The Mystery of Apple Pay Octopus and iPhone 7 FeliCa Support

There are a few remaining fuzzy spots in the Apple Pay Octopus saga. The story I broke back in December from trusted sources clearly had a Chinese New Year release target. The story went dark but busted wide open again with the Apple Pay JSON server code leak on June 25 that made it absolutely clear Apple Pay Octopus would finally arrive with iOS 13. Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) had no choice but to issue a premature press release stating ‘Apple Pay Octopus is coming, more details soon’ and nothing else.

Why the delay? It clearly was not the Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay exclusivity window that ended in December 2018. We may never know the whole story but I suspect that iPhone 7 FeliCa support is one reason for the delay, but certainly not the only one.

It makes sense for Apple and OCL to release Octopus that can be used on as many Apple devices as possible, the bigger the potential user footprint, the better. Octopus will work on Apple global NFC devices: iPhone 8/X/Apple Watch 3 and later. The important question is how badly do Apple and OCL want to add iPhone 7/Apple Watch 2 to the supported device list?

I previously wrote that Apple announced iOS 13 Core NFC enhanced tag support (FeliCa, etc.) for (all) iPhone 7 devices and later at WWDC19, but this does not sync with Apple Pay Suica device requirements: Apple is telling developers that all iPhone 7 models are good for NFC Read/Write FeliCa but telling customers that only iPhone 7 JP models are good for NFC card emulation FeliCa.

In a later post I quoted FeliCa Dude:

There are millions of NFC-F phones and devices outside Japan. That is because Type A and FeliCa are core requirements for NFC certification. If a phone supports NFC, it supports FeliCa.
What is required to be compatible with most payment terminals in Japan is an Osaifu-Keitai provisioned secure element: that can be a SWP-enabled SIM card (not available yet), the Mobile FeliCa chipset with embedded SE, or an iPhone 7 provisioned for Osaifu-Keitai.
The international iPhone 7s can do basic FeliCa read/write without encryption, because they embed a FeliCa-capable CLF <contactless frontend>. Apple has chosen not to provision them with Osaifu-Keitai keys, probably to avoid paying royalties to FeliCa Networks for each device.

This sparked some fascinating comments from Twitter user Lukas and, lo and behold, the very FeliCa Dude himself, an unexpected and pleasant surprise:

As always, the Dude delivers. Abide in the Dude, his knowledge and keen insight on all things NFC contactless and FeliCa is without peer. In a nutshell this means that OCL could offer Apple Pay Octopus on all iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 devices and add them to the Global NFC Apple device list…but will they? If OCL and Apple can supply the necessary keys in the over the air (OTA) iOS 13 release via the in-house Apple FeliCa keys server, all the better. Either way I think we will find out very soon, possibly as a ‘Apple Pay Octopus coming to Hong Kong’ side mention in the Apple Card release press kit.

Now that the FeliCa Dude has checked in, I hope he can find an appropriate outlet, blog or otherwise, to enlighten us, whatever the occasion. He is a far better writer than I will ever be. I’ve learned a lot from his writings, I know a lot of other people can too. The world needs to hear from the FeliCa Dude, not my cheap imitation.


UPDATE
FeliCa Dude has answered and posted the definitive take of iPhone 7 FeliCa support for all things from Octopus to iOS 13 Core NFC. We own him thanks for taking the time to cover all the angles in such detail.

The crucial section: “In my opinion there are only three reasons that Apple should not be able to bring Octopus emulation to iPhone 7:

  • If they are unable to allocate IDm (card unique ID) values to these non-blessed devices because that process is tangled up with FeliCa Networks
  • If they shot themselves in the foot and disabled their ability to interface their secure element to the FeliCa CLF (contactless frontend) in the PN67V on those non-Japanese iPhone 7 devices because they didn’t see Octopus coming.
  • They don’t feel like supporting iPhone 7 at all, not even the Japanese models: each device has a different generation of secure element, and additional development/testing/certification work may be required for them. This is again a combination of what Apple is willing to do and on which hardware platforms OCL is willing to authorize Octopus to be emulated on. It’s nothing to do with FeliCa Networks or Sony.”
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Why iPhone 7 Missed the Global FeliCa iPhone Party

Apple Pay Global FeliCa iPhone Chart

Many iPhone 7 users outside of Japan hoped that iOS 11 would enable FeliCa software on NFC-F hardware which all iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 have, so that overseas iPhone 7 models could join the iPhone 8/iPhone X global FeliCa party. iOS 11 arrived but iPhone 7 FeliCa remains a Japan model only feature. Why?

The silly reason is that overseas iPhone 7 models do not have the legally required Japanese MIC certification mark engraved on the case like the Japanese models. The real reasons are more specific:

  1. FeliCa on iOS is a custom implementation on the A Series Secure Enclave that requires iOS to be running and unique per device keys licensed from FeliCa Networks. Apple only licensed FeliCa Network keys for Japanese models.
  2. Apple did not want to spend resources obtaining new global certification plus the hassle of licensing keys from FeliCa Networks just for doing FeliCa in an older iPhone model

In retrospect iPhone 7 was a transition device to global NFC (A-B-F) model. The hardware was in place but Apple Pay NFC switching wasn’t ready in iOS 10. It took Apple another year to get all the software ready for global FeliCa in iOS 11.

If you have your heart set on using Apple Pay Suica when you visit Japan but don’t want to upgrade to a global FeliCa iPhone, Apple Watch Series 3 is the less expensive option.