Sony, JR East, DNP, Aquabit Spirals team up for NFC tag payments

The JR East, Sony, DNP, AquaBit Spirals tie-up for NFC Tag payments

AquaBit Spirals CEO Tomo Hagiwara took up my challenge earlier this year to raise the Japanese Softcream Cashless Index (SCI) to ‘over 5’ in time for the Tokyo Olympics. I figure if mundane softcream stalls are cashless, Japan is truly cashless. Today his company is teaming up with industry heavyweights JR East, Sony and DNP to deliver on that promise and bring inexpensive MaaS (Mobility as a Service) NFC tag payments (via AquaBits SmartPlate) to the masses, and the masses of merchants who don’t want to shell out for NFC reader checkout hardware. It’s the first real NFC challenge to inexpensive, infrastructure light QR Code payment schemes that leverage the established base of mobile networks and smartphones. Small businesses only need to sign up for an online payment service and put a NFC tag sticker on the checkout counter.

Since all NFC flavors (NFC A-B-F) are required for smartphone NFC certification, Read/Write FeliCa tags work on any smartphone with NFC-F even if FeliCa transactions keys for card emulation (Suica, iD, QUICPay, etc.) are not installed. Translation: inbound Android devices can use NFC tag FeliCa payments even if they can’t use Suica.

The one remaining question on the Apple side of the equation is what NFC tag integration Apple Pay has in store. Jennifer Bailey announced NFC tag Apple Pay testing back in May without a delivery date, and no details since. Ideally an NFC tag integrated Apple Pay would use Sign in with Apple to streamline or eliminate 3rd party payments service account signup within an app, and without an app via background NFC tag reading. The more ‘it just works’ integration, the better. Nobody wants to signup for a PayPay-like service on the spot just to buy hotdogs and beer at a stadium game, or softcream.

Update: JR East issued an English language press release

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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.

Apple Pay on Event Day

Apple Pay is sure to have a segment during the September 10 Apple Event. Here is my roundup of what to expect based on previous coverage.

Apple Card
Apple Card did not get its own press event rollout in August, this will be the closest thing. We will certainly get a feature review and some launch statistics. Long shot call: if lucky we may also get mention of a few more Wallet card feature goodies with the iOS 13 golden master.

Apple Pay for NFC Tags
This was previewed by Jennifer Bailey at her Transact keynote just before WWDC19. There has been no coverage since. NFC Tag Apple Pay works hand in glove with the Background NFC tag reading feature on iPhone XR/XS and later, and the Sign in with Apple feature of iOS 13. The Apple Pay segment makes the most sense for Apple to mention any other products or services that use the enhanced NFC Tag functionality of iOS 13.

The level of global NFC functionality integration across iPhone and Apple Watch is unique. There is nothing on the Android side that matches the seamless combination of Apple Pay Suica + iPhone + Apple Watch, a hardware combination also coming to Hong Kong transit with iOS 13 Apple Pay Octopus. An Apple Watch Series 5 that delivers background NFC tag reading ability integrated with Apple Pay along with Express Transit power reserve would be a very unique feature set indeed.

Apple Pay Transit
Apple Pay Octopus for Hong Kong is on tap for iOS 13, already announced by Octopus Cards Limited. We should get service start updates and details for Octopus, Apple Pay Ventra, EMV Express Transit for TfL. Mentions of Apple Pay myki, EMV Express Transit for LA TAP and more are possible but iffy.

May the NFC be with you.


Bonus iOS 13 Update
Apple’s Where you can ride transit with Apple Pay lists 2 kinds of Apple Pay Transit. Here is a brief explanation of what they mean.

iOS 13 Apple Pay Transit, entries such as Melbourne and Los Angeles will arrive later in the iOS 13 life cycle
  • Where you can use Apple Pay for transit with Express Transit Mode
    ‘A List’ transit that supports both native transit cards (faster than EMV except for China) and EMV style bank cards (slower) for Express Transit.
  • Where you can use Apple Pay for transit without Express Transit mode
    ‘B List’ EMV style bank card transit that requires Face ID, Touch ID or passcode at the transit gate. One benefit of this mode over regular plastic bank cards is that all Apple Pay loaded cards (China again is the one exception, UnionPay all the way) are certified by Apple for the listed transit agencies. This means Apple Pay cards will always work, while plastic versions of the same card sometimes do not.

Dear Apple: We need a Global NFC iPad

Now that iOS 13 is almost here, it’s time to sit down and think about the enhanced Core NFC Read/Write functionality and what it means for iOS/iPadOS. Core NFC “requires a device that supports Near Field Communication.” Theoretically this means iPhone and Apple Watch, but the reality is that only iPhone iOS supports Core NFC, NFC Tag Read/Write and new services like NFC Tag Apple Pay that use Background NFC Tag reading.

Until now nobody has discussed the need for a NFC capable iPad. Without the enhanced Core NFC functions of iOS 13 which limited NFC to Apple Pay Wallet card, there wasn’t a reason. After all who would want to use iPad for Apple Pay Suica transit in Tokyo, you’d look as silly as watermelon man (watermelon in JP = suika…get it?).

But iOS 13 Core NFC changes all this: sure you still don’t want to use an NFC iPad at the checkout line, but businesses would love an NFC iPad loaded with all kinds of enhanced Core NFC apps to do all kind of work as all-in-one mobile POS systems, factory inventory NFC tag read/write systems, and much more. Imagine how an NFC iPad bundled with Recuit’s AirPAY would appeal to Tokyo area businesses as they gear up for the 2020 Olympics. The possibilities are interesting and not insignificant.

What is the optimum global NFC iPad hardware configuration? Background NFC tag reading ability is an absolute must which means A12 Bionic is the minimum support configuration. Outside of that I would say: iPad Air and iPad mini, not iPad Pro, a NFC + cellular model, and a WiFi only model. The NFC iPad needs to be as inexpensive as possible with A12 Bionic and Touch ID. I think it could do well.

New Functions for iOS 13 Apple Pay Suica

For some time now I have been scratching my head over the dynamic card feature of Apple Card. I thought that Apple might announce new Apple Pay Wallet features for developers at WWDC19. They did not. Apple Card has been released but there are no details about the special Wallet UI features, or if they are available to other Apple Pay Wallet card developers. NFC card emulation in Apple Pay Wallet requires PassKIT NFC Certificates and an NDA. The only answer we’ll get is when new card designs arrive in Wallet like the refreshed Apple Pay Suica transit card in iOS 12.2.

A reader sent me a link with an updated Apple Pay server JSON file entry for Suica that indicates iOS 13 as the minimum version for installing the card. This is unusual: Apple Pay Suica has been around since iOS 10, other transit card minimum versions listed in the JSON file are iOS 12.x. We already know that direct Suica card creation in Wallet is a new Suica feature for iOS 13. This JSON file entry could be that, but I don’t think so. iOS 12 already supports direct transit card creation for Shanghai and Beijing transit cards, we don’t need iOS 13 for that.

The JSON file entry for Suica indicates a new Suica feature that requires iOS 13. What could it be? I’ve been scratching my head over the low resolution Suica ‘in transit’ notification card art over the course of iOS 13 beta releases. It’s still unfinished and very late for dovetailing that kind of detail.

Could it be a placeholder for something else? I’m going out on a limb here, but I think we will get some form of dynamic Wallet card functionality for Suica and other cards. It’s a long shot, but Apple has held back iOS features from beta releases occasionally to announce them in connection with new products for the Apple Event golden master.

We will undoubtedly have an Apple Pay update segment in the September 10 Apple Event. There is Apple Card of course, but there is also NFC Tag Apple Pay that Jennifer Bailey previewed back in May. It will fit nicely with the new iPhones, possibly even Apple Watch Series 5 if NFC background tag reading makes the cut.

There are also a number of Apple Pay Transit items on tap for iOS 13: Apple Pay Octopus, Apple Pay Ventra, EMV Express Transit for TfL, and (maybe) EMV Express Transit for LA TAP. Of all of these I hope Tim Cook or Jennifer Bailey goes out of the way to reach out to Hong Kong, even just a little. In these troubled times, the people of Hong Kong desperately need kind words of support. At the very least we will finally get an official Apple Pay Octopus launch window.

Update: iOS 13 developer beta 8 also has the same low resolution Suica ‘in transit’ notification card image of previous beta releases. Taken together with the JSON Apple Pay Suica iOS 13 minimum version reference, more than ever I feel the two are connected. I definitely smell a post Apple Event golden master feature.

iOS 13 beta 8 Suica In Transit notification