2 NFC Antennas for iPhone 12

New iPhone specs are always fun to compare and analyze. On the NFC front we have a few changes in iPhone 12. NFC is now listed twice, first in the Cellular and Wireless section as “NFC with reader mode,” and again the MacSafe section as “Accessory Identification NFC.”

The keynote also shows NFC twice: once using iPhone 12 to unlock a door and again in the MagSafe section as a ‘single-turn coil NFC.’ So there we have it: the good old Apple Pay NFC antenna with embedded Secure Element for transactions where it has always been on the top of iPhone, and a new MagSafe NFC antenna for tag reading MagSafe accessories on the back that likely doesn’t need the secure element and might incorporate the NFC Forum Wireless Charging Specification. Hopefully Apple will release MagSafe developer documentation later on so we can find out. Some users wondered if the new MacSafe NFC would interfere with 3rd party card cases and using Apple Pay, but this doesn’t seem to be the case, no pun intended.

The NFC Forum Specification includes wireless charging but it’s not clear if MagSafe includes it.

What about ‘NFC with reader mode’? I suspect this is just a new name for Background NFC tag reading which was listed in previous models but not in the iPhone 12/12 Pro specs. Another welcome addition is the return of Suica (removed in the iPhone SE Apple Pay section) along with the just released Apple Pay PASMO mention in the iPhone 12 JP Apple Pay specs.

Apple Pay PASMO launch day behind the scenes

「モバイルPASMO」の実現までに13年もの歳月がかかった裏事情, CNET

The every reliable Junya Suzuki has posted exactly what I hoped he would: nitty gritty launch day event details. A quick rundown with commentary if you can’t read his original Japanese post.

Big Apple Presence
A large number of Apple Japan folks were on hand at the October 6 Apple Pay PASMO press event with media invited from America. Apple Pay VP Jennifer Bailey also checked in with a message via video link. Highly unusual given that a single person is what Apple usually fields for recent Suica announcements like the Apple Pay MIZUHO Suica. This is big in itself but it’s helpful to know some basic Transit IC card market share numbers. Suica and PASMO are #1 and #2, combined they represent 80% of all transit IC card issue. ICOCA is #3, manaca is #4.

The addition of Apple Pay PASMO is why Suzuki san now refers to Tokyo as a “キャッシュレス経済圏 “Cashless Economy Zone”. The Suica and PASMO zones blur and become one thing in a digital wallet. Mobile Suica membership passed 10 million users last month, total Suica issue (plastic and mobile) is about 85 million.

Out of the Suica issue numbers Suzuki san pulls an important growth figure: the 2020 Suica mobile to plastic ratio is 12%, at the 2016 Apple Pay Suica launch the ratio was 7%. That growth is the power of Apple Pay in action, and also Google Pay. The mobile growth curve will accelerate with the addition of Garmin Pay Suica and wena 3 Suica. That’s why Apple Pay PASMO is a big deal, not only for Tokyo, but for PASMO and Apple too. It is this shift that Suzuki san says finally drove PASMO to commit to delivering a mobile service after years of dithering.

But what about the other transit card economic zones and how will they be integrated into the mobile mix? For ICOCA the only question remaining is ‘when’ Mobile ICOCA arrives, ‘if’ is no longer an option. ICOCA is the Suica of the Kansai area, manaca is the Suica of Aichi. Osaka and Nagoya don’t want to be left behind the Tokyo cashless economy zone.

My own take outlined in Hello Apple Pay PASMO and Road to Super Suica is that PASMO is a dry run for other mobile cards. The template is ready to roll, right down to the recycled but sleeker modernized Suica App stuff in PASMO App.

The Ides of October

Yesterday, October 1, was the 15th day of the month by the lunar calendar. October is always a rush season of product announcements but the news cycle this year has been…well crazy doesn’t even begin to describe it. Part of the problem is COVID driven online announcement events. These were new and sorta cool 3 months ago but have degraded into slapdash scheduled info dumps.

It’s been especially brutal in Japan this week with the Docomo Account/Yucho Bank security crisis and NTT Docomo buyout stories soaking up all the media attention. On the ides of October we had Pixel 5, Wena 3 smartwatch, Apple Pay PASMO announcements, and the Tokyo Stock Exchange outage. Japanese IT journalists holed up at home or tiny APA HOTEL rooms are overwhelmed trying to keep up.

The Wena 3 announcement got a little lost in the shuffle but had some interesting e-payment developments: Suica, iD and QUICPay joined Rakuten Edy which has been on Wena for some time. It’s weird that Sony has taken this long to add, more or less, full FeliCa support in their home market.

Most of the online buzz was centered on Wena 3 Suica support which follows the Garmin Pay Suica launch in May. Wena 3 Suica shares the same Google Pay recharge backend that Garmin does, I suspect Wena 3 and Garmin both use Mobile FeliCa Cloud. The same Garmin restrictions also apply: no plastic card transfers, no Suica commuter passes, no auto-charge, no Green Seat upgrades.

That said I think many users will enjoy using Suica, iD and QUICPay wrapped in the strikingly designed Wena 3 lineup. My only regret is I don’t have one to tryout.

Dear Apple and JR East, we need Apple Pay Family Suica

watchOS 7 Family Setup is a bigger deal than many people might think at first glance. Apple Cash Family is just one part of the service with transfers from a parent’s iPhone to a child’s Apple Watch. It’s the most compelling Apple Cash use case I can think of, and Apple Watch for children without iPhone is appealing to parents in a way that iPhone by itself is not.

I’ve always said that if Apple Watch ever gained direct Suica loading with parental controls, Apple could make a killing selling it into the Japanese education market. watchOS 7 Family Setup is almost there for the JP market but needs one more thing: Family Suica.

Next generation ‘Super’ Suica is coming early 2021 and next generation FeliCa is shipping in November. We already have digital car keys in Wallet that can be shared and Mobile Suica will be doing a lot more on the cloud with Super Suica. Apple and JR East have all the necessary new features they need to create an insanely great Apple Pay Family Suica.

The service outline is simple and combines what car keys do in Wallet with digital key sharing and Apple Cash Family does with transfers and limits. A master Apple Pay Suica ID is setup on an iPhone and manages family member Apple Pay Suica on other devices. The master ‘organizer’ would transfer stored fare (SF) via Messages and set spending limits just like Apple Cash Family does. Simple intuitive convenience.

Apple Pay Family Suica also needs transferable commuter passes. That way a parent can set one up for a child, transfer it to Apple Watch and renew it remotely. Transferable commuter passes would also be handy in our COVID teleworking era as working parents might not need a pass every working day. A “hey honey can I borrow your pass today,” thing that plastic transit card users do all the time.

So far nobody has managed to to produce a smartwatch that matches the super convenience of Apple Watch and Apple Pay Suica. If JR East and Apple produce Family Suica, they would effectively future-proof both next generation Suica and Apple Watch in the Japan market.

Pixel 4 FeliCa outside of Japan hiding in plain sight

After posting about the global NFC possibility of Pixel 5 and Fitbit, a reader forwarded some interesting Pixel 4 FeliCa information. We all know the official story that FeliCa only works in the Japanese Pixel 4 SKUs and no other models. However, there are indications that Google installed FeliCa capable hardware in all Pixel 4 models worldwide all this time but only enables the Japanese SKUs.

The reader asked me to post some information so that we can find out the truth with help from other readers of this blog. We are looking for non-JP Pixel 4/4a SKU users who can tag read their Pixel 4/4a device with another Android device loaded with the NXP NFC TagInfo app downloaded from Google Play. The steps to do this:

  1. Install the TagInfo app, turn off NFC-A and NFC-B reads as we only want to read NFC-F tags (screenshot directly below)
  2. Tag read the Pixel 4/4a with the TagInfo installed Android device
  3. Take a screenshot of the NFC scan results #1
  4. Tag read the Pixel 4/4a a second time, take a screenshot of scan results #2

Read #1 (Before Enablement): If FeliCa is present the Primary System Code in the Detailed protocol information section should be 0xFFFF. Additionally, Mobile FeliCa 4.1 will show a pre-enablement IDm starting with 05:FE.

Read #2 (After Enablement): On a JP Pixel 4 in the screenshot below, the Common Area (0xFE00) will be present, and the Primary System Code will have changed to 0xFE00, that of the Common Area. On non-JP models enablement doesn’t happen, read #2 will match read #1.

Enablement means running the Osaifu Keitai app. Let me know by Twitter @Kanjo or email the following: (1) the Pixel 4/4a model, (2) if the read #1 result indicates FeliCa with System Code OxFFFF, (3) if the first 4 digits of the IDm begin with 05:FE in read #1. Both reads should look identical so also let me know if anything changes in read #2.

The Premise
What does it mean if all Pixel 4/4a models have FeliCa, does it change anything? It simply means that Mobile FeliCa is loaded and present in all Pixel 4/4a devices but Google only turns it on, and pays for, full activations on Japanese models. This doesn’t change anything in the short term. The real value is that it helps us understand what Google is up to and possible changes that might be coming later on with Pixel 5: i.e. global NFC just like Apple.

The Results
Readers shared results that indicate Mobile FeliCa 4.1 present in every SKU regardless of country and match the Japanese model ‘before entitlement’ state. Mobile FeliCa is ready but the entitlement step does not occur as some system parameter prevents the Osaifu Keitai app from running.

This means Pixel 4/4a all have the same NFC hardware and Mobile FeliCa software installed, but non-JP models block Mobile FeliCa apps from running. This would explain reports of Pixel 4 users rooting a USA SKU device, changing some parameters and running Osaifu Keitai.