The Global NFC + Background Tag Reading iPhone SE2

The on again, off again iPhone SE2 is on again now that Delphic oracle analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has checked in. As I wrote before, the iPhone/Apple Watch 2019 lineup is now entirely global NFC. The price cuts are great but there needs to be a lower priced entry model below the iPhone XR with:

  • NFC background tag reading in place for new Apple Pay features going forward.
  • Touch ID that removes the Face ID face mask problem in markets like China and Japan. This issue is a constant blind spot in the western tech press ‘In-screen Touch ID vs Face ID’ debate.
  • A13 Bionic for superior battery performance and Express Card with power reserve
  • Cheaper battery friendly Haptic Touch instead of the more expensive battery hungry iPhone 8 3D Touch.

There kind of device is perfect for the Japan and Hong Kong markets:

The rumored A12 chip iPhone SE2 may well be pie in the sky, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t market appeal for an inexpensive global NFC iPhone for places like Japan and Hong Kong. Those markets have highly integrated transit networks coupled with highly evolved transit card systems like Suica and Octopus. With both of these on Apple Pay there’s a good opening for a small SE size inexpensive global NFC iPhone, it would do very well.

I imagine the iPhone SE2 could do well in a lot of markets.

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Apple Global NFC Lineup 2019

With the removal of iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2, the new 2019 iPhone and Apple Watch lineup on the Apple Store is finally global NFC across the board. The Apple Watch Series 5 S5 chip did not gain ‘Express Card with power reserve’ or NFC background tag reading this time. The former would be a very welcome addition for the eternally battery challenged Apple Watch, while the later is necessary at some point if Apple wants to use the ‘yet to be formally unveiled’ NFC Tag Apple Pay to kick QR Code payment systems to the curb.

There is something missing in the lineup however: a low cost entry level global NFC iPhone that’s even lower than the price cuts Apple implemented with the 2019 lineup. As Ben Thompson of Stratechery explains in a great post:

That means that this year actually saw three price cuts:
•First, the iPhone 11 — this year’s mid-tier model — costs $50 less than the iPhone XR it is replacing.
•Second, the iPhone XR’s price is being cut by $150 a year after launch, not $100 as Apple has previously done.
•Third, the iPhone 8’s price is also being cut by $150 two years after launch, not $100 as Apple has previously done.

The rumored A12 chip iPhone SE2 may well be pie in the sky, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t market appeal for an inexpensive global NFC iPhone for places like Japan and Hong Kong. Those markets have highly integrated transit networks coupled with highly evolved transit card systems like Suica and Octopus. With both of these on Apple Pay there’s a good opening for a small SE size inexpensive global NFC iPhone, it would do very well.

UPDATE: What’s the best iPhone for Suica?
A reader asked for my recommendation of a good Suica use iPhone in the 2019 lineup. I do not recommend iPhone 8. The superior NFC and Suica performance, plus the Express Card with power reserve and background tag reading features of A12 Bionic and later is a huge leap over previous models. These enhanced NFC functions are important for new Apple Pay features yet to come. I think it comes down to a choice between iPhone XR and iPhone 11, and how long you plan to use it in Japan.

It’s also helpful to remember that 2019 is the last lineup of 4G/LTE only iPhone. I think iPhone 11 is better optimized for 4G in the long run as Japanese carriers start to switch over bands to 5G. There is also the much better camera to consider. Last but not least is battery. The power optimization of A13 Bionic is going to deliver much better battery performance over a longer period of time.

It boils down to this: if you plan to use the iPhone for 2 years iPhone XR is a good choice, if you plan to use iPhone for 3~4 years iPhone 11 is the better choice.

SmartPlate CEO Takes the Softcream Cashless Index Challenge

AquaBit Spirals CEO Tomohiro Hagiwara responded to my post and took up the Softcream Cashless Index (SCI) challenge, promising to deliver a SCI score of “over 5” with his SmartPlate NFC tag payment service that works with Apple Pay and Google Pay:

The Apple Pay side of SmartPlate depends on the background NFC tag reading capability of iPhone XS and iPhone XR models, and the enhanced Core NFC functionality in iOS 13. The new iPhone models this year with A13 Bionic will undoubtedly build on the A12 Bionic NFC functions introduced in 2018. The big questions are: will Apple Watch Series 5 have NFC background tag reading as part of the Apple Pay experience on a wearable, and what about NFC Tag Apple Pay on non-Bionic chip devices?

watchOS 6 does not support Core NFC, but developers with a PassKit NFC Certificate from Apple can do lots of interesting things with Apple Pay NFC functions. Not that I’m asking Hagiwara san to divulge anything because PassKit NFC Certificates come with all kinds of non-disclosure conditions. But I do look forward to all the Apple Pay goodies coming with iOS 13. So far we have Apple Pay Octopus, Apple Pay Ventra, and Apple Pay myki on the transit side, there will be lots of new stuff on the NFC tag side. It would be great if SmartPlate can join the iOS 13 Apple Pay service rollout with backup from Apple Pay lead Jennifer Bailey at the Apple Event.

I look forward to reporting about the NFC Tag Apple Pay experience, and tasting great softcream along the way.

Apple Pay Suica Needs a Inbound PR Campaign, in English

Apple Pay Suica Inbound first time user experiences are endlessly fascinating and educational. What’s obvious and works for people who live in Tokyo, isn’t the case for visitors. The Cup of Tech podcast from July 16 highlights the frustration of not being able to pay for everything with credit/debit cards, and a positive first time Apple Pay Suica use experience.

The 5 minute mark is the tech low point: the state of cashless payments in Japan, but there is no color on what kinds of stores or businesses did not accept credit cards, and the comment about using PASMO and Suica for payment is weird: “It’s usually one or the other, it’s not both…. so I guess you have to have both.” I guess Zach never figured out that Japanese transit cards are compatible with each other.

The 6 minute mark is the tech highpoint: using Apple Pay Suica which Zach assumed he could not use because he read somewhere that, ‘you could only do this on phones sold in Japan.’ Fortunately he found out that his Apple Watch works with Apple Pay Suica and discovered the joys of using Suica Express Transit and recharging with Apple Pay on the go.

Both experiences make it clear that most people visiting Japan with global NFC iPhones are completely unaware of Apple Pay Suica and the ease of adding it to Wallet with the super simple SuicaEng app (which Zach highlights in a later podcast). I know because in 2 years of hosting a Apple Pay Suica guide, the page view analytics show that not many people are actively searching for Apple Pay Suica information in English.

JR East has done many Apple Pay Suica campaigns aimed at Japanese commuters, it is time that JR East and Apple create an English language Apple Pay Suica campaign for tourists that covers the ease of adding it and using it. Plaster the stations, wrap the trains. Waiting to do everything in 2020 for the Tokyo Olympics is waiting too long.

Update: I forgot to mention that a campaign from JR East and Apple can also help counter the 7pay QR Code security meltdown scandal that has poisoned contactless payments for everybody, even for FeliCa NFC, which has a long successful security track record and absolutely nothing to do with QR.

Japanese eSIM for iPhone XS/XR from IIJmio

Japanese carrier eSIM support for iPhone XS/XR has been completely absent compared to other country carriers. This is about to change finally, on July 18 IIJmio released their beta eSIM product announced earlier this month that offers 6GB of Docomo LTE/3G network data starting at ¥1,520 a month. Voice calls and SMS are not supported, only SIM free or SIM unlocked carrier devices can use the service.

The service is aimed at customers who want to use Docomo, KDDI, SoftBank carrier plans for voice and SNS, and use the IIJ eSIM for cheaper monthly data. The produce is listed as ‘beta’ but IIJ is offering kickoff campaign incentives for signing up through August 28. Hopefully this is the start of more domestic eSIM offerings from Japanese MVNO operators and carriers.

In separate but related news, KDDI announced more overseas roaming coverage for their GigSky eSIM offering.