New Apple Pay Transit Support Page Jargon

iOS 12.3 might look like a minor update, but Apple Pay has gotten a major under the hood overhaul. It feels like Apple is pulling all the different NFC technology threads together into one tight knot in advance of iOS 13: Apple Pay Suica performance is stellar and finally bug free, the beta label on China transit cards which had been there since iOS 11.3 is finally gone, the Wallet UI has been revamped for Apple Card which Apple employees just started receiving with more changes coming, and we have the new EMV Express Transit option which uses a payment card (credit/debit cards) designated for Express Transit mode on Portland TriMet.

In case you have not noticed, Apple Pay Transit support pages have been completely rewritten with some new jargon:

  • Transit without Apple Pay Express Transit mode enabled: everywhere else

By the end of summer the Express Transit mode enabled list will look like this: China Beijing and Shanghai PBOC), Japan (nationwide Suica FeliCa), USA (Portland TriMet EMV and HOP MIFARE) and Chicago (Ventra MIFARE). New York OMNY will end up on the ‘Transit without Apple Pay Express Transit mode enabled’ list.

There is also some new jargon in iOS 12.3 Wallet Settings:

The Express Transit Card setting lists Transit Cards (Suica, HOP, etc.) and Payment Cards (VISA, Mastercard, American Express, etc.). Notice that Transit Cards can be ‘Multiple’ and the description: (EMV) will be used to pay for transit when (Suica, HOP, Beijing Transit, etc) is not requested by payment reader. Ideally this means that the payment reader will gracefully accept your preferred payment method to pay the fare.

The reality is going to be messy. I guarantee there will be lots of people who set a payment card for Express Transit and try going through a transit gate in Singapore, Sydney, London, Tokyo, etc. without a thought, and get a nasty surprise. What? I thought Apple Pay worked here?

That is not a problem for techies who want to try things, but for regular users who just want things to work, it makes Apple Pay look bad. People don’t have high expectations about bank cards, but they have higher expectations for Apple Pay. Put another way, banks have nothing to lose with lousy service because they already have a lousy reputation. Apple Pay is different and has more to lose when things go wrong. And that’s a risky place to be.

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Suica Express Transit and China Express Transit Compared

Japanese tech journalist Satoru Nakayama posted his experience of riding the Shanghai subway with an Apple Pay Express Transit China card loaded on his iPhone. Using Apple Pay Express Transit in Shanghai is similar to Apple Pay Suica but there are interesting differences:

  • Apple Pay recharge for China Express Transit is limited to Union Pay credit cards
  • Recharge kiosks are available but limited to Union Pay and QR Code options. No cash recharge
  • China Express Transit can only be used for transit, you cannot purchase things like Suica

And yes, Nakayama san confirms that QR Codes are a pain in the butt for recharge as well as a transit gate entry option but we already knew that. Another interesting observation is that Express Transit China cards are slower at the transit gate than Suica. This is not surprising.

FeliCa based Suica cards and Japanese transit gates have been fine tuned for a 200ms (millisecond) processing time but are usually faster. NFC-F response time is about 50ms and most onsite transaction times for Suica in Japan and Octopus cards in Hong Kong clock in about 100ms. My guess is that China Transit cards are closer to the usual EMV transaction speed of 500 ms.

The tech side story of China Express Transit cards is an interesting one. The plastic smartcards started out on MIFARE technology but the current China T-Union card is an evolution of the Chinese PBOC 2.0ED/EP spec defined in the JT/T 978 standards. Conceptually it is close to a EMV-like stored value card for offline processing. It’s not clear what flavor Apple Pay is using, it does not appear to be the full China T-union spec but could be something like an Apple flavored PBOC 2.0ED/EP implementation. This could be a reason why Apple Pay Express Transit in China is still beta.