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

Notice: this post is from June 2019, Apple Pay Octopus launched June 2 2020, latest service launch details here


Octopus Cards Limited announced Apple Pay Octopus on July 11, 2019

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

Shortly after the Apple Pay server code leak, OCL officially announced Apple Pay Octopus on July 11.

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 said that Apple Maps Hong Kong transit directions were ready to roll some time ago but was 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.

Global NFC iPhone and Apple Watch
The Apple Pay Octopus device profile is iPhone 8 setup with Face ID or Touch ID/Apple Watch Series 3 and later. iPhone 11 Pro/11/XR/XS have the A12/A13 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/A13 Bionic powered FeliCa performance is also much improved over previous iPhone models because the Bionic Secure Enclave directly handles transactions and bypasses the iOS.

My experience with Apple Pay Suica performance on iPhone 11 Pro has been as fast and reliable as plastic Suica with none of the iOS issues of previous iPhone models, performance on iOS 12.3 was stellar and remains stellar on all versions of iOS 13. Apple Pay Octopus performance on iPhone 11 Pro/11/XR/XS 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.

9/19 UPDATE: Octopus Cards Limited CEO Sunny Cheung said that Apple Pay Octopus will not launch with iOS 13 (September 19 USA/September 20 Hong Kong), but will “start as soon as possible within the year.”

12/19 UPDATE: Apple Pay Octopus has been delayed to later in 2020.

3/15 UPDATE: Apple Pay Octopus reportedly launching with iOS 13.4 followed by Apple Pay Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Foshan China T-Union transit cards.


Related Apple Pay Octopus Coverage
Transit Cards on Mobile (3-7-2020)
Apple Pay Octopus Ides of March (2-21-2020)
Global NFC on iPhone and Android (7-16-2019)
Future of Octopus Transit Platform (6-28-2019)
Octopus Coming to Apple Pay (Initial coverage from 12-18-2018)

Unbundled World

Tim Cook on the 1Q 2019 iPhone sales decline in Japan:

In Japan, iPhone purchases were traditionally subsidized, bundled with carrier contracts. Today, local regulations have significantly restricted those subsidies as well as related competition. We estimate less than half of iPhones sold in Japan in Q1 this year were sold via subsidy.

That and the battery replacement program were the official reasons. The unmentioned unresolved iPhone X Suica problem was another.

UPDATE
Tim told Reuters that, ‘Apple is rethinking how it prices the iPhone outside the United States after largely setting the price in U.S. dollars, which made the phones more expensive in local currencies as the dollar strengthened.’ Hopefully Japan is one of the markets that could see iPhone price adjustments. There are also other things Apple can do in Japan to help offset the iPhone sales decline.

Dear Tim

Dear Tim

In uncertain and challenging times it’s more important than ever to look for good opportunities. Here is one for the Japanese market. Did you see that news item from JR East about all those old Osaifu-Keitai models being dropped from Mobile Suica in 2020? That’s a few million upgrade opportunities right there.

How about doing a nice little marketing campaign with the Japanese carriers offering a nice trade in price for those old Osaifu-Keitai with a discount on a iPhone XR or iPhone 8? I know, I know, you only want to sell iPhone XR but until the Face ID camera has magic x-ray ability at an affordable price, all those face mask users in Japan will really appreciate a Touch ID iPhone 8 choice. Offer trade in customers free assistance moving and setting up their Mobile Suica accounts in Apple Pay Suica at local Apple Stores. I’m sure it would be a success.

And while you’re at it offer a nice little replacement campaign for those pesky iPhone X units that don’t work with Suica. There are a lot of Japanese customers who would really appreciate Apple reaching out to help and would probably upgrade with a little encouragement and a bug free iOS 12.

Oh and one last thing, offer a similar little iPhone XR/iPhone 8 upgrade campaign in Hong Kong when Apple rolls out Octopus on Apple Pay. With 33 million Octopus card users in Hong Kong I’m sure it would help iPhone sales there too. Apple has a wonderfully unique global FeliCa strategy tucked away in Apple Pay, used wisely it could be a great sales tool.

Love and kisses,

Ata Distance

Apple Pay Octopus and the iOS 12.1.3 Release Window

UPDATE: Apple Pay Octopus is coming with iOS 13

Note: For simplicity and convenience I have migrated and merged older Octopus related posts here. All new Octopus related developments will be posted separately.

JR East posted a special maintenance schedule this month for Mobile Suica on 1/15, 1/22 and 1/28. The work appears concentrated on the Suica Recharge backend which hopefully points to improved Apple Pay Suica Recharge performance.

I think it also points to something else: a iOS 12.1.3 release with Apple Pay Octopus/Hong Kong transit directions for Apple Maps service around January 29 Cupertino time, early am January 30 in Hong Kong. The timing fits with a full beta test cycle wrap up but more importantly it fits as a kickoff for the Chinese New Year vacation period, good news for an important market to Tim Cook who desperately needs some good news right now.

Go for it Tim! It will undoubtedly help Apple sell more global FeliCa iPhones because Octopus on Apple Pay is a great marketing angle for the iPhone XR/XS models with Express Card power reserve and bulletproofed FeliCa performance. I have yet to experience a single Apple Pay Suica gate error from my iPhone XS with daily use since the launch date.

UPDATE
It occurred to me after posting the above that Apple has introduced transit cards and the technology behind them with larger point releases: iOS 10.1 for Suica (FeliCa) and iOS 11.3 for Beijing and Shanghai Transit cards (Apple flavored PBOC 2.0 ED/EP). In this scenario iOS 12.2 is the logical starting point for Octopus on Apple Pay. However, Octopus is FeliCa which has been part of Apple Pay for over 2 years, Apple has ample engineering and testing experience with the technology to add Octopus with a smaller point release, or none at all which was the case with contactless student ID cards.

UPDATE 2
The original source reports pointed to an end of January rollout, now that iOS 12.1.3 is released we will see how it plays out between now and iOS 12.2. Considering the Apple Pay Suica launch meltdown on iOS 10.1 update day, Apple would be wise to launch on a quiet network day as Apple Pay Octopus day 1 user additions will far outstrip any regular credit card Apple Pay rollout, the use profile for prepaid transit cards is very different.

UPDATE 3
It looks like we’ll have to wait a while longer for Octopus on Apple Pay.

iOS 12 Suica Performance Issues Update

iOS 12/watchOS 5 Suica performance continues to be a very mixed bag for many as Apple closes in on the iOS 12.1.3 update. There are no showstoppers but glitches are constant enough that there’s even an Reddit thread on the subject, a first. Suica performance glitches fall in 4 basic patterns:

  • Suica Express Card error flicker: occasional error flicker at transit gates with iPhone 7, iPhone 8, iPhone X (Rev. B) and Apple Watch 2~4. This is a completely different issue from the iPhone X NFC hardware defect. There is no workaround and will likely be fixed in an iOS update at some point…we hope.
  • Dead Suica Notifications/No Suica Balance Update: Suica Notifications stop working and Suica Balance fails to update at transit gates, store readers and Suica recharges. This affects iPhone 7, iPhone 8, iPhone X (Rev. B) and Apple Watch 2~4 but is easy to fix by putting Suica in Service Mode for a few seconds.
  • Slow or unresponsive Suica Recharge: this is probably more of a backend system issue between Apple Pay iCloud and Mobile Suica than iOS 12 but Apple Pay Suica recharge fails half of the time on the first attempt. This affects all devices and there is no work around except to try again. The Mobile Suica maintenance this month (January 2019) might help.
Suica Recharge works…sometimes
  • Dead Suica Express Card UI on A12 Bionic devices: another case of the hardware works but the software doesn’t that only affects iPhone XS and iPhone XR. Suica works flawlessly on readers but the entire Apple Pay Suica Express Card UI dies: no notifications, no balance update, no Apple Pay sound, no feedback whatsoever. Service Mode does not revive the Suica UI but a restart fixes it. Fortunately this issue seems rare. Unfortunately I have experienced it on 2 separate iPhone XS devices.

UPDATE
Good new: all Suica issues listed above are fixed in iOS 12.3 with great performance.