A consolation prize for Octopus users with iPhone

After the unfortunately delay of Apple Pay Octopus earlier this month, Octopus Card Limited released an updated version of the iOS Octopus App that offers a small consolation prize: Octopus App on iPhone 7 and later can now recharge Octopus cards. This was made possible by the enhanced iOS 13 Core NFC Read Write functions that support a wide range of NFC protocols including FeliCa.

The iPhone 7 and later device configuration specification exactly matches Apple’s Core NFC documentation but readers report that Octopus App strings reveal that Apple Pay Octopus will be limited to iPhone 8/Apple Watch Series 3 and later. This is inline with expectations and solves the iPhone 7 FeliCa support mystery: iPhone 7 only supports FeliCa Read/Write, iPhone 8 and later supports both FeliCa Read/Write and Card Emulation functions.

The Android support spec is a little fuzzy too. NFC-F is a requirement for NFC certification so many recent devices support FeliCa Read/Write but far fewer Android devices have the software support for FeliCa Card Emulation, Samsung Galaxy being one of the few in the Hong Kong market.

Oh and one last consolation prize for iPhone users until Apple Pay Octopus appears: Octopus on Apple Pay is designated as “Smart Octopus”…sounds familiar. Also it appears that Smart Octopus Apple Pay was originally due to launch with iOS 13.2, read Smart Octopus Apple Pay details while the link is valid.

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Coming later this year attractions that didn’t make it, and one that did

Now that Apple is in full holiday season vacation mode, here is one last look at some promised ‘coming later this year’ services that didn’t make it (and a last minute one that did).

Apple Maps 2.0 USA
The highly detailed Apple Maps 2.0 remake was first announced in mid 2018 with a rollout to be in place for the United States by the end of 2019. The West Coast and Upper East Coast made the cut but half of Mississippi, the rest of the Southeast and most of the Central US are still missing (look for the green). This is not a good sign that Apple can deliver on their promise of providing better map services in Japan before the Tokyo Olympics.

UPDATE: A few hours after posting, MacRumours reports Apple Maps 2.0 data rolling out to all Southeast and Central areas following reports from Justin O’Beirne of beta testing earlier this month. I do not see updated map details from Japan yet but it will take time to show up on devices worldwide. Apple cut it close but kudos for keeping their 2019 delivery promise with 4 days to spare.

Apple Pay Ventra
The native Chicago Ventra transit card on Apple Pay is a big deal that was announced back in March. It represents the first major native transit card for the USA on Apple Pay. The much smaller Portland transit system HOP card landed safely in Wallet in May, but Ventra is still listed as ‘coming soon.’ The fault is not with Apple but with Cubic Transportation Systems who operate transit fare systems for Ventra, New York OMNY, Transport for London (TfL) Oyster, Sydney Opal, Washington DC Metro, and many more. For all of their supposed system expertise, Cubic was extremely slow rolling out Apple Pay Express Transit on TfL and has yet to deliver a single native transit card on Apple Pay or Google Pay. I hope Cubic does a better job in 2020.

Apple Pay Octopus
The Apple Pay Octopus ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ saga of 2019 was strange and ultimately sad. The Apple support side was all ready to roll with iOS 13. Octopus Cards Limited announced Apple Pay support back in July with ‘coming soon’ website artwork that was pulled when the launch was officially delayed on December 19. My take is that OCL parent Hong Kong MTR made, or was forced into, a political decision to limit services, starting with the unexplained service outage of Smart Octopus during the Hong Kong Polytechnic University siege. This is not a popular opinion.

Readers have reported riot damage to MTR infrastructure and suggest this might be a reason for the Apple Pay Octopus delay. I don’t buy it. Hong Kong MTR, or someone higher up, wants to limit services and control movement, not open them up. But this introduces great risk: moving people are moving money. Limit services and the flow of people, and you limit the flow of money. In this scenario Hong Kong doesn’t have a future. More than anything, I hope Hong Kong gets it’s future back in 2020.

December Bookends

It is exactly one year ago today that I broke the first Apple Pay Octopus story when a good source with inside connections tipped me about Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) beta testing Apple Pay for a Chinese New Year launch. As we all know, that launch did not pan out. Very little has panned out since: Samsung marketing tweaked the Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay tag line in January, Apple Pay servers yielded an Apple Pay Octopus code reference in June, OCL officially announced the service as “coming soon” in July, OCL CEO Sunny Cheung said Apple Pay Octopus would “start as soon as possible within the year” in September. Nothing since then except a few flutters from beta testers and my overactive anticipation.

The obstacle facing Apple Pay Octopus at this point is purely political, not technical. The obstacle facing Hong Kong is lack of clarity. I won’t comment on the political angle but the unexpected, unexplained service outage of Smart Octopus during the Hong Kong Polytechnic University siege says all that you need to know about how things go down in Hong Kong now: in the dark. Hong Kong MTR wants to control movement, not open it up. Tim Cook visiting Japan, Singapore and Thailand this month, but not Hong Kong or China is another indication how touch and go things are. I hope the situation improves for everybody in 2020.

Speaking of the new year, I started blogging in earnest from the spring of 2018 when I was in Salt Lake City taking care of my dad after he suffered a cerebral infarction. There was a lot of downtime and writing this blog kept me focused on fun things. A few days ago my partner of more than 10 years suffered a cerebral infarction at age 51. It doesn’t look like there will be much downtime though I do hope to keep blogging in 2020. There are fascinating changes happening in the Japan payments space to write about. Time will tell.

I hope to see you in 2020, if not you’ll know the reason why. Whatever the outcome, I want to thank all the readers of this blog and the people who reached out with questions and comments. I really enjoyed them.

A very happy and productive 2020 to all.

UPDATE
How surreal is this: OCL officially delayed Apple Pay Octopus one year to the day after I first reported it, a few hours after posting the above. Coincidence? At least we have closure now but the complete erasure of Apple Pay Octopus artwork from the OCL website suggests the launch will be considerably delayed, perhaps indefinitely. The original source for the story was prophetic: “I won’t believe it (Apple Pay Octopus) is really happening until Apple (not OCL) announces it.” Unfortunately he was right: the strange sad Apple Pay Octopus saga of 2019 is a reflection of where Hong Kong is right now. I hope things turn out better in the new year.

Later in 2020 is a lot of leeway

Apple Maps Hong Kong Transit goes live, signals Apple Pay Octopus launch

1/8 UPDATE: Apple announces new Apple Pay transit cards for China but not Octopus

12/19 UPDATE: Apple Pay Octopus has been delayed to later in 2020

UPDATE: a new Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) support mail address for Apple Pay Octopus has come to light.

Echoing the 2016 Apple Maps Japan Transit launch just before Apple Pay Suica, users in mainland China report that Apple Maps Hong Kong Transit is now live again after a long absence. Details visible in 2015 disappeared and have gone online again. The updated Hong Kong information is not showing outside of mainland China yet, this may change as the service rolls out.

Hong Kong is rather unique in that Apple Maps uses 2 different map data sources for the same area, AutoNavi map data for mainland SIM iPhones, another one for non-mainland SIM iPhones. Apple Maps China Transit is only available when the user is on local carrier networks. This situation is exactly why a Apple Maps Transit team member once told me, “Hong Kong is complicated.”

This development, plus the just announced Lingnan Pass and ShenZhen Transit cards coming to Apple Pay in 2020 suggest that the long delayed Apple Pay Octopus launch is coming this year as promised. I think we can expect an announcement from Octopus Cards Limited shortly. For reference Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay was announced December 11, 2017 with a December 14 launch. It would be very interesting if Tim Cook, currently visiting Asia, was in Hong Kong for the announcement.

One down, two to go on Apple Pay Express Transit 2019 'coming later this year' list

Apple Pay Express Transit arrived on the Transport for London system over the weekend, some 6 months after it was announced. The other 2 remaining Apple Pay Transit cards announced for later this year are Chicago Ventra and Hong Kong Octopus. I already wrote about Octopus not launching this year. The Ventra odds seem a little better. On the bright side Ventra is run by Cubic, the same folks who operate the TfL and New York OMNY systems and already have EMV Apple Pay Express Transit support up and running. Also the Ventra Chicago Twitter account did mention Apple Pay Ventra as ‘coming later this year’ in a Nov 30 tweet.

On the not so bright side, Apple Pay Ventra is the native MIFARE transit card, the first native transit card that Cubic has ported to a digital wallet and a big complicated transit system at that. Nevertheless, Ventra is telling users that Apple Pay is coming this year. Let’s hope for a successful 2019 launch in the next few weeks.