After iOS 13.2 hit the final beta I migrated my Suica from iPhone to Apple Watch to give watchOS 6 Apple Pay Suica a proper shake down. Even after only a few days I can already say that Apple Pay Suica performance on watchOS 6 is far better than any version of watchOS 5. Not only does it feel more responsive, Suica Express Transit seems more sensitive further away from the gate reader hit area, crazy as that sounds.
Going back to Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch also brings back a great feature I missed on iPhone: hands free Suica. Incredible as it sounds, Apple Watch is still the only wearable device for Suica, the only choice for hands free Suica. Once you get used to hands free Suica Express Transit with Suica Auto Recharge, it spoils you for any other kind of cashless payment. Hands free shopping and transit is a breeze that makes everything else feel like a huge step backwards.
Apple should be marketing the hell out of it in Japan but don’t. What a waste of a huge and exclusive marketing opportunity. When Apple Pay Octopus finally, finally, finally launches, I expect Hong Kong Apple Watch users will really appreciate hands free Octopus.
Deposits Mobile Suica does not have deposits. Plastic Suica cards have a ¥500 deposit but is automatically returned to the stored value (SV) balance when transferred to Apple Pay or Google Pay. Octopus has a HK$50 deposit on both plastic and mobile versions. An interesting difference is that the Octopus deposit will be used temporarily if the SV balance is insufficient to pay transit fare at the exit gate.
Stored Value Balance Limits Suica has a SV balance limit of ¥20,000. Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) just raised the Octopus SV balance limit for cards issued after October 1, 2019 from HK$1,000 to HK$3,000. In JPY this is roughly double the current Suica limit, about ¥40,000 which puts it inline with other Japanese e-money card balance limits like WAON. Suica balance limits will likely be doubled when the next generation ‘Super Suica’ card architecture arrives in April 2021.
Number of Cards Smart Octopus is limited to a single card per Samsung Pay user account. Mobile Suica/Apple Pay Suica can have the multiple Suica cards up to the device Wallet limit.
Recharge Fees One of the many innovations that Apple Pay Suica brought was elimination of the annual Mobile Suica ¥1,050 ‘membership fee’, Google Pay got the same deal and Mobile Suica membership fees are disappearing altogether next year. Mobile Suica does not charge any upfront fee for recharges, but Smart Octopus does: 2.5% a pop for the luxury of recharging in Samsung Pay with Visa and Mastercard card brands although Union Pay cards are apparently free.
The differences in this last section are interesting. JR East charges nothing for recharging Mobile Suica, while OCL does for Smart Octopus. Mobile Suica has been around far longer and JR East has many more online services, such as EkiNet, to offset cloud expenses. Smart Octopus only started in December 2017 and the footprint of Samsung Pay devices compared with everything else is probably small and doesn’t drive enough transaction volume to offset Smart Octopus cloud startup costs. Apple Pay will growth the transaction size of Smart Octopus considerably, hopefully enough for OCL to reduce or eliminate the Add Value Service Fee at some point.
I look forward to digging through service details when Octopus finally launches on Apple Pay.
After Apple and OCL set things in motion in December 2018 with tests for a tentative Chinese New Year launch but then put things on hold, Hong Kong iPhone users are finally getting their wish: Octopus on Apple Pay will launch in Hong Kong with iOS 13. The iOS 13 beta contains specific Apple Pay Octopus references along with Apple Pay server side references (link now closed) which indicate that OCL is field testing with the latest beta:
Suica Similarities Octopus is based on the same FeliCa technology used for Suica and both cards are very similar. Octopus is used extensively for fast transit and contactless payments of all kinds. According to Wikipedia there are over 33 million Octopus cards in circulation as of 2018 used by 99 per cent of Hong Kong residents. The addition of the Octopus transit payment platform to Apple Pay will drive its adoption in Hong Kong far more than regular credit/debit cards can ever accomplish, as it has in Japan with Apple Pay Suica.
The digital Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay is very similar to Apple Pay Suica, with fast Express Transit-like use and performance, but the setup is a little more user friendly for inbound visitors: a new virtual Octopus card can be created directly in Wallet without using a separate app like SuicaEng or HOP App. You can transfer a plastic Octopus card, but just like Suica and HOP, the plastic card cannot be used after transfer, and the same virtual card can only be used on a single device at a time. The Apple Pay Octopus experience will be the same and Express Transit a given.
Apple Maps Transit Integration Earlier Apple Pay Octopus reports mentioned Hong Kong Apple Maps Transit launching at the same time. Sources confirmed that Apple Maps Hong Kong transit directions were ready to roll a long time ago but have been held back for a simultaneous release with Apple Pay Octopus. It makes sense for Apple to offer both services as an integrated whole as they did for the Apple Pay Suica launch. If the Japan launch is anything to go by, confirmation won’t come until very late in the beta test cycle, if at all, Transit will simply appear.
Global NFC iPhone and Apple Watch The Apple Pay Octopus device profile will be the same as Suica: iPhone 7/7 Plus purchased in Japan (models A1779/A1785), iPhone 8/8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS/XS Plus, iPhone XR set up with Face ID or Touch ID, and Apple Watch Series 3 and later. There is a chance that iOS 13 will retroactively enable FeliCa for all iPhone 7 models to support the Apple Pay Octopus launch.
iPhone 11 Pro/11/XR/XS have the A12/A13 Bionic exclusive Express Transit with power reserve feature that gives users an additional 5 hours of Express Transit use when iPhone in low battery power reserve mode. A12/A13 Bionic powered FeliCa performance is also much improved over previous iPhone models because the Bionic Secure Enclave directly handles transactions and bypasses the iOS. My experience with Apple Pay Suica performance on iPhone 11 Pro has been as fast and reliable as plastic Suica with none of the iOS issues of previous iPhone models, performance on iOS 12.3 was stellar and remains stellar on iOS 13. Apple Pay Octopus performance on iPhone 11 Pro/11/XR/XS will have the same advantages.
Hong Kong iPhone X users need to be aware of the iPhone X NFC hardware problem found on early production devices that causes endless issues with Apple Pay Express Transit. Apple has quietly provided replacement Revision B iPhone X devices for users who experience Express Transit gate errors in Japan and China. Hopefully Apple will offer the same courtesy to Hong Kong iPhone X users who encounter the issue.
The First Transit Platform Business Model The Hong Kong Octopus card was the first real transit platform (contactless transit and eMoney) that had a tremendous impact on the development of Transit for London (TfL) Oyster card, Opal in Australia and other transit card fare systems around the world. It’s great for Hong Kong users that OCL is expanding the Octopus platform to include more digital wallets. I hope OCL continues to expand both the service on other digital wallets, and the business opportunities. For Apple this is an important opportunity to kick Hong Kong Apple Pay use into high gear and will certainly drive Apple Pay credit/debit card use on the recharge end far more than regular bank card Apple Pay, last but not least it’s a vindication of Apple’s global NFC “it just works” anywhere vision for Apple Pay.
9/19 UPDATE: Octopus Cards Limited CEO Sunny Cheung said that Apple Pay Octopus will not launch with iOS 13 (September 19 USA/September 20 Hong Kong), but will “start as soon as possible within the year.”
Note: For simplicity and convenience I have migrated and merged older Octopus related posts here. All new Octopus related developments will be posted separately.
iOS 12.2 beta 6 has dropped with no sign of Octopus support in Apple Pay from beta code spelunkers like Guilherme Rambo. A source close to the Cupertino mothership also indicated the situation in Hong Kong is “complex.” Live by the rumor and pay the price, it looks like the story sources and my judgement were wrong: Octopus won’t be on Apple Pay when the OS 12.2 update is released at the March 25 Apple Special Event. Nevertheless, I stand by what I wrote back in December:
Digital Wallets like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay are the most tightly integrated NFC software and hardware digital wallet platforms out there with integrated FeliCa, but Apple is the only one to implement the necessary Secure Element on their own A Series/S Series hardware with FeliCa Networks keys, and sell the package globally.
Octopus on Google Pay might look nice on paper but it can’t achieve anything of scale yet because of the highly fragmented nature of Android: to date hardware manufacturers have yet to produce an answer to Apple’s global FeliCa iPhone and Apple Watch, even though everybody’s smartphone has a NFC A-B-F chip. Not even Google has pulled it off.
Octopus on Apple Pay isn’t just adding a card to a digital wallet platform, it is also a statement of who ultimately controls, operates and benefits from the public transit gates. It’s more about market politics than technology, in other words another battle in the contactless payment turf wars. The outcome will be fascinating to watch but determines whether Octopus will remain a great transit payment platform for Hong Kong with a future, or not.
I also have a new prediction that we’ll see Apple Pay Octopus after the next major iOS release iOS 13 this fall. Take it for what it’s worth, but I feel confident that we can celebrate some good news in September.