Dear Apple and JR East, we need Apple Pay Family Suica

watchOS 7 Family Setup is a bigger deal than many people might think at first glance. Apple Cash Family is just one part of the service with transfers from a parent’s iPhone to a child’s Apple Watch. It’s the most compelling Apple Cash use case I can think of, and Apple Watch for children without iPhone is appealing to parents in a way that iPhone by itself is not.

I’ve always said that if Apple Watch ever gained direct Suica loading with parental controls, Apple could make a killing selling it into the Japanese education market. watchOS 7 Family Setup is almost there for the JP market but needs one more thing: Family Suica.

Next generation ‘Super’ Suica is coming early 2021 and next generation FeliCa is shipping in November. We already have digital car keys in Wallet that can be shared and Mobile Suica will be doing a lot more on the cloud with Super Suica. Apple and JR East have all the necessary new features they need to create an insanely great Apple Pay Family Suica.

The service outline is simple and combines what car keys do in Wallet with digital key sharing and Apple Cash Family does with transfers and limits. A master Apple Pay Suica ID is setup on an iPhone and manages family member Apple Pay Suica on other devices. The master ‘organizer’ would transfer stored fare (SF) via Messages and set spending limits just like Apple Cash Family does. Simple intuitive convenience.

Apple Pay Family Suica also needs transferable commuter passes. That way a parent can set one up for a child, transfer it to Apple Watch and renew it remotely. Transferable commuter passes would also be handy in our COVID teleworking era as working parents might not need a pass every working day. A “hey honey can I borrow your pass today,” thing that plastic transit card users do all the time.

So far nobody has managed to to produce a smartwatch that matches the super convenience of Apple Watch and Apple Pay Suica. If JR East and Apple produce Family Suica, they would effectively future-proof both next generation Suica and Apple Watch in the Japan market.

Pixel 4 FeliCa outside of Japan hiding in plain sight

After posting about the global NFC possibility of Pixel 5 and Fitbit, a reader forwarded some interesting Pixel 4 FeliCa information. We all know the official story that FeliCa only works in the Japanese Pixel 4 SKUs and no other models. However, there are indications that Google installed FeliCa capable hardware in all Pixel 4 models worldwide all this time but only enables the Japanese SKUs.

The reader asked me to post some information so that we can find out the truth with help from other readers of this blog. We are looking for non-JP Pixel 4/4a SKU users who can tag read their Pixel 4/4a device with another Android device loaded with the NXP NFC TagInfo app downloaded from Google Play. The steps to do this:

  1. Install the TagInfo app, turn off NFC-A and NFC-B reads as we only want to read NFC-F tags (screenshot directly below)
  2. Tag read the Pixel 4/4a with the TagInfo installed Android device
  3. Take a screenshot of the NFC scan results #1
  4. Tag read the Pixel 4/4a a second time, take a screenshot of scan results #2

Read #1 (Before Enablement): If FeliCa is present the Primary System Code in the Detailed protocol information section should be 0xFFFF. Additionally, Mobile FeliCa 4.1 will show a pre-enablement IDm starting with 05:FE.

Read #2 (After Enablement): On a JP Pixel 4 in the screenshot below, the Common Area (0xFE00) will be present, and the Primary System Code will have changed to 0xFE00, that of the Common Area. On non-JP models enablement doesn’t happen, read #2 will match read #1.

Enablement means running the Osaifu Keitai app. Let me know by Twitter @Kanjo or email the following: (1) the Pixel 4/4a model, (2) if the read #1 result indicates FeliCa with System Code OxFFFF, (3) if the first 4 digits of the IDm begin with 05:FE in read #1. Both reads should look identical so also let me know if anything changes in read #2.

The Premise
What does it mean if all Pixel 4/4a models have FeliCa, does it change anything? It simply means that Mobile FeliCa is loaded and present in all Pixel 4/4a devices but Google only turns it on, and pays for, full activations on Japanese models. This doesn’t change anything in the short term. The real value is that it helps us understand what Google is up to and possible changes that might be coming later on with Pixel 5: i.e. global NFC just like Apple.

The Results
Readers shared results that indicate Mobile FeliCa 4.1 present in every SKU regardless of country and match the Japanese model ‘before entitlement’ state. Mobile FeliCa is ready but the entitlement step does not occur as some system parameter prevents the Osaifu Keitai app from running.

This means Pixel 4/4a all have the same NFC hardware and Mobile FeliCa software installed, but non-JP models block Mobile FeliCa apps from running. This would explain reports of Pixel 4 users rooting a USA SKU device, changing some parameters and running Osaifu Keitai.

Are Google Pixel 5 and Fitbit up to the Global NFC Challenge?

It’s that time of year again to think about FeliCa support on the Google Pixel platform as Pixel 5 approaches. Ever since Pixel 3 things have been the stuck in a rut: the same global NFC (A-B-F) chip is used in all models but only FeliCa keys for card emulation are installed on Japanese models, i.e., no Suica for you if you don’t have one of those.

I used to think that Google was going cheap instead of deep. Google is cheap here actually, and lazy, but there are some other reasons. It goes back to the problem many people had with Google Pay Japan FeliCa support to begin with: it’s only a UI candy coating on top of the aging Osaifu Keitai stack and apps. Instead of doing a true top to bottom Google Pay global NFC solution like Apple did, Google Pay Japan FeliCa support is just surfing on the Osaifu Keitai board. And of course the Android Pay HCE-F thing is long since dead, it’s eSE or nothing now.

The real problem is this: Osaifu Keitai is a domestic platform, Osaifu Keitai apps (Suica, etc.) are domestic apps. The various Osaifu Keitai partners and developers don’t want to deal with the extra expense of multi-lingual localization and support. But neither does Google, hence the logjam.

Google’s recent purchase of Fitbit might be the agent of change that finally breaks the jam. The Osaifu Keitai model doesn’t extend to wearables. Google Pay has to come up with something new to replace Fitbit Pay, something that works across paired devices seamlessly if Google Pay Suica is to exist on a Fitbit smartwatch paired with Pixel.

There is something new this time around that didn’t exist, or at least didn’t exist as a developer product back in 2018: Mobile FeliCa Platform and Mobile FeliCa Cloud for supporting all kinds of Mobile FeliCa services worldwide. I’m sure this arrangement got Suica on Garmin Pay.

Taken together I think there is a better chance Google will go deep instead of cheap, hopefully sooner than later. Google Pay Suica and Google Pay PASMO on Pixel and Fitbit devices from anywhere would be a very welcome development.

Smells like Super Suica: Sony unveils next generation FeliCa

Sony announced the next generation FeliCa chip on September 8. Next generation FeliCa was mentioned in the September 2018 next generation Suica, aka Super Suica, press release. This is the first glimpse into some of the new FeliCa features that Super Suica will use. The Japanese and English press released highlight different feature sets. A basic rundown:

  • Extended Overlap Service: different service providers can share additional services, while making the most of existing systems.
  • Value-Limited Purse Service: purse data can be set as a negative numerical value, and enables “Upper Limit Value” and “Lower Limit Value” to be specified.
  • FeliCa Secure ID: on the surface this cloud based service sounds exactly like the digital car key feature Sony and NTT Docomo demoed at the Docomo Open House back in January and exactly like Apple Pay Car Key sharing. Dare I say there seems to be more web service functionality that might relate to the NFC Tag Maas Suica hinted at by AquaBit Spirals CEO Tomohiro Hagiwara.
  • Additional Security Options: state of the art encryption, integrity protection option for ‘cost-balanced system solution use cases where higher priority is given to high-speed transactions while meeting the required security needs’. The new chip also complies with Public Transportation IC Card Protection Profile (PTPP).

The new hardware chip is NFC Forum Type 3 Tag compliant and works with NFC Forum certified devices.

As I explained previously, one big aim of Super Suica is sharing resources and services to reduce costs. Right off the bat Extended Overlap Service looks exactly what Super Suica wants to do: host other transit company commuter passes and reward points. The new FeliCa Japanese press release graph illustrates this, it almost looks like dual mode services in a single mode card. I think Super Suica is going to leverage the shit out of it.

Another interesting feature is the Value-Limited Purse Service. Super Suica will certainly get a stored value purse upgrade from the current ¥20,000 limit. I’m curious to find out if next generation Suica uses the new feature for additional stored value services.

One big question is when does FeliCa Networks upgrade Mobile FeliCa with all these new features and when do licensed developers get the goods. Sony and NTT Docomo already demoed Android Osaifu Keitai smartphones using FeliCa Secure ID and digital car keys with Ultra Wideband ‘Touchless’ in January. I think it’s safe to assume licensees get new FeliCa chips and upgraded Mobile FeliCa at the same time.

This is just a cursory overview. I have fingers crossed that FeliCa Dude will post something to Reddit that will delight and enlighten us when he has the time. In the meantime we have Apple Pay PASMO coming down the pike very soon in what I hope is a preview of more to come in 2021.

UPDATE
FeliCa Dude has posted an excellent overview on Reddit covering the new features and what they mean for operators. More than ever I am convinced that the big new marquee features, Extended Overlap Service and Value-Limited Purse Service will be playing major roles in Super Suica.

Goodbye FeliCa Octopus, save the last tap for me

In the 2019 Apple Pay Octopus saga one thing was clear: Octopus was living on borrowed time. On the eve of the Apple Pay Octopus launch I wrote:

Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) has been slow extending the service to include mobile. Instead of putting early effort into digital wallet support for Apple Pay/Google Pay/Samsung Pay, OCL wasted time and resources developing the niche Mobile SIM product which didn’t pan out. This lag coupled with the rise of AliPay and WeChat Pay QR Code payment empires put enormous pressure on OCL to do something…

With so much traffic and business from the mainland, OCL owner MTR is looking to add QR Code Open Loop transit support (paywalled link) at some point. There is also the pressure of creating a Greater Bay Area transit card, and pressure from credit cards and banks. Every player wants a piece of the action…MTR gates will eventually look like the ones in Guangzhou with PBOC/FeliCa/QR Code readers supporting Octopus, China T-Union, AliPay/WeChat Pay…At which point I say OCL doesn’t have a viable transit platform business anymore.

Mainland China dumped the MIFARE based Beijing and Shanghai cards for their own slower PBOC 2.3/3.0 China T-Union standard, I don’t think it’s a stretch to see the same thing happening to Hong Kong Octopus at some point…Supporters will undoubtably point out the technical merits of China using a single transit standard but that’s just a red herring. The deciding factors will be good old money and politics: is it more profitable to keep Octopus in place or junk it in favor of QR and China T-Union, and who benefits from it all?

Out of Time

I thought the success of Apple Pay Octopus bought it some time, but on August 28 the South China Morning Post published a story where OCL CEO Sunny Cheung says they will join the China T-Union initiative for seamless transit integration between Hong Kong and China. He to goes out of his way a few times to say how ‘old’ NFC technology is:

Cheung said internet users’ criticism of Octopus being a tech laggard died down in June after people were allowed to add their Octopus account to Apple Wallet on their iPhones. Cheung, who admitted he was stung by the criticism, regarded Octopus’ breakthrough on the iPhone as one of the best times of his stint with the company. “This was one of my biggest challenges,” he said. “The breakthrough helped refresh Octopus’ image even though it is still using NFC technology.”

From Hong Kong’s Octopus aims to spread tentacles with contactless card for paying fares in mainland China

I guess Sunny thinks that QR Codes are cutting edge. He is retiring and doesn’t have to deal with the fallout of his misguided OCL management or care about criticism anymore.

Octopus can certainly be ‘dual mode’ with separate NFC A + CYN China T-Union purse and NFC F + HKD Octopus purse in one card, if OCL comes up with a new card architecture. But that’s an expensive undertaking when mainland China has been ruthlessly weeding out all MIFARE and FeliCa transit cards and replacing them with the slower PBOC 2.0/3.0 China T-Union standard, aka the supermarket checkout spec. It’s only a matter of time before Octopus gets the same brain lobotomy.

There is also the plastic card issue business angle to consider. Read FeliCa Dude’s Octopus on iPhone 7 post paying special attention to the Octopus plastic card issue steps he outlines. I’m sure the Hong Kong powers that be don’t want that profitable franchise to stay with Sony forever. They will work to keep it local which is exactly what the China T-Union PBOC 2.0 spec allows OCL to do.

We all know at this point that ‘one country two systems’ is just an illusion. It may not come soon but as transit gates and store readers are gradually replaced with newer models over the next few years, those models will all have dual mode support. And when the time is ready, OCL will turn off FeliCa. Until then, enjoy it while it lasts.