS 15 Wallet goodies announced at WWDC will come to Japan soon with the exception of digital car keys, adding WAON and nanaco now is a smart move that will keep users happy. With all the card possibilities coming to Japan this year, it’s a good thing that iOS 15 ups the Wallet card max limit to 16.
Since last week’s Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services hearings regarding the so called Apple Pay monopoly and the pointless debate of Android only Host Card Emulation (HCE) ‘virtual secure element’ vs. a hardware embedded secure element (eSE), Apple has been busy rolling out new Apple Pay Wallet services: Australian health insurance Wallet card support and digital vaccination certificates, ING Belgium and FNB South Africa additions, and today’s Student ID expansion to more universities in America including the first international addition in Canada. The last item was particularly interesting as Apple issued a press release that included new partners beyond Blackboard: Transact, CBORD, TouchNet, Atrium, HID Global, and Allegion. MIFARE and FeliCa are the 2 big protocols used for ID cards, both fully supported in iPhone and Apple Watch. Hopefully we’ll see more international Student ID card support going forward.
Japanese IT reporters have been writing about the recent addition of Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 JE (Japan Edition) to the KDDI au lineup. All the Chinese manufacturers have been bringing new models with Mobile FeliCa Osaifu Keitai support as more or less standard, but like most Android smartphones including Google Pixel, even though the hardware is the same everywhere, Mobile FeliCa is only activated for Japanese models.
The Xiaomi product manager interview casually mentions that only 20% or so of Android Osaifu Keitai device holders actually use the feature. Why bother adding it then? I suspect Osaifu Keitai usage rates vary widely depending on the region, much higher for Tokyo and other metro areas, less in rural areas. It would be really interesting to compare Osaifu Keitai usage rates with Apple Pay as I also suspect Apple Pay Japan usage rates likely leave Osaifu Keitai in the dust. As for the real reason why Chinese smartphones manufacturers are adding Mobile FeliCa support: the digital My Number ID card launching in 2022 requires it. One out of ten people living in Tokyo and other metropolitan areas is a Chinese national…do the math.
The American bred internet cancel culture that started during the Obama years and went ballistic during the Trump years shows no signs of abating as battle lines are constantly redrawn to silence a somebody that somebody else wants silenced. And it has become an entrenched issue thanks to AI driven SNS content. As Tim Pool adroitly points out, and long term surveys confirm, the current American racial crisis didn’t happen until the Reddit and YouTube generation raised on endlessly looping AI driven police brutality video content came of age perceiving their virtual world as the real one. That’s the unfolding tragedy as perceptions based on virtual life replace real ones.
As bad as this is, evil players and big tech use virtual life to intimidate, blackmail and destroy real ones. That’s exactly what happened evidently when eBay’s supervisor of security operations decided to cancel the EcommerceBytes blog and carried out a cyberstalking campaign (including surveillance), against the husband and wife blogging team. Their astonishing story was published by the Boston Globe. It’s reads like the script of Michael Clayton (I prefer the Japanese title: The Fixer). eBay conducted an investigation, pushed out the CEO with a golden parachute and issued a statement that, of course, acknowledged the wrong but said ‘it’s okay now because the baddies are gone.’ Until next time, that is. eBay, of course, didn’t offer any compensation.
The Buddha’s face isn’t seen a fourth time
When the 3rd Tokyo State of Emergency (SOE) was announced, I predicted it would’t go well. Sure enough, infections started to rise before the end of SOE 3. Now we are in SOE 4 and infection rates are skyrocketing, well, skyrocketing compared to rates that were low to begin with. So life goes on as usual, the commuter time trains are crowded as usual, people go shopping as usual, there is nothing remotely panic-like despite media hysteria narratives of a ‘medical system breakdown.’
As always, it’s complicated. Few people are actually dying from COVID (and don’t forget that hospitals get a Japanese government subsidy when they report a COVID death, other deaths don’t pay). Influenza and pneumonia are much more real long term threats. Lockdowns and vaccination mandates will be impossible to implement as all the government tools to do so were locked away by the GHQ occupation and restructuring of Japan. Any attempt to invoke those kinds of centralized powers requires changing the American created Japanese constitution and nobody wants to do that (fun fact: the English language constitution of Japan is the official one, the Japanese language one a fake). Not that the situation is dire, a little context helps. And don’t forget the overall Japanese death rate dropped in 2020 YOY thanks to all that mask wearing and hand sanitizing.
Given the utter lack of useful long term planning demonstrated by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, the most likely course of action will be: attempting real fines for restaurants, bars, etc. that don’t follow SOE requests. Good luck with that.
Now that VISA JP finally signed with Apple Pay, what about the last holdouts: Edy, nanaco and WAON? These have been on Google Pay for some time but like all things Google Pay Japan, it is courtesy of Osaifu Keitai rather than native Google support. Apple was smart to go for Suica first, then PASMO (which has yet to appear on Google Pay) but it’s time to complete the Apple Pay Japan lineup.
Apple Pay doesn’t make a distinction between NFC flavors, just one global NFC. No EMV or FeliCa bank payment cards, just payment cards, period. Apple also encourages Japanese bank card issuers to use the NFC switching and dual mode features of iOS and watchOS Wallet for seamless use on any payment reader in Japan or abroad. The same thing applies to Wallet transit cards. Wallet can have multiple Express Transit cards and juggle between FeliCa (Suica, Octopus, PASMO) MIFARE (SmarTrip, Clipper, TAP) and PBOC (China T-Union cards).
So what is the Wallet category for non-transit stored value prepaid payment cards? I have no idea but for this exercise I’ll use eMoney (電子マネー). Apple Pay has everything in place to flip the switch since 2016, what’s the holdup? There’s a big problem using the Suica add card Wallet process for eMoney cards. This problem is on full display with Google Pay WAON: the user has to create an WAON account in Google Pay to add it. Worse, if the user deletes the WAON card they loose the Google Pay created WAON ID and card balance.
I don’t think Apple wants this ‘create an account’ nightmare scenario in Apple Pay, that’s what apps are for. Fortunately we have a growing collection of ‘instant issue’ apps for adding cards to Wallet and digital issue only is quickly becoming standard for Apple Pay Japan debit/prepaid cards: kyash, Minna no Ginko, Toyota Wallet, etc.
The digital issue app model is perfect for Edy, nanaco and WAON who want to be collecting accounts instead of selling plastic prepaid cards. And they already have iOS apps. Leave the account creation and management drudgery in the app so users curse the app instead of Apple Pay. Once done the user taps ‘Add to Wallet’ and presto, instant WAON or nanaco all ready to go with direct Wallet recharge. Other bonuses: (1) instant issue apps eliminate ‘I wanna transfer my plastic card to Wallet’ overhead, (2) if anything goes wrong and the balance is lost, it’s the fault of the app, not Apple Pay. Keeping things simple and streamlined is key for a good Apple Pay user experience, one more Wallet reboot challenge for iOS 15.