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

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. Users in China report that Apple Maps Hong Kong transit details were last visible in 2015, disappeared, and has just gone line again. It is not showing in outside of mainland China yet but 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 for Apple Pay suggests 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.

Advertisements

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.

Last call for Apple Pay Octopus 2019 launch

Apple Pay Octopus was announced in July as ‘coming soon’ with no official indication from Octopus Cards Limited when coming soon would happen. Today is the last day of November, on December 1 an updated Octopus Schedule and Fees Guideline went into effect. From December 1 all Octopus issue switched over to a new 3,000 HKD stored value limit and users can upgrade older cards to the new limit:

Starting from 1 December 2019, the stored value limit of all newly issued Octopus products – including On-Loan Octopus, Sold Octopus, Bank Co-Brand Octopus, Smart Octopus and Octopus Mobile SIM etc., will be HK$3,000.

From a technical standpoint it makes sense to host a new service when the system is ready to automatically upgrade older physical Octopus cards to the new stored value limit when transferred to smartphones. However, I seriously doubt the new stored value limit is a factor in the Apple Pay Octopus launch delay. The protests in Hong Kong that started just before the OCL July announcement are a much bigger factor. I suspect the protests were also a factor in OCL suspending Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay services without any explanation.

The Apple Pay Octopus launch has been on a long damn winding road since beta testing started a year ago. The clock is ticking, if a launch doesn’t come in the next 2 weeks or so, Apple Pay Octopus is a no show for 2019. My take is it will happen in 2020.

Smart Octopus Offline Until Further Notice

UPDATE: Smart Octopus services are online again after a 15 hour or so outage, let’s see if OCL offers up an explanation for an unscheduled, and so far, unexplained service outage.

Octopus Cards Limited suspended Smart Octopus online services on November 18 around 6pm local time: All online services for Smart Octopus are temporarily unavailable until further notice. It was impossible to figure out what exactly stopped working as the OCL site did not list details.

It sounded like select Smart Octopus backend services were offline (for adding cards, credit card recharge, etc.) but Smart Octopus was not blocked at the gates (hard but not impossible to do with hotlist management). Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay users were the only ones who knew what worked and what didn’t.

It could be that OCL parent MTR wanted to discourage mobile transit use and divert transit users to recharge Octopus cards at machines that can be turned off by area or station as needed at a turbulent time with Hong Kong Polytechnic University under siege. It could also be that nothing was really offline as MRT has done similar things before, such as taping ‘out of service’ notices on fully functioning kiosks, perhaps to discourage protesters and supporters from moving around freely. Without an official explanation for anything, we don’t know.

In the current state of affairs I don’t think Apple Pay Octopus will launch this year even though everything is ready to go. It’s impossible to launch a new service when MTR and OCL are showing signs of reining services in without notice. Whatever is really happening, it feels like Hong Kong is under a kind of lock down. Stay safe.

Hands Free Suica

After iOS 13.2 hit the final beta I migrated my Suica from iPhone to Apple Watch to give watchOS 6 Apple Pay Suica a proper shake down. Even after only a few days I can already say that Apple Pay Suica performance on watchOS 6 is far better than any version of watchOS 5. Not only does it feel more responsive, Suica Express Transit seems more sensitive further away from the gate reader hit area, crazy as that sounds.

Going back to Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch also brings back a great feature I missed on iPhone: hands free Suica. Incredible as it sounds, Apple Watch is still the only wearable device for Suica, the only choice for hands free Suica. Once you get used to hands free Suica Express Transit with Suica Auto Recharge, it spoils you for any other kind of cashless payment. Hands free shopping and transit is a breeze that makes everything else feel like a huge step backwards.

Apple should be marketing the hell out of it in Japan but don’t. What a waste of a huge and exclusive marketing opportunity. When Apple Pay Octopus finally, finally, finally launches, I expect Hong Kong Apple Watch users will really appreciate hands free Octopus.