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Apple Pay WAON and nanaco launch October 21 JST with iOS 15.1

Notice: this page will be updated on launch day

First announced as ‘coming later this year’ in August, Apple Pay WAON and Apple Pay nanaco will launch October 21 JST which gives us a October 19-20 iOS 15.1 release date and confirms that Apple Pay launch preparations were responsible for the October 5 FeliCa centric Apple Pay outage.

The popular prepaid cards, Express Mode payment cards, are two of the last big three eMoney card holdouts that have been on Osaifu Keitai mobile phones for some time, 2007 for WAON, 2011 for nanaco. Google Pay support was added in 2018. The launch PR announcements were extremely sparse and felt rushed so we’ll get the gory details on launch day. Earlier this year I predicted these cards would be added with apps, not directly in Wallet. To that end AEON released a new iAEON app in late August with very suggestive screenshots of future versions for adding Mobile WAON. Expect a Mobile nanaco app to launch on iOS shortly as well.

One of the reasons it has taken so long for WAON and nanaco to join Apple Pay despite the ability to do so since the introduction of FeliCa capable iPhone 7 in 2016, is the account creation process for mobile. Unlike their anonymous plastic siblings that anybody can buy at convenience stores, mobile WAON and mobile nanaco are all about creating accounts, not selling cards, which is why plastic card to mobile device transfers are not supported on Android. The cumbersome registration process for adding these cards in Google Pay Wallet is something that Apple wants nothing to with. Hence the app method, that way users can vent frustrations at AEON and Seven & i Holdings instead of Apple support.

However, if Apple did somehow convince AEON and Seven & i Holdings to ditch the mobile account requirement and support plastic card transfers for direct Wallet adding, like Suica and PASMO, it would be a very big deal and Apple Pay exclusive. I’m not holding my breath but on the other hand why do Apple Pay WAON and nanaco need the Apple Event and iOS 15.1? That plus Apple Pay FeliCa outage does give me pause. It would be a nice surprise.

And there is timing. Why now? Is it the allure of iOS 15? Nope. The Japanese mobile payments market has been on a migratory path since the release of Apple Pay in 2016 which pulled all the various FeliCa payment threads into one slick and convenient service. This development, plus the VISA JP/SMBC feud with NTT Docomo, created an opening for code payment platforms wannabes with every tom, dick, yoko and harry creating their own ‘〇〇 Pay’ service and app.

Seven & i Holdings crashed and burned with their 7Pay disaster, meanwhile AEON launched AEON Pay cod payments on August 31 with the iAEON app. This is almost certainly going to be the app used to create a Mobile WAON card for Apple Pay Wallet, as it does on Android, and basically follows the Toyota Wallet model: a virtual financial service account with multiple payment options: bank cards, NFC, code payment, reward points and so on that lock users to their economic zone of choice.

In the smartphone payments era the old reliable plastic eMoney cards are being repositioned as sleek modern digital tools in swiss army payment apps. To make this strategy work, the cards need to be on Apple Pay. As always it will be interesting to see how the situation evolves. One thing for sure, it’s only a question of time before the last holdout Rakuten Edy comes to Apple Pay…’if’ is no longer an option.