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Apple Pay Octopus Launching in Hong Kong with iOS 13 and Apple Maps Transit Integration

UPDATE: Hong Kong OCL has officially announced Apple Pay Octopus

It’s finally happening. Hong Kong iPhone users have waited eagerly for the ubiquitous Octopus transit card to arrive on Apple Pay ever since the first global FeliCa iPhone models were announced in September 2017. They were disappointed when Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) unveiled the first smartphone wallet version of the FeliCa based Octopus as Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay in December 2017, reportedly an exclusive deal. Needless to say, there was no mention of Apple Pay.

After Apple and OCL set things in motion in December 2018 with tests for a tentative Chinese New Year launch but then put things on hold, Hong Kong iPhone users are finally getting their wish: Octopus on Apple Pay will launch in Hong Kong with iOS 13. The iOS 13 beta contains specific Apple Pay Octopus references along with Apple Pay server side references (link now closed) which indicate that OCL is field testing with the latest beta:

Screenshot of live Apple server link JSON code June 25 10:00 am Japan local time, link was terminated by 3 pm

The June 25 code leak forced their hand and OCL officially announced Apple Pay Octopus on July 11 after not answering earlier requests for a comment, the press release promised more details soon:

Suica Similarities
Octopus is based on the same FeliCa technology used for Suica and both cards are very similar. Octopus is used extensively for fast transit and contactless payments of all kinds. According to Wikipedia there are over 33 million Octopus cards in circulation as of 2018 used by 99 per cent of Hong Kong residents. The addition of the Octopus transit payment platform to Apple Pay will drive its adoption in Hong Kong far more than regular credit/debit cards can ever accomplish, as it has in Japan with Apple Pay Suica.

The digital Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay is very similar to Apple Pay Suica, with fast Express Transit-like use and performance, but the setup is a little more user friendly for inbound visitors: a new virtual Octopus card can be created directly in Wallet without using a separate app like SuicaEng or HOP App. You can transfer a plastic Octopus card, but just like Suica and HOP, the plastic card cannot be used after transfer, and the same virtual card can only be used on a single device at a time. The Apple Pay Octopus experience will be the same and Express Transit a given.

Apple Maps Transit Integration
Earlier Apple Pay Octopus reports mentioned Hong Kong Apple Maps Transit launching at the same time. Sources confirmed that Apple Maps Hong Kong transit directions were ready to roll a long time ago but have been held back for a simultaneous release with Apple Pay Octopus. It makes sense for Apple to offer both services as an integrated whole as they did for the Apple Pay Suica launch. If the Japan launch is anything to go by, confirmation won’t come until very late in the beta test cycle, if at all, Transit will simply appear.

Global FeliCa iPhone and Apple Watch
The Apple Pay Octopus device profile will be the same as Suica: iPhone 7/7 Plus purchased in Japan (models A1779/A1785), iPhone 8/8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS/XS Plus, iPhone XR set up with Face ID or Touch ID, and Apple Watch Series 3 and later. There is a chance that iOS 13 will retroactively enable FeliCa for all iPhone 7 models to support the Apple Pay Octopus launch.

The iPhone XS and XR models have the A12 Bionic exclusive Express Transit with power reserve feature that gives users an additional 5 hours of Express Transit use when iPhone in low battery power reserve mode. A12 powered FeliCa performance is also much improved over previous iPhone models. My experience with Apple Pay Suica performance on iPhone XS has been as fast and reliable as plastic Suica with none of the iOS issues of previous iPhone models, performance on iOS 12.3 is stellar. Apple Pay Octopus performance on iPhone XS/XR models will have the same advantages.

Hong Kong iPhone X users need to be aware of the iPhone X NFC hardware problem found on early production devices that causes endless issues with Apple Pay Express Transit. Apple has quietly provided replacement Revision B iPhone X devices for users who experience Express Transit gate errors in Japan and China. Hopefully Apple will offer the same courtesy to Hong Kong iPhone X users who encounter the issue.

The First Transit Platform Business Model
The Hong Kong Octopus card was the first real transit platform (contactless transit and eMoney) that had a tremendous impact on the development of Transit for London (TfL) Oyster card, Opal in Australia and other transit card fare systems around the world. It’s great for Hong Kong users that OCL is expanding the Octopus platform to include more digital wallets. I hope OCL continues to expand both the service on other digital wallets, and the business opportunities. For Apple this is an important opportunity to kick Hong Kong Apple Pay use into high gear and will certainly drive Apple Pay credit/debit card use on the recharge end far more than regular bank card Apple Pay, last but not least it’s a vindication of Apple’s global NFC “it just works” anywhere vision for Apple Pay.

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Thoughts on iOS 13 Apple Pay Express Transit

The iOS 12 release in September 2018 was a rough one for Apple Pay Suica users. It brought new problems like random gate errors, and left old problems, like unresponsive Suica Recharge and Suica balance not updating, unfixed. Everyone experienced problems, everyone except A12 Bionic iPhone XS and iPhone XR users, that is.

iOS 12 was especially tough on Revision B iPhone X Suica users. They had suffered from the iPhone X NFC Suica problem, had finally gotten a NFC error free Rev. B iPhone that worked great on iOS 11. The sudden experience of plunging back to error filled square one was a cruel twist of fate that left them confused and upset.

iOS 12.3 fixed everything for everyone, with trouble free wicked fast Apple Pay Suica performance. It is the best Apple Pay Express Transit iOS that Apple has ever delivered. However, Rev. B iPhone X owners are still worried. One owner told me, “I think that I’ll have the same problem all over again with iOS 13.”

This is a perfectly understandable concern, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: if you are using iOS 12.3, you are already using iOS 13 Apple Pay Wallet. Apple simply has not told you yet.

iOS 12.3 Apple Pay Wallet is a whole new thing. The changes Apple made to it in iOS 12.2~iOS 12.3 are massive. Express Transit performance gains, and the new EMV Express Transit option are equally massive. Most people assume that the Wallet changes are for Apple Card, which they are, but few people understand that the changes are also for the Apple Pay Transit support of HOP, Ventra, NY MTA, and more, which Tim Cook announced along with Apple Card on March 25.

In short, Rev. B iPhone X users, and all iPhone users, have nothing to worry about anymore. If your Apple Pay Suica or Apple Pay HOP is working great on iOS 12.3, it’s going to work great on iOS 13 too.

Tsutsumu Ishikawa Bitten by the iPhone X Suica Problem

Tsutsumu Ishikawa is probably Japan’s premier tech journalist who came up through the traditional print journalism of Nikkei, kind of like Walt Mossberg or Joanna Stern of WSJ. Ishikawa san was also the journalist who broke the Apple Pay coming to Japan story in the summer of 2016 in the Japanese press, which Bloomberg shamelessly reported in English without giving him credit.

Because of his deep connection to Apple Pay, it’s ironic that Ishikawa san is suddenly tweeting that he’s been bitten by the iPhone X NFC Suica Problem:

Japanese tech media did not take up the iPhone X NFC Suica problem in 2018. I don’t expect them to now. Even journalists who were aware of the problem in 2018 like Junya Suzuki, kind as he is, told me, “Let’s leave it up to social media channels.” Unfortunately, in this day and age the reality is that working tech journalists have to pick and choose stories that have legs and get clicks. Otherwise they can’t make a living.

Ishikawa san’s sudden iPhone X Suica problem is intriguing, and worrisome. Is it one of the original problem units manufactured before April 2018? I have no idea, but I have always suspected that all iPhone X units manufactured before the Revision B iPhone X April 2018 switchover will exhibit degraded NFC performance over time.

Other iPhone X users are reporting this too. Even iPhone X device owners who have not had NFC problems are suddenly discovering that their iPhone X NFC is going wonky. I hope this is not a new ugly chapter in the iPhone X NFC Suica problem saga:

I wonder if Ishikawa san and Tanaka san will read this blog and get a Rev. B iPhone X replacement? Probably not, but they should. So should everybody with a problem iPhone X device. I’ll update this post with any new information or developments.

iPhone X Suica Problem Holdouts

There are many iPhone X owners in Japan with the Suica NFC problem who are simply not aware of it for various reasons (and this blog is far too small to make any difference). And then there are the holdouts: iPhone X owners with Suica problem devices who know what the problem is, know the Japanese language coverage of it on this blog, but refuse to go to Apple for an exchange. To me, the holdouts are the most distressing aspect of the iPhone X Suica NFC problem.

Everything in life is a choice and that is theirs to make. But I do understand the feelings behind that choice. There is no guarantee that any of my iPhone X Suica problem reporting is correct, there is no independent verification out there. Only Apple can do that.

The holdouts feel that Apple, and only Apple, is responsible for going public with the iPhone X Suica problem with an offer to fix it. In other words, Apple should take care of customers who bought an expensive Apple device, Apple should be pro-active about fixing customer problems with those devices. Apple should come to them, instead of them wasting time dealing with the Apple tech support runaround. I completely agree.

One of the iPhone X Suica problem holdouts is moving to Android, there are undoubtedly more. For him, iPhone X has been an endless parade of disappointment. I wish him well and a better NFC experience on his next device. One thing I can say about Japanese customer habits: once they drop something, they never go back.

The iPhone X Suica NFC Problem One Year Later

One year later there are still plenty of defective NFC iPhone X devices out there. I know because the page views for iPhone X Suica Problem Q&A Exchange Guide are consistently high enough to suggest people go out of their way to search the problem online.

My rough estimate is that 40 million iPhone X units were manufactured up to the April 2018 defective free Revision B iPhone X change over. How many of those 40 million are defective? Only Apple knows. My take is that almost all of them are defective but iPhone X owners are not aware of the NFC defect for a number of reasons:

  • Apple has not publicly admitted there is a problem, they admit it internally however.
  • Apple Pay Express Transit use is the easiest way to discover a defective NFC iPhone X unit. Since Express Transit only exists in Japan (nationwide) and China (Beijing and Shanghai), Apple has used this to limit Rev. B iPhone X exchanges to problem use cases from those regions.
  • Mainstream Apple tech media in America (and Japan) has not reported the problem. I know of only 2: AppleInsider Mikey Campbell was kind enough to report the issue early on because I asked him to. Michael Tsai Blog picked up the issue later in his excellent digest of the iPhone X Suica Problem. Mainstream reporting in America is the best way to spread awareness of the issue because it is picked up everywhere around the world.

I think it’s going to be a fascinating time when Apple Pay Express Transit finally goes live in America with HOP and Ventra this summer. Some iPhone X HOP and Ventra transit users will undoubtably discover that their iPhone X Express Transit card does not work right at the transit gate.

iPhone X went on sale November 3, 2017, the AppleCare+ 2 year coverage window for iPhone X starts closing this November. I hope that poor iPhone X users in Portland and Chicago don’t end up stumbling in the dark and can get Rev. B iPhone X replacement units without any hassle, before that window closes.