The Apple Pay monopoly debate part 2: the gatekeeper difference

I’ve always said people should pay attention to the Japan mobile payments market because there is a lot to learn from the successes and failures of the world’s first large scale mobile payment platform. There are important lessons when it comes to the EU Apple Pay monopoly debate and the downsides of having an ‘open’ iPhone secure element and eliminating Apple’s gatekeeper role.

The Osaifu Keitai mobile payment platform that launched in 2004 has supported a lot of different hardware over the years, from Symbian OS handsets to Android smartphones. During that time it has evolved from a carrier exclusive feature with SIM locked devices to the current SIM free market model. The software has evolved too, away from devices with dedicated FeliCa chips to standard NFC chips with GlobalPlatform certified embedded secure elements that do it all, like Pixel and Chinese smartphones sold in Japan. People assume there is a special ‘FeliCa chip’ on FeliCa capable devices but this isn’t the case anymore. Taken altogether those are big messy transitions.

Nikkei recently posted a scare mongering piece, typical for them, about the looming security risk of previous user Suica cards and the like left on Osaifu Keitai devices when resold on the open market. Yes, it’s true, an Android factory reset doesn’t wipe FeliCa junk off the secure element, but it has always been like this so why the sudden handwringing?

For most people this isn’t an issue. When upgrading or repairing a device through carriers or second hand retailers, they wipe both device and secure element as standard practice. It’ a potential problem for Osaifu Keitai devices sold on the open market (Mercari, etc.) as the seller is responsible for clearing off their card junk. This should be done before selling the device of course but like all things Android, it’s a piecemeal process that requires deleting cards in each payment service app (Suica, PASMO, iD, QUICPay, etc). The secure element data can also be wiped at a carrier shop data wipe kiosk. On older pre-Mobile FeliCa 4.0 devices it can be a real chore:

I just about lost my mind when I was unable to even delete Edy on my phone as Rakuten has locked me in app for “fraud.” The whole sitch is indeed ridiculous so I was super happy to see the back of Osaifu-Keitai. Apple Pay truly doing the God’s work here.

You can’t even see if you deleted all the cards as the later FeliCa versions only show “memory in use” without telling you what’s in it. And each app has a different flow & some doesn’t even allow deletion! Complete nightmare.
(Twitter comment)

On Mobile FeliCa 4.0 and later, if virtual cards are deleted, you will see ‘unused’: in that condition, the device can be transferred to a new owner and they will have no problems with it. This is what resale stores look for. Block usage data is only shown on 3.0 and below. (Felica Dude)

The Apple Pay gatekeeper role
From a usability and privacy perspective, Apple wipes the floor with Osaifu Keitai, as you would expect from an Apple product. Apple Pay is designed from the ground up to protect users from complexity by tying everything to the user Apple ID. When the user signs out of Apple ID, Wallet app contents are moved to iCloud and the iPhone secure element data is instantly wiped clean. No messy 3rd party app accounts to deal with.

Apple can do this because they ‘own’ the custom embedded secure element on their devices. They are the gatekeeper with in-house key servers that Apple Pay servers use to load card applets into the user’s Wallet app. They maintain and update the basic protocols (EMV, Mobile FeliCa, MIFARE), etc.) and take care of Wallet card housekeeping. It’s something Google Pay can’t do in Japan because it’s only a candy wrapper over the gnarly old Osaifu Keitai stack ultimately ‘owned’ by FeliCa Networks.

Does the EU want to foist the current state of Osaifu Keitai-like complexity and potential security problems on iPhone users in the name of ‘open NFC’ with a bunch of different NFC owners pulling in different directions, apps occasionally stepping on othe app NFC toes? Because that will be the reality, though people who want to eliminate gatekeepers will surely write it all off as a ‘Japanese galapagos’ thing or a FeliCa thing because it doesn’t serve their self-interest. It would be a darn shame if iPhone are forced learn the Osaifu Keitai lesson the hard way.

Related post: The Apple Pay monopoly debate part 1: context is everything

Rakuten Mini and me

I love shaggy dog stories, let me rephrase that, I love shaggy dog contactless payment user stories. Sutapa Saito’s Rakuten Mini saga is a fun read that covers the short 2 year life of his Rakuten Mini smart device. Rakuten called it a smartphone but as Saito san points out, it’s a lousy phone. It’s a great little Osaifu Keitai device however, that’s the size of Suica card with a little more thickness.

Saito originally got the device because he wanted a cheap backup Osaifu Keitai to dump all his FeliCa ePayments card onto (Suica, nanaco, WAON, Rakuten Edy) to use during the Cashless Tax Rebate program that kicked off just before COVID hit. It was fortuitous choice and he found that he used it a lot, much more than anticipated as contactless payments really took off during the double whammy of cashless tax rebates and COVID.

Since little devices mean little shitty batteries, by December 2021 Saito’s Rakuten Mini was living from plug to plug. He wanted to buy new one but Rakuten wasn’t selling them anymore. He ended up buying 4 used ones, you can pick up a used Mini these days for about ¥5,000. That’s a disposable price point.

He uses the Mini without a case and it fits in wallet, his real wallet, without the power on and simply taps the wallet to pay. No power, no mobile connection, all his eMoney cards in one ‘express mode’ device, in wallet. Saito’s piece illustrates some unique Japanese mobile user characteristics of juggling more than one device. This is because Osaifu Keitai is the world’s oldest mobile payment platform, since 2004. Mini is his eMoney wallet, iPhone is his phone and Apple Pay credit card Wallet.

The express mode payment Mini stays in his wallet, the Face/Touch ID authorization payment iPhone is standalone. It’s the kind of thing I can’t imagine westerners doing. It also illustrates some differences between using eMoney on Osaifu Keitai vs Apple Pay. All Osaifu Keitai eMoney works in Power Reserve Express Mode, Apple Pay only does that for Suica and PASMO.

With a growing selection of cheap Osaifu Keitai devices coming from China, Rakuten would do well to offer an updated super cheap Mini that fits in a wallet. A real wallet.

Rakuten Mini fits in Saito’s wallet, now that’s what I call mobile.

iPhone Japanese marketshare update

I don’t put much faith in market data from companies selling research to sell their other ‘services’. If you ever observed how the backend research process works, you wouldn’t either. Nevertheless it’s fun to read and compare signposts along the never ending journey. MM Research Institute (MMRI) issued a PR tease for their Japanese smartphone marketshare report covering results for the first half of the Japanese 2021 fiscal year (April~September).

The Keitai Watch site paid for the full report and posted some numbers for the various MMRI breakdowns.

Marketshare ranking (all mobile phones)

  1. Apple: 41.1
  2. Sharp: 11.2
  3. Kyocera: 10.4
  4. Sony: 9.7
  5. Samsung: 9.2
  6. FCNT (Fujitsu): 6.7
  7. Other: 11.6

The category breakdowns show some interesting new developments

Marketshare ranking (smartphones only)

  1. Apple: 45.0
  2. Sony: 10.7
  3. Sharp: 10.4
  4. Samsung: 10.1
  5. OPPO: 6.2
  6. FCNT (Fujitsu): 5.9

The story here is that iPhone was selling well leading up to the iPhone 13 rollout, with the addition of Rakuten Mobile offering deeply discounted iPhone 12 and iPhone SE that could be bought with Rakuten Points certainly helping the most, once again demonstrating the power of the Rakuten Economic Zone.

Marketshare ranking (non-carrier SIM-Free only)

  1. Apple: 41.9
  2. Sharp: 18.7
  3. OPPO: 18.6
  4. XIAOMI: 7.1
  5. Samsung: 6.2

The non-carrier SIM-Free ranking interests me most. OPPO and XIAOMI released some interesting low end FeliCa Osaifu Keitai capable models recently. The surprisingly strong showing tells me that the market wants inexpensive SIM-Free Osaifu Keitai models. If there was a SIM-Free FeliCa/Osaifu Keitai ranking it would probably be Apple, OPPO and XIAOMI. OPPO wins because they deliver 5G and FeliCa for a very low price.

The Weekly #3

August 3, 2021

Busy week for Apple Pay and Mobile FeliCa

Since last week’s Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services hearings regarding the so called Apple Pay monopoly and the pointless debate of Android only Host Card Emulation (HCE) ‘virtual secure element’ vs. a hardware embedded secure element (eSE), Apple has been busy rolling out new Apple Pay Wallet services: Australian health insurance Wallet card support and digital vaccination certificates, ING Belgium and FNB South Africa additions, and today’s Student ID expansion to more universities in America including the first international addition in Canada. The last item was particularly interesting as Apple issued a press release that included new partners beyond Blackboard: Transact, CBORD, TouchNet, Atrium, HID Global, and Allegion. MIFARE and FeliCa are the 2 big protocols used for ID cards, both fully supported in iPhone and Apple Watch. Hopefully we’ll see more international Student ID card support going forward.

Japanese IT reporters have been writing about the recent addition of Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 JE (Japan Edition) to the KDDI au lineup. All the Chinese manufacturers have been bringing new models with Mobile FeliCa Osaifu Keitai support as more or less standard, but like most Android smartphones including Google Pixel, even though the hardware is the same everywhere, Mobile FeliCa is only activated for Japanese models.

The Xiaomi product manager interview casually mentions that only 20% or so of Android Osaifu Keitai device holders actually use the feature. Why bother adding it then? I suspect Osaifu Keitai usage rates vary widely depending on the region, much higher for Tokyo and other metro areas, less in rural areas. It would be really interesting to compare Osaifu Keitai usage rates with Apple Pay as I also suspect Apple Pay Japan usage rates likely leave Osaifu Keitai in the dust. As for the real reason why Chinese smartphones manufacturers are adding Mobile FeliCa support: the digital My Number ID card launching in 2022 requires it. One out of ten people living in Tokyo and other metropolitan areas is a Chinese national…do the math.

Digital My Number: First Summary Toward the Realization of Electronic Certificates for Smartphones

Delete me

The American bred internet cancel culture that started during the Obama years and went ballistic during the Trump years shows no signs of abating as battle lines are constantly redrawn to silence a somebody that somebody else wants silenced. And it has become an entrenched issue thanks to AI driven SNS content. As Tim Pool adroitly points out, and long term surveys confirm, the current American racial crisis didn’t happen until the Reddit and YouTube generation raised on endlessly looping AI driven police brutality video content came of age perceiving their virtual world as the real one. That’s the unfolding tragedy as perceptions based on virtual life replace real ones.

As bad as this is, evil players and big tech use virtual life to intimidate, blackmail and destroy real ones. That’s exactly what happened evidently when eBay’s supervisor of security operations decided to cancel the EcommerceBytes blog and carried out a cyberstalking campaign (including surveillance), against the husband and wife blogging team. Their astonishing story was published by the Boston Globe. It’s reads like the script of Michael Clayton (I prefer the Japanese title: The Fixer). eBay conducted an investigation, pushed out the CEO with a golden parachute and issued a statement that, of course, acknowledged the wrong but said ‘it’s okay now because the baddies are gone.’ Until next time, that is. eBay, of course, didn’t offer any compensation.

The Buddha’s face isn’t seen a fourth time

When the 3rd Tokyo State of Emergency (SOE) was announced, I predicted it would’t go well. Sure enough, infections started to rise before the end of SOE 3. Now we are in SOE 4 and infection rates are skyrocketing, well, skyrocketing compared to rates that were low to begin with. So life goes on as usual, the commuter time trains are crowded as usual, people go shopping as usual, there is nothing remotely panic-like despite media hysteria narratives of a ‘medical system breakdown.’

As always, it’s complicated. Few people are actually dying from COVID (and don’t forget that hospitals get a Japanese government subsidy when they report a COVID death, other deaths don’t pay). Influenza and pneumonia are much more real long term threats. Lockdowns and vaccination mandates will be impossible to implement as all the government tools to do so were locked away by the GHQ occupation and restructuring of Japan. Any attempt to invoke those kinds of centralized powers requires changing the American created Japanese constitution and nobody wants to do that (fun fact: the English language constitution of Japan is the official one, the Japanese language one a fake). Not that the situation is dire, a little context helps. And don’t forget the overall Japanese death rate dropped in 2020 YOY thanks to all that mask wearing and hand sanitizing.

Given the utter lack of useful long term planning demonstrated by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, the most likely course of action will be: attempting real fines for restaurants, bars, etc. that don’t follow SOE requests. Good luck with that.

Japan mobile payment survey results

I gave the Twitter survey function a workout and asked 2 questions:

  • Which Japanese mobile payment do you use most?
  • Which Japanese reward points do you use most?

The results are not surprising but come with many caveats: the survey sampling was puny, in English and pretty much limited to a small group of Twitter followers, which means they are pretty much already invested in Mobile Suica. Also it is important to remember that mobile payment use profiles in Japan are highly regional, what’s convenient in Tokyo isn’t necessarily convenient in other areas. That said, there are some interesting and fun takeaways.

Japanese mobile payment takeaways and feedback

  • The 55% Suica/PASMO figure expresses the power of Apple Pay Express Transit (and similar for Osaifu Keitai) for store purchases in the COVID induced face mask era without the hassle of Face ID. It’s important to remember that the ballyhooed Unlock with Apple Watch Face ID feature introduced with iOS 14.5 is useless for Apple Pay authorization. Remember too that Mobile Suica has good support on wearables: Apple Watch, Garmin, fitbit, etc., the widest mobile payment platform in Japan.
  • Despite the heavy marketing VISA Touch from VISA Japan, the majority of users have been using Apple Pay and Osaifu Keitai for iD and QUICPay, etc. I suspect EMV ‘Touch’ (Visa, MC, AMEX, JCB) probably appeals more to plastic card users as VISA is pushing EMV only plastic cards vs. digital wallet dual mode Apple Pay.
  • QR Code payment apps (PayPay, dBarai, LinePay, etc.) are not as popular as you might think and are probably feeling the pain of recent bank account linking security problems, and the recent revelations of user transaction records being stored outside of Japan.

Changes quite a lot. Recently using EMV touch a lot because of SMCC 15% back campaign and Amex 20% at FamilyMart. Otherwise probably a little bit of everything just to get maximum reward. (Tokyo)

I don’t ride trains so I have no real use for Suica. Using it to pay in shops is too much of a PITA since you have to constantly recharge it. (Kagoshima, note that Suica Auto-charge only works in JR East transit region)

I do iD for the point rewards (none in JP CC recharge of Suica) otherwise Express Transit is perfect. (Tokyo)

Mostly Suica (via Garmin Pay), but I’ve been using au Pay (QR or barcode) a lot more recently. (Hiroshima)

Japanese reward point takeaway
Results are complicated. Twitter surveys are limited to 4 choices, I lumped the Japanese carrier reward point systems for docomo, au and SoftBank (dPoint, au•PONTA, T-POINT) into one category, the top choice at 43%. However if we break down the carrier number by carrier marketshare ratio we get the following:

  1. 21% JRE POINT
  2. 28% Rakuten POINT
  3. 19% dPOINT
  4. 14% au•PONTA POINT
  5. 10% T-POINT
  6. 8% V POINT

The key takeaway for reward points is the power of the Rakuten ‘Economic Zone’, i.e. where all the Rakuten pieces including shopping, banking/credit card/payments, transit (Rakuten Suica), mobile, stock trading, travel, etc., are glued together by Rakuten POINT and feed off each other. The Rakuten Economic Zone is the model that others will have to successfully emulate if they are going to be serious long term competitors. NTT docomo announced a tie-up with MUFG this month, the digital banking wars are just getting started.