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iOS 12.3 Update and Apple Pay Transit Improvements (U)

The iOS 12.3 update has some important improvements for iPhone users in Japan and Apple Pay Transit users everywhere:

Reiwa Era Calendar Support
Reiwa Era is also supported in watchOS 5.2.1 and macOS 10.14.5

Improved Apple Pay Suica Performance
iOS 12.3 is the best iOS version for Apple Pay Suica and Express Transit cards that Apple has produced, period. This is the single most important feature for users in Japan. Previous Suica iOS performance issues are all gone: Suica balance not updating, unresponsive Suica UI, unresponsive Suica Recharge, etc. Longtime iPhone Suica users will be pleasantly surprised, as will HOP and Ventra card users when Apple Pay Express Transit arrives on those systems this summer. If for no other reason, update to iOS 12.3 for superior trouble free Apple Pay Suica and Express Transit performance.

EMV Express Transit Support (U)
This is a new Apple Pay Wallet option for EMV payment cards to be set for Express Transit on open loop transit systems that support the feature, only on Portland TriMet for now. The new Apple Express Transit support page explains payment card support. Reader feedback suggests payment card support is the usual mixed bag of bank card services, limited by region issuers and issues. EMV transit is always slower at the gate than native transit cards, both plastic and virtual, and only supports standard fares.

The low key nature of this service addition is rather unusual. Lots of under the hood changes have been made in iOS 12.3 Wallet in advance of the Apple Card launch: EMV Express Transit support, the removal of long term beta status for Beijing and Shanghai Transit Cards, the huge leap in Express Transit performance, and much more. I suspect that we’ll hear all about these developments along with new NFC features to be announced for iOS 13 Apple Pay Wallet at WWDC19.

Wallet UI Changes
Suica UI Wallet changes have been ongoing since iOS 12.2 and are still hit and miss. The UI has improved some from iOS 12.2: transaction detail running order has changed slightly to avoid long strings that are easy clipped in English. Unfortunately, important Suica settings are still too easy to miss. Users still have to dig around to find them. I hope Apple continues to improve the Wallet card UI in iOS 13. Here’s a look:

Other Stuff

Apple TV: the iTunes Japan Store does not offer TV content so the revamped TV App is just for playing downloaded movies and nothing more, at least until Apple TV+ service launches in Japan. Amazon Prime and Netflix are way ahead of Apple here and remain the top video streaming providers. It will be interesting to see what Apple comes up with.

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iOS 12.3 brings EMV Express Transit support to Apple Pay* (U)

*(Note: iOS 12.3 EMV Express Transit is only for Portland TriMet, updates and details here)

The short story
Text strings added in pass.json files enable new card options in the new Apple Card/Wallet UI to be unveiled at WWDC19. New PassKit functions to add Wallet card options directly instead of using apps, are some of the new Apple Pay features that Apple will promote at WWDC, with some new options such as EMV Express Transit also working on iOS 12.3 Wallet which already has lots of new changes under the hood.

The long story
iOS 12.3 is an interesting Apple Pay update, an important one for Apple Pay Suica users and we have the new Apple Card and Wallet UI. The Tap Down Under site recently discovered an EMV Express Transit option as well. Beau Giles who runs Tap Down Under reported:

New strings discovered within the pass.json files of Apple Pay card files make mention of new ‘Transit Network Identifiers’ options, as well as new passUpgrades/open loop options – which would provide an equivalent solution for Apple Pay customers…
You’d be able to set your preferred EMV card (again, Visa, Mastercard or American Express) to use for ‘Express Transit’ – no need to authenticate, just tap your iPhone or Watch at an Opal reader.

Tap Down Under iOS 12.3 to bring EMV Express Transit support to Apple Pay

Nice find Beau!

The “equivalent solution” he mentions is the recently added Samsung Pay Transit Card feature for Sydney area Opal transit fare system. The user can select a regular EMV Samsung Pay bank card to use for transit without having to unlock the device or authenticate the card at an Opal transit gate.

What it is and what it isn’t

Let’s get this out of the way: this is not Suica Express Transit. As the new iOS 12.3 Wallet option explanation makes clear, there are transit cards and there are payment cards. It does not work like Suica or other transit cards whose entire transaction architecture is built on instantaneous prepaid self contained secure express transit settlement without network connections.

Apple Pay Suica works the same everywhere, while Samsung Transit Card is a special mode only for transit through Opal gates with regular old EMV everywhere else. It’s a workaround hack for a EMV weakness on smartphones that mimics transit smartcard operation, though it is much slower at the gate than native FeliCa and MIFARE smartcards (watch the video), and because EMV is not a smartcard, does not support different kinds of fares (commuter, senior, student, etc).

The hack itself is less software technology than special arrangements between card companies, Transport for NSW and Samsung, that waive CVS checks for Samsung Pay designated Transit Cards at Opal transit gates. In some ways it’s a merchant arrangement like VISA, Mastercard, American Express letting poor old J.C. Penney keep mag strip card settlements on life support in exchange for switching off contactless payments. And just like J.C. Penney switched off Apple Pay, card companies can switch off EMV transit card support at any time without telling users.

Samsung’s strategy for Samsung Pay in Asia Pacific is an interesting one, using transit to gain ground where Apple Pay has not: Hong Kong Smart Octopus, Taiwan EasyPass, and EMV Transit Card for Opal. The Apple Pay Transit story has picked up considerably momentum recently with the Apple Pay HOP and Ventra Express Transit announcements in March, and Tim Cook’s recent mention of Apple Pay coming to MTA OMNY in July.

All of these Apple Pay Transit service rollouts are due between the iOS 12.4 release for the Apple Card rollout and iOS 13 this fall. The strings that Beau found appeared on indicated that backend system support was already in place with card providers and Apple Pay iCloud servers in early May. The strings list iOS 12.3 and watchOS 5.2.1 as the minimal system requirements.

iOS 12.3 is out and EMV Express Transit is live for all Apple Pay users, but the service itself is limited to Portland TriMet. That must sting for Sydney Opal transit users who were expecting to use it, but not surprising as Sydney transit isn’t listed in the Apple Pay Transit support page. Nevertheless it is an oddly low key rollout for a new Apple Pay service, Apple Pay support pages are the only place it is mentioned. My take is that we will get the full story at WWDC with the iOS 13 announcement, the new Apple Pay Wallet Card UI and other new PassKit functions for developers.

Downsides

A low key approach makes sense for Apple because EMV Express Transit is a service that bank card companies can switch it off at will. They ultimately control it, Apple doesn’t. The feature does not magically work on any ‘open’ transit system because many moving pieces have to be tied down and in place before it can work: agreements between card companies, Apple and transit agencies, along with transit fare backend system support that in western countries is usually outsourced to large companies like Cubic or Thales.

iPhone XR/XS Express Transit with power reserve works with EMV transit but is a potentially confusing user experience: power reserve works for transit but not purchases, users will want to use it like a plastic payment card. And because it removes a layer of security for cards tied to bank accounts, with no safety net like a transit prepaid card, EMV Express Transit will be a security concern for some users.

Summary

I have doubts how Apple can successfully market EMV Express Transit when it completely depends on various outside companies in various regions to work successfully. If anything goes wrong at the transit gate, and it will, Apple catches the blame, never the bank card company. What’s the marketing angle when even Samsung is not heavily promoting EMV Transit Card and how far can the service be extended to other transit systems?

I see this as just another round in the contactless payment turf wars so that card companies can extend their power and reach into transit, and sabotage the ISO/IEC 10373-6 specification, and GSMA/GCF (Global Certification Forum) TS. 26, TS. 27 specifications created by the NFC Forum and transit partners specifically for NFC transit settlements.

Personally I agree with @elevtechlift that EMV Express Transit is a ‘nice, but’ option. It sounds nice, but distracts everybody from the real job of improving transit service with better gates and innovating transit payment technology. Better for Apple to focus on innovating things they control: move Apple Pay forward with features like Express Card with power reserve on Apple Watch, and get developers to add more options and all kinds of NFC enabled cards to iOS 13 Wallet. Hacks that hide EMV weak points and play market politics by sabotaging ISO/IEC 10373-6, hacks that card companies can switch off at any moment, are a waste of time and resources. Improving EMV on transit is a job for EMVCo, not Apple.

At any rate, WWDC19 is shaping up to be an interesting show for all things Apple Pay.

UPDATE
*Instead of writing a new post I rewrote this one, twice. I see EMV Express Transit as just one more Wallet card option. The heavy reworking of Wallet to make new options possible, new Apple Pay features and Wallet UI for iOS 13 are the real story.

Upcoming Apple Pay Transit Support Details (U)

Matthew Panzarino posted (way at the bottom under Apple Pay stuff) some details of upcoming Apple Pay transit support for Portland, Chicago and New York. It’s interesting that even though slow vanilla flavor EMV contactless works on all systems, Apple is highlighting Portland’s HOP card as well as Chicago’s Ventra which means Apple Pay Express Cards only work on the HOP/Ventra prepaid transit card side (judging by Tim’s keynote slide and this). New York MTA is apparently EMV only at launch but will get the MIFARE based OMNY prepaid transit card at some point.

  • The number of vehicles and transit systems supported will vary by operator.
    Portland will include subways and busses, as will Chicago.
  • Chicago will support open loop and Ventra Card systems.
  • Portland will support open loop and HOP Card systems.
  • New York will pilot Apple Pay (EMV) on a couple of lines in the spring and then roll out to additional lines throughout the rest of the year.

This is the first time that iPhone users in the US will be exposed to Apple Pay Express Cards in mass. Until now it has been limited to Suica (FeliCa), China Transit (PBOC) and Student ID cards (MIFARE). It will be interesting to hear user experiences regarding speedy Express Cards (no Face ID/Touch ID) vs slower transaction EMV (Face ID/Touch ID every time) on the various systems after the rollout. Face ID at every transit gate is a real pain no matter what snotty TfL users say.

Google Pay has been busy too, adding official support yesterday for the Melbourne area Myki transit card (MIFARE) after a prolonged testing period. Hopefully Apple Pay will add Myki at some point as well as Hong Kong’s Smart Octopus which is a perfect fit for iPhone/Apple Watch global FeliCa support.

UPDATE
More HOP and Ventra Express Transit coverage and updates