It’s that time of year again, to ponder the mysteries of Apple Pay, Wallet, PassKit and Core NFC in the next major iOS release. I wasn’t planning a list this year because all the things covered last year: UWB Touchless CarKey, QR Code Payments, etc., are still lurking in PassKit calls and internal beta test builds and have yet to see the light of day. And then there is App Clips, a solution that finally leverages the versatility of NFC tags and iPhone NFC with reader mode was the big WWDC20 story, but it didn’t come into focus either. Too many COVID distractions.
No, no, the only thing that mattered to users and developers was this: when will Apple do something about the Face ID with face mask problem? The eagerly awaited iOS 14.5 Unlock with Apple Watch feature will almost certainly be the most popular feature of iOS 15 too. There are some interesting new PassKit tidbits in iOS 14.5: PKRadioTechnology type properties for NFC and bluetooth, the later for UWB Touchless use. This is the same pattern we saw at the end of the iOS 13 cycle with PassKit Secure Element Pass references replacing NFC Certificate Pass.
So what’s on the slab for all things WWDC21 iOS 15 Apple Pay? I have no idea. UWB Touchless and QR payment support lurking in the background might see the light of day, App Clips might get some refinements. Nothing really new. So I asked readers what they wanted for iOS 15 Apple Pay and the answer was clear: a Wallet app reboot. I didn’t think much about it until I saw the list of China T-Union add card Wallet options for mainland China.
Wallet has a very simple rule: any card that loads a Java Card applet into the secure element has to reside in Wallet, the maximum number depends on how many Java Card applets it can hold at any one time. Any card or developer that wants to loads applets and use the secure element also has to have a PassKit NFC/Secure Element Certificate Pass. This is covered by NDA but a company called PassKit (not Apple) gives us an idea what Apple’s NFC/Secure Element Pass guidelines are:
Apple care a great deal about the user experience. Before granting NFC certificate access they will ensure that you have the necessary hardware, software and capabilities to develop or deploy an ecosystem that is going to deliver an experience consistent with their guidelines.
Yeah, the end to end user experience, the whole reason behind the success of Apple Pay. But the Apple Pay user experience has seriously declined in the Face ID with face mask era. The current Wallet with its card metaphor has reached a wall, stuffing digital ID and Code Payments into the mix along with non-secure element Wallet tickets, boarding passes and reward cards, all using same old card UI, will only break the user experience on top of the Face ID with face mask inflicted damage.
Even if Apple doesn’t add new functions to iOS 15 Apple Pay, they must lay groundwork for a new, flexible and far more useful next generation Wallet app, for adding, storing, configuring and most of all, using an even growing collection of payment cards, transit cards, CarKey, reward cards, passes and digital ID items. Anything to save us from the cacophony of payment services, apps and reward goodies chasing our money and slowing us down at checkout with finding, unlocking, displaying a reward code (if the WiFi connection is good, heaven help those waiting in line when it’s bad) and finally paying. Whew.
The whole point of Apple Pay Wallet was to free us from physical card clutter. After 7 years of Apple Pay and payment apps we have digital clutter that’s almost worse than the original problem that digital wallets and smartphones were supposed to free us from. Let’s get our eyeballs and attention spans back.
Apple PayChina T-Union transit cards for Shenzhen along with an updated Beijing area card have been added for mainland China region users. It represents the first true release of China T-Union cards on Apple Pay that are already on Huawei, Xaiomi and other domestic smartphones. Shanghai remains in the older City Union format. Apple Pay China T-Union cards for Guangzhou and Foshan are listed as coming soon on the Apple Pay China page, China T-Union transit cards were announced in December. The release is simultaneous with the iOS 13.4.1 update but it’s not clear if updating is a requirement. iOS 13.4 is listed as required on the Shenzhen transit page, Apple Support recommends using the latest iOS.
China T-union cards are interoperable transit cards that work across the country, covering subway and bus transit for 275 mainland Chinese cities, similar to what Japan has with Suica, ICOCA, PASMO, etc., that work across the entire country. Unlike Japan IC transit cards however, China T-Union cards are limited to transit, they cannot be used for regular contactless store purchases or eTicket Shinkansen travel.
China T-Union uses the PBOC 2.0/3.0 protocol, the Chinese variant of EMV with the slowest NFC transaction speeds. All China T-Union transit cards on mobile are limited to Union Pay issue credit/debit cards for recharge and physical cards cannot be transferred, which makes them basically useless for inbound iPhone visitors to China, unlike the open inbound friendly Apple Pay Suica. Apple Pay has supported Beijing and Shanghai City Union transit cards since iOS 11.3 but were initially labeled beta because they did not fully implement the complete PBOC 2.0/3.0 spec. This is fixed with the China T-Union additions.
Once the long delayed Apple Pay Octopus for Hong Kong is released the Wallet transit card additions will eventually deliver Express Transit convenience to Greater Bay Area iPhone/Apple Watch users who were previously limited to China Union Pay (CUP) cards without Express Transit. Having 2 different Apple Pay transit cards in Wallet would not exactly be the same as the dual mode Sold Octopus•Lingnan Pass but it should be close once Apple Pay Octopus is released. It will be interesting to hear what the Apple Pay Greater Bay Area transit experience is like after all area services are rolled out.
There has been endless speculation about the release of Apple Pay Octopus after the planned launch was delayed in December, just after China T-Union Apple Pay cards were announced. Apple Pay Octopus was first announced in July 2019 but has yet to see release on iOS 13.4.x, the last major iOS 13 release.
Update: see the fun on YouTube (from the 1:44 mark), covers adding a China T-Union card to Wallet and using it on transit gate in comparison with QR Codes.
It’s that time of year again to look into the WWDC crystal ball and see what changes might be in store for Apple Pay. 2019 was an exciting year with the important Core NFC Read-Write additions for ISO 7816, ISO 15693, FeliCa, and MIFARE tags. Since then we’ve seen iOS apps add support for contactless passports, drivers licenses, retail and manufacturer vicinity NFC tags, transit ticketing, badging, and more. Some expectations ended up on the cutting room floor. The NFC tag Apple Pay feature that Jennifer Bailey showed back in May 2019 has yet to appear. Apple Pay Ventra and Octopus transit services slated for 2019 and iOS 13 failed to launch. Apple Pay Octopus launched June 2, Apple Pay Ventra has yet to appear.
Going the distance with Ultra Wideband The NFC standard has been around a long time, long before smartphones, conceived when everything was built around close proximity read write physical IC cards. The standards have served us very well. So why are NTT Docomo and Sony (Mobile FeliCa) and NXP (MIFARE) adding Ultra Wideband + Bluetooth into the mix?
UWB + Bluetooth delivers Touchless: a hands-free keep-smartphone-in-pocket experience for unlocking a car door, walking through a transit gate or paying for takeout while sitting in the drive thru. It’s the same combo that powers Apple AirTags. UWB Touchless delivers distance with accuracy doing away with “you’re holding it wrong” close proximity hit areas necessary when using NFC. With Touchless your iPhone is essentially a big AirTag to the reader,
For Apple Pay Wallet cards it means hands free Express Card door access, Suica Express transit gate access and payments that ‘just work’ by walking up to a scan area or car. As Junya Suzuki pointed out recently, UWB Touchless is passive vs. the active NFC ‘touch to the reader’ gesture, as such it will live on smartphones and not on plastic cards. Those will remain limited to NFC which does not require a battery.
Secure Element evolution and digital key sharing The addition of UWB Touchless however means that the Secure Element, where transaction keys are kept and applets perform their magic, has to change and evolve. Up until now the Secure Element worked hand in glove with the NFC controller to make sure communications between the reader are secure and encrypted. For this reason an embedded Secure Element (eSE) usually resides on the NFC controller chip.
Apple chose to put a Global Platform certified Apple Pay eSE in their own A/S series chips. The arrangement gives Apple more control and flexibility, such as the ability to update Secure Element applets and implement features like global NFC. The addition of UWB Touchless in FeliCa and MIFARE means both smartphone and readers need new hardware and software. Apple already has UWB in the U1 chip on iPhone 11. Mobile FeliCa software support could be coming with the next generation ‘Super Suica’ release in the spring of 2021 that requires an updated FeliCa OS.
The arrival of UWB Touchless signals another change in the Secure Element as shown in middle CarKey screen image: digital key sharing via the cloud where the master key on the smartphone devices ‘blesses’ and revokes shared keys. Mobile FeliCa Digital key sharing with FeliCa cards and devices was demonstrated at the Docomo Open House in January, also outlined in the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCR) Digital Key White Paper. An interesting aspect of the CCR Digital Key architecture is the platform neutrality, any Secure Element provider (FeliCa, MIFARE, etc.) can plug into it. Calypso could join the party but I don’t see EMV moving to add UWB Touchless because it requires a battery. EMV will probably stick with battery free NFC and plastic cards.
QR Code Payment Cards There is another possible eSE transition for Apple Pay. If the 9to5 Mac AliPay for Apple Pay iOS 14 rumor is true, it represents a huge change for Apple Pay which has strictly limited payment transactions to NFC. The whole identity of Apple Pay is NFC payment cards vs. Wallet which can hold both cards (NFC) and passes (NFC or QR/Barcodes).
A few weeks ago a reader asked for some thoughts regarding the AliPay on iOS 14 Apple Pay rumor with a link to some screen images on the LIHKG site. Before getting to that it’s helpful to review some key Apple Pay Wallet features for payment cards:
Direct side button Wallet activation with automatic Face/Touch ID authentication and payment at the reader.
Device transactions handled by the eSE without a network connection.
Ability to set a default main card for Apple Pay use.
The images suggest a scenario for implementing AliPay in iOS 14 Apple Pay:
AliPay has a PassKit API method to add a ‘QR Card’ to Wallet.
Apple Pay Wallet QR Card set as the main card is directly activated with a button double-click for Face or a Touch ID authentication and dynamic QR Code payment generation in Apple Pay.
Direct static QR Code reads activate Apple Pay AliPay payment.
If Apple is adding AliPay to the ranks of top tier Wallet payment cards, they have to provide a way in. The new “PKSecureElementPass” PassKit framework addition in iOS 13.4 could be just that. Instead of PassKit NFC Certificates, the additions suggest a Secure Element Pass/certificate. Secure Element Certificates instead of NFC Certificates, or better yet completely decouple the Secure Element from NFC so that there are 2 kinds of certificates: a Secure Element Pass for Secure Element transactions, and a NFC Certificate ‘lite’ for non-Secure Element NFC use such as VAS passes which pull everything off a JSON server. In the long run Apple needs to provide finer definitions and controls for NFC and UWB access instead of one black box that PassKit NFC Certificates have been up to now.
The burning question here is: have Apple and AliPay developed Secure Element technology and Java Card applets for encrypted transactions that work without network connections? If so QR Wallet payment ‘cards’ are possible. Direct Apple Pay Wallet QR integration with would open up things for 3rd party (non bank) payment players. QR integration with separate access controls for the Secure Element and NFC/UWB hardware frontend might also help Apple skirt NFC monopoly allegations that got Apple Pay in trouble in Europe.
Dual Mode and flexible front ends The addition of QR and UWB with NFC for payments opens up a long term possibility suggested by Toyota Wallet. The current app lets the user attach a QR code app payment method and/or a NFC Wallet payment method to an account. It’s intriguing but clunky. Wallet QR Payment support would allow Toyota Wallet to move the entire payment front end to Wallet and let the user choose to add one or both.
It’s the latter that interests me most. Instead of having separate NFC and QR payment ‘cards’ from the same issuer for the same account, I’d much rather have one adaptive Wallet card that smartly uses the appropriate protocol, QR, NFC, UWB for the payment at hand.
Ultimately I don’t believe that payment players need or want to anchor their services to specific technologies like QR or even NFC. AliPay may have needed QR to start their payment business empire, why not offer NFC and UWB if it’s there as a front end choice? It’s all virtual.
Capable, flexible, smart. This is what digital wallets should do, things that plastic can never achieve. Let’s hope Apple Pay Wallet makes it there someday, and that payment and transit providers are up to the mix and match challenge in the Touchless era.
CarKey Apple announced CarKey, digital car keys and Ultra Wideband Touchless in the WWDC20 Keynote and accompanying press release:
Digital car keys give users a secure way to use iPhone or Apple Watch to unlock and start their car. Digital car keys can be easily shared using Messages, or disabled through iCloud if a device is lost, and are available starting this year through NFC. Apple also unveiled the next generation of digital car keys based on Ultra Wideband technology for spatial awareness delivered through the U1 chip, which will allow users to unlock future car models without removing their iPhone from their pocket or bag, and will become available next year.
One thing the CarKey session made clear is that Secure Element ‘radio technologies’ are evolving beyond NFC. Another interesting aspect of CarKey is the device requirement: iPhone XR/XS or later, Apple Watch Series 5 or later.
A12 devices and later makes perfect sense because they all support Express Cards with power reserve. Apple Watch does not support this feature but the Series 5 and later requirement suggests the S series chip is getting very close and likely involves Secure Element digital key sharing. We may see Express Cards with power reserve arrive with Apple Watch Series 6.
App Clips App Clips finally unleash the power of background NFC tag reading and is the other big Apple Pay development announced at WWDC20. This is what Jennifer Bailey talked about last year just before WWDC19 but it took another year to come together.
App Clips puts NFC tags on equal footing with QR Codes for the first time with the added edge of the ‘when the screen is on’ background tag sheet pop-ups. This will be huge. See the separate post for details.
Express Transit Card for transit cards and Express Mode for Student ID cards in iOS 12 are kind of a mess. They are the same option for the same thing with different names in different places. Express Mode for Student ID is on the card itself, while Express Transit is in Wallet settings.
Express vs Card Clash
Prepaid cards, stored value (SV), present a problem for Wallet. SV cards in Wallet want to be exactly like they are in plastic, tap and be done without any authentication. But what happens when Wallet has multiple SV cards, each one wanting to be an Express Transit or Express Mode card? The fine print on Use Express Transit with Apple Pay illustrates the messy dilemma and limitations of iOS 12 Wallet: you can set one payment card and one transit card per transit network, except for China which doesn’t allow EMV Express Transit at all.
In this scenario an Apple Pay user can set both a HOP card and a payment (credit/debit) card to use on Portland TRiMet. What happens at the transit gate if the iPhone user also has a Student ID card in Wallet with Express Mode turned on? Apple Pay HOP and Student ID card are both MIFARE cards, the payment card is EMV. If TriMet has their backend system act together and are using the latest NFC chip sets from NXP, the gate reader will call up the HOP card and ignore the others. Everything ‘just works’, the user is on their way.
If the transit fare system is not configured correctly, or uses outdated technology, the same Apple Pay user ends up with ‘card clash’ at the transit gate. Instead of automatically selecting the HOP card, the gate says, ‘give me a NFC card’ and Apple Pay goes into default mode that completely ignores Express Transit: the user has to unlock the device then manually select and authenticate a card with Face ID/Touch ID.
Multiple Express Cards in iOS 13 Wallet
There are major Japanese eMoney prepaid cards on Android Osaifu Keitai and its candy wrapper cousin Google Pay that are missing on Apple Pay: WAON, Rakuten Edy and nananco. One ‘missing on Apple Pay’ reason is that iOS 12 Apple Pay Wallet lacks a smart way to deal with multiple Express Transit and Express eMoney Cards. Wallet can hold multiple Suica cards but only one of them can be Express Transit. It’s the same deal for every eMoney card.
iOS 13 Wallet will complete the journey, hopefully delivering a vastly improved and unified Wallet UI that elegantly solves the multiple Express Transit/Express Card issue, and eliminates card clash. At a transit gate the user should only have to tap, at checkout the user should only have to select a payment logo on a screen or tell the sales clerk Suica, Mastercard, etc., and pay.
The end of paying with just “Apple Pay”?
More payment options in iOS 13 Apple Pay Wallet will present users with a problem: more choices. Telling the sales clerk “Apple Pay” does’t work anymore except in regions where bank cards remain the only Apple Pay option. In Japan, Apple Pay users already say Suica, iD, QUICPay or NFC Pay. Hong Kong Apple Pay users will have the option to use Octopus or bank cards, and so on.
As Apple Pay matures with more payment options and services, it starts to resemble our real overstuffed wallets. 30 years of using a Mac has not organized my work life one bit. In the long run, I doubt Apple Pay will organize my wallet life any better, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun to use.