Visa Japan signs with Google Pay

Visa Japan finally officially signed with a digital wallet platform and it is Google Pay. As expected it comes with a price: no FeliCa support, no dual mode support, nada, just Visa Contactless that is branded as ‘Visa Touch’ in Japan. The press release outlines recent debit cards from Sony Bank (oh the irony), JapanNet Bank, Resona and Mitsubishi UFJ.

Visa offers dual mode plastic cards that have EMV and FeliCa support in one convenient chip package. However these both the plastic and Google Pay versions are limited to the Visa Touch payment network which is slowly growing but still full of holes. The most useful payment method for these cards will be the reliable old contact one.

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What does open Apple NFC really mean?

The German law to force Apple to open it’s “NFC chip” is a confusing one. Why does an EU country with one of the lowest cashless usage rates single out one company’s NFC product in a last minute rider to an anti-money laundering bill? That’s not banking policy, it is politics. Details are few but let’s take a look at what it could mean because when it comes to NFC technology, details are everything.

Background stuff
The so called Apple ‘NFC chip’ is not a chip at all but a hardware/software sandwich. The Apple Pay ecosystem as described in iOS Security 12.3 is composed of: Secure Element, NFC Controller, Wallet, Secure Enclave and Apple Pay Servers. On one end is the NFC chip controller front end that handles NFC A-B-F communication but does not process transactions, on the other end there is the Secure Enclave that oversees things by authorizing transactions. The fun stuff happens in the Secure Element middle where the EMV/FeliCa/MIFARE/PBOC transaction technologies perform their magic with Java Card applets.

The A/S Series Secure Enclave and Secure Element are the black box areas of Apple Pay. The iOS Security 12.3 documentation suggests the Secure Element is a separate chip, but Apple’s custom implementation of the FeliCa Secure Element, and the apparent ability of Apple to update Secure Element applets to support new services like MIFARE in iOS 12 suggests something else, but it is anybody’s guess. Apple would like to keep it that way.

So what does ‘open NFC’ really mean?
It’s helpful to look at the issue from the 3 NFC modes: Card Emulation, Read/Write, Peer to Peer.

Peer to Peer
Apple has never used NFC Peer to Peer and I don’t think this is a consideration in the ‘open NFC’ debate.

Read/Write
This was a limitation up until iOS 12, but everything changed when iOS 13 Core NFC gained Read/Write support for NDEF, FeliCa, MIFARE, ISO 7816 and ISO 15693. Developers can do all the NFC Read/Write operations they want to in their apps, I don’t think this is a consideration in the ‘open NFC’ debate.

Card Emulation
Apple limits NFC Card Emulation to Apple Pay Wallet with NDA PASSKit NFC Certificates. This is what the ‘open NFC’ debate is all about. I imagine that German banks and other players want to bypass the PASSKit NFC Certificate controlled Apple Pay ecosystem. Instead, they want open access to the parts they want, like Secure Element, NFC Controller, Secure Enclave, and ignore the parts they don’t want like Wallet and Apple Pay Servers. They want the right to pick and choose.

The success of Apple Pay has been founded on the ease of use and high level of integration from a massive investment in the A/S Series Secure Enclave and other in-house implementations such as global FeliCa, etc. Outside players forcing Apple to open up the Apple Pay ecosystem represent not only a security risk to Apple but also a reduced return on investment. One commentator on MacRumors said it’s like Apple took the time and expense to build a first class restaurant and outsiders are demanding the right to use Apple’s kitchen to cook their own food to serve their own customers in Apple’s restaurant. It’s a fair analogy.

The NDA PASSKit NFC Certificate gate entrance rubs bank players the wrong way as they are used to giving terms, not accepting them. The Swiss TWINT banking and payment app for example is a QR Code based Wallet replacement that wanted the ability to switch NFC off, and got it.

My own WWDC19 Apple Pay Wish List did include a wish for easier NFC Card Emulation, but nothing appeared. It’s certainly in Apple’s best interest to make it as easy as possible for 3rd party developers to add reward cards, passes, ID cards, transit cards, etc. to Wallet. However given that the EU is hardly what I call a level playing field, the fact that bank players and politics go hand in hand in every nation, and the fact we don’t know the technical details of what the German law is asking Apple to do, all we can do is guess. In general, I think Europe will be a long rough ride for Apple Pay. At least until EU bank players get deals they are happy with.

Of Course Apple Pay is Bigger Than In-App Payments! Now that NFC POS systems actually work…in America

It was just a year ago that eMarketer made a big splash on Apple tech news sites with their Starbucks app is bigger than Apple Pay report:

Retailers are increasingly creating their own payment apps, which allow them to capture valuable data about their users. They can also build in rewards and perks to boost customer loyalty,

Starbucks App Leads Mobile Payment Competitors eMarketer.com

This turned out to be bullshit marketing nonsense because as I discovered using Apple Pay in America just when that report hit, the average Apple Pay store checkout experience sucked.

Now eMarketer is saying the same thing: “Apple Pay has benefited from the spread of new point-of-sale (POS) systems that work with the NFC signals Apple Pay runs on.” That work with the NFC signals Apple Pay runs on?! It sounds like eMarketer isn’t exactly sure what NFC is. Why not just say Apple Pay has benefited from the spread of new point of sale (POS) systems that work, yes, actually work now dammit! No more “you’re holding wrong” nonsense.

Duh. Is it just me or does the entire Apple tech news scene fail to see how poorly written and shoddy both eMarketer reports are? They are clickbait disguised as market research, nothing more.

The Future of Cashless Payments is Now

Some people look at Japan and see a crazy mess of cashless payment options: credit cards, iD, QUICPay, Suica, QR Code players like PayPay and Line Pay, all vying for customer wallet space. ‘It’s a shame,’ they say, ‘In our country we have it all worked out with EMV contactless bank cards that do everything.’

I’ve got news for those people, the mess they are seeing in Japan is the future, it just hasn’t come to their country yet. It’s the revolution of payments on smartphones that started with digital wallets like Apple Pay, Google Pay, etc. but it’s sure not ending there, the number of payment options is only going to grow. Get used to it.

The one size fits all thinking of the plastic card era is dead. Some people think it still lives on in digital wallets, but it’s dead. The future belongs to nimble players who mix and match the best payment technologies for the job at hand and offer customers better services along with it.

The so called ‘FeliCa failure’ curse is actually a kind of blessing: the market payment technology fragmentation gave new players a footing to try different payment methods. Diversity isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength. The diversity of Japanese cashless payment options is the result of its longer history of mobile payments.

That is what smart devices, digital wallets and payment apps do: they erode the old ways and bring fragmentation along with new opportunities. There will be cycles of expansion and consolidation but one size fits all will never come back. Call it cutting edge or call it stupid, like it or not, the cashless mess is coming your way.

The JAPAN CASHLESS Rebate Week 1: MiniStop Reports 6% Cashless Payment Use Increase in First Week

This is what we were waiting for. After all that hassle of getting ready for the CASHLESS rebate program, how many people were actually going to go cashless to get the rebates? NHK reports that the MiniStop convenience store chain saw a 6% rise in cashless payments use rates in the first week of the rebate program, rising from 24% to 30%. MiniStop president Akihiro Fujimoto said he was surprised at the quick uptake. I’m not.

30% was the informal Apple Pay Suica use rate I found in station areas in 2017. The MiniStop number is just one data point from one store chain, so it will be interesting to see how cashless use rate averages pan out over time. Convenience stores chains offer 2% rebates with cashless purchases, calculated and deducted from the customer bill at checkout. Smaller store 2%~5% rebates are post-transaction refunds. Despite the small data sample size, I think we are already seeing the beginnings of a tipping point here.