Apple Pay Octopus close to launch…or maybe not

In the on, off, on again Octopus Cards Limited relationship with Apple Pay, predicting a service launch is risky business. The last reliable statement was from Octopus Cards Limited CEO Sunny Cheung on September 19 saying that Apple Pay Octopus would not launch on iOS 13 release day, but would “start as soon as possible within the year.”

Take it for what it is worth but a reliable source tweeted the following leak from beta testers to me today:

According to an internal note leaked by beta testers, Octopus Customer Service has yet to receive training for Octopus on Apple Pay, and they are advised not to call the hotline before the project goes online officially. The note was released on 11/10. However, a subsequent email sent to beta testers says that the official launch is coming “very soon”. Considering that the project has been “coming soon” since July, I’m not sure what to make of this “very soon” wording.

I also hear from other sources that OCL is cracking down on Apple Pay Octopus beta test leaks by limiting access and shutting out some testers, unsuccessfully I might add. There have been so many leaks the only thing we don’t know is the launch date. The beta tester crackdown may be OCL’s way of keeping the launch date under wraps so that the press event launch still has a surprise or two.

To use a Donald Rumsfeldian turn of phrase, do we have a known known or an unknown known? Well, we do have iOS 13.2 due on October 30 but at this point any iOS point release has nothing to do with an Apple Pay Octopus launch. The leak is almost 2 weeks old, hopefully Octopus Customer Service staff is being trained for the launch. Other than that all we have is… a known unknown.

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October 8 Mobile Octopus Service Maintenance Points to Apple Pay Octopus Launch

The Apple Pay Octopus service launch date possibility is centered on a planned October 14 update of the Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) Schedule of Fees and Guid, which makes sense because service fees need to added or updated for Apple Pay.

System maintenance of all mobile related Octopus services took place October 8 3am~6am local Hong Kong time. It was a precise list of services that would need to be offline to add Apple Pay Octopus support. This followed a similar October 3 mobile system maintenance and suggests a ramp up on the backend system.

I hope this is not a false alarm. At the very least I think we could be close to having a launch announcement from OCL by October 14 with a launch shortly after. For comparison the Smart Octopus on Samsung Pay launch announcement was made on a Monday, service started 3 days later.

Given the current situation in Hong Kong however, nothing is certain. Things are not easy for many in Hong Kong right now, but I hope for the best and send my sincere wishes for the safety of all.

10/14 UPDATE: the updated Schedule of Fees and Guidelines has no references to Apple Pay Octopus, nor is there any announcement from OCL. However there is a new reference to ‘wearables’ in the Mobile Device section of the updated Conditions of Issue of Octopus which means Apple Watch. There is no wearable for Octopus at this point, Apple Watch is the only device that fits the reference.

10/16 UPDATE: with no reference to Apple Pay in the updated Schedule of Fees and Guidelines, and only a hint of Apple Watch in the updated Conditions of Issue of Octopus, nor any sign of a launch announcement from OCL, yet another miss.

Given the current difficult situation in Hong Kong and long rocky road of OCL delivering Octopus on Apple Pay, it’s time for me to get out of the Apple Pay Octopus prediction business. It will come when it comes: after the rumored October Apple Event, the iOS 13.2 release, whatever. Until then stay safe and happy transit wherever you may be.

The Global NFC + Background Tag Reading iPhone SE2

The on again, off again iPhone SE2 is on again now that Delphic oracle analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has checked in. As I wrote before, the iPhone/Apple Watch 2019 lineup is now entirely global NFC. The price cuts are great but there needs to be a lower priced entry model below the iPhone XR with:

  • NFC background tag reading in place for new Apple Pay features going forward.
  • Touch ID that removes the Face ID face mask problem in markets like China and Japan. This issue is a constant blind spot in the western tech press ‘In-screen Touch ID vs Face ID’ debate.
  • A13 Bionic for superior battery performance and Express Card with power reserve
  • Cheaper battery friendly Haptic Touch instead of the more expensive battery hungry iPhone 8 3D Touch.

There kind of device is perfect for the Japan and Hong Kong markets:

The rumored A12 chip iPhone SE2 may well be pie in the sky, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t market appeal for an inexpensive global NFC iPhone for places like Japan and Hong Kong. Those markets have highly integrated transit networks coupled with highly evolved transit card systems like Suica and Octopus. With both of these on Apple Pay there’s a good opening for a small SE size inexpensive global NFC iPhone, it would do very well.

I imagine the iPhone SE2 could do well in a lot of markets.

Apple Pay Global NFC Lineup Updated with iPhone 11/Apple Watch 5

The Apple Pay Japan page has a special place in Apple’s web site galaxy. It is the only page that lists global NFC specs for Apple devices. This was the page where we learned about global FeliCa iPhone 8/iPhone X/Apple Watch 3 because Apple didn’t announce anything. So the Apple Pay Japan page check is a ritual and final word of global NFC support for every new Apple device.

There were no surprises after the latest new iPhone announcement. We all knew the Apple Pay Japan device spec list would be updated with iPhone 11/iPhone 11 Pro/Apple Watch Series 5 at some point, which it finally was this week. The ritual and peace of mind is always a good thing.

Just one last little question for Apple: when does the Hong Kong Apple Pay page finally join the Apple Pay Japan page for global NFC device specs now that iOS 13 Hong Kong Wallet mentions travel cards and Apple Pay Octopus is coming soon?

You thought the Apple Pay Octopus launch was taking too long? Just ask EasyCard

Japanese transit companies like the JR Group (JR East, JR Central, JR West) are often criticized for being opaque and buddy buddy with politicians, but every transit agency around the world has to deal with politicians and governments on some level. That just comes with the job.

Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan are unique transit markets with tight integration and highly evolved transit card systems. Hong Kong and Taiwan have it easier than Japan in some ways as smaller usually means less baggage to carry going forward. But, being smaller has a downside too in that the breathing space between transit companies and government agencies is uncomfortably small, and sometimes suffocating.

Because of this, Hong Kong residents occasionally have a sarcastic distrustful view of Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) management, despite the fact that OCL delivers best of class services. Witness the frustration of OCL dragging out the Apple Pay Octopus launch details announcement. As one Hong Kong iPhone user told me, “I won’t believe it (Apple Pay Octopus) is really happening until Apple (not OCL) announces it.”

A similar situation is happening with Taiwan’s EasyCard. In mid August 2018, service updates for Mastercard kiosk recharge indicated that MRT was preparing some kind of mobile service. I assumed MIFARE was coming to iOS 12, bingo, and that Apple Pay would add EasyCard and iPass, but Samsung Pay snagged EasyCard with a formal announcement on April 11 and that was the end of it. Or so I thought. The reality is that EastCard has yet to launch on Samsung Pay and will start ‘testing’ from October. What happened?

A few days ago an older post about SuicaENG and the Wallet UI suddenly got lots of hits from Taiwan. I was scratching my head as Taiwan traffic is usually smallish and tried to Google Translate the Taiwanese site generating the traffic, but the result was incomprehensible. Fortunately a reader from Taiwan living in Japan kindly provided an explanation of EasyCard politics:

OK, EasyCard Corp is catching flak for…being slow to launch a mobile transit card service, on their own, without Cubic running the show? Being slow to launch a mobile transit card is not unique. Just ask the companies that run ICOCA, Toica, PASMO, etc., they don’t have their transit cards on mobile either and have far larger infrastructure budgets. This stuff takes time because everything transit absolutely has to work perfectly all the time. 7pay fuckups are not an option.

I can understand why Hong Kong iPhone users are a little frustrated with OCL taking their sweet time to launch Apple Pay Octopus, but when it finally launches, the tidal wave of iPhone users will make Smart Octopus on Samsung Pay look like the tiny beta test group that it is. Let’s just hope that Sunny Cheung and OCL are on it and working hard. And you are working hard on it, right Sunny?