No sooner than Apple announced iOS 13 with enhanced Core NFC read/write support than developers are quickly preparing to use it. Engadget Japan and Nikkei both report that the Japanese government will add support for iPhone NFC tag reading Individual Number Cards this fall. Individual Number Cards are a fairly recent development for the Japanese national and local governments to gradually tie various social services and income tax filing to a single personal ID number for better management and control. It’s evolving into a general purpose national ID card.
Individual Number Cards are supported by card readers that require a personal computer and additional software. FeliCa NFC tag reading with a smartphone is much easier because it can work out of the box and an app. Android Phones are supported but limited to select AQUOS, Galaxy and Xperia smartphone models. iPhone NFC tag support in iOS 13 will considerably widen the user footprint.
The writing has been on the wall for over a year now, and sluggish iPhone XR sales only confirmed the fact, that iPhone carrier subsidies in Japan which have defined the industry since 2008, were dying. Today’s Docomo announcement unveiled new plans that discard all the complexity of previous plans like ‘FOMA’, ‘Xi’ and ‘docomo with’ all of which disappear on May 31, with 2 simple choices:
Giga-Ho: ¥4,980 a month for 30GB
Giga-Lite: ¥1,980 a month for 1GB with other date tiers available, 3GB@3,980, 5GB@4,980, 7GB@5,980
Docomo customers can apply for the plans from the Docomo web site or a Docomo shop starting May 22, service starts June 1. There are many configurations and new options available, from home internet bundle discounts to new family data sharing. And it looks like tethering fees are gone. Depending on the configuration savings can be as large as 40% compared to previous plans.
At first glance customers will still need to do some homework via the online cost simulator (something that Japanese love to do), or visit the nearest Docomo shop to find the configuration that fits your needs while giving the best discount. This is just part 1 of the continuing saga of data plans without subsidies. At the end of the announcement Docomo said stay tuned for more. KDDI au and SoftBank should be announcing new plans soon, and we’ll get Docomo part 2 when the new iPhones come out this fall.
An ominous sign? All NewsNippon (ANN) reports that just 4 days before the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou “a large Chinese technology company” issued a company policy stating any employee caught using an iPhone would be fined the entire purchase price and that any employee using a Chinese smartphone would be reimbursed for 15% of the purchase price. The video reports some evidence out of Hong Kong and various Chinese SNS sites that users are supporting Huawei in the ‘trade war’ and dumping iPhone.
Like all news out of China it’s impossible to know how much of it is real as other news sources report that the Huawei arrest isn’t being reported in official Chinese news channels. Take it with a grain of salt but either way it’s not a good development.
The most interesting detail is the device eligibility: iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus and later, Apple Watch Series 1 and later and Express Mode isn’t available on iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus. NFC-A/B, definitely not FeliCa powered as some sources were saying and could be MIFARE. It looks like Blackboard has something else up their sleeve for middleware but I’m willing to bet you that Student ID Express card performance is slower than Apple Pay Suica Express Card with power reserve even on the same iPhone XS/XR device. The Blackboard IC card format is both FeliCa and MIFARE but the eligible device list suggests student ID cards are PassKit NFC Certificate powered MIFARE Host Card Emulation (HCE).
A stored value card that opens door locks
A stored value card that opens door locks
The rest of the support doc details confirm the cards are stored value (SV) with Express Mode and students can recharge them with Apple Pay, a credit/debit card in the eAccounts app or cash at the “school’s self-service machines”. In other words it’s just like Suica App and Apple Pay Suica for door locks instead of transit.
Update There is conflicting information about the Blackboard technology used for Apple contactless student ID cards. The Express Card function is exactly what FeliCa offers and Blackboard supports. On the hardware side iPhone 6/6 Plus and later all have NFC A-B-F chips as do Blackboard NFC readers.
Hen na SIM appears to be a global SIM sticker package for overseas use that is bundled and sold by H.I.S. Mobile along with an iOS “app” that customers download not from the Apple App Store but from the H.I.S. site. H.I.S. sidesteps Japanese regulations with the Overseas use only label and seems to be sidestepping Apple rules as well by misusing enterprise iOS app distribution.
H.I.S. is a Japanese discount travel company with a less than stellar reputation. I used them 10 years ago and knew some people who worked there. The water cooler stories were vicious “black company” yakuza stuff. A normal person didn’t last long in such a deranged corporate culture. I would never consider giving them my business again, or my iPhone.
It will be interesting to see if Apple pulls the H.I.S. developer enterprise account for rule violations.