Apple Wallet Ponta contactless rewards card at LAWSON

Ponta Apple Pay launches at LAWSON
Ponta Apple Pay launches at LAWSON with 4X points for Apple Pay Purchases

The Ponta rewards card for Apple Wallet launched at LAWSON Japan right on schedule and without a hitch.  iOS 12/watch OS 5 users with any Apple Pay capable device: iPhone 6 and later, Apple Watch Series 1 and later can add the Ponta rewards card operated by the Recruit Group to Apple Wallet and automatically earn Ponta points with Apple Pay purchases at LAWSON without having to use an app or show a bar code. Apple Pay purchases earn 4X Ponta points during the launch campaign running through March 6, 2019. You can also make purchases with Apple Wallet Ponta points.

NFC Apple Wallet passes are a new feature of iOS 12/watchOS 5. Apple is encouraging developers to use NFC instead of QR or bar codes for Apple Wallet passes, and has been showcasing contactless NFC passes at recent Apple Events. Ponta Apple Wallet hopefully marks the beginning of other NFC enabled reward cards such as JRE POINT joining Apple Wallet.

Create a digital Ponta card with iOS Ponta Card App then add it to Apple Wallet as shown here and in the above screenshots. Say “Apple Pay” to the LAWSON cashier and use Face ID/Touch ID with the card you want to use. Ponta automatic points don’t register with Suica Express Cards, iD or QUICPay, be sure to say “Apple Pay”. The reader does a double read, first for Ponta then for Apple Pay, so hold iPhone to the reader until it gives you a transaction complete sound, the linked Tweet video below gives you the idea. It’s slower than a regular FeliCa transaction because of the double read and the poky Ponta NCF-A protocol.

With a successful Apple Pay transaction the Ponta logo flashes briefly confirming purchase reward points, shown in the GIF Tweet, followed by a Ponta Wallet point summary notification. If you pay close attention to the GIF you’ll notice that LAWSON accepts NFC Pay in addition to FeliCa, iOS NFC switching in action again as Apple Wallet Ponta uses NFC-A. Whatever the NFC flavor is Apple Pay takes care of it, just as it should be.

Update: the LAWSON POS is built around Panasonic JT-R600CR readers which are Apple Pay savvy and Apple Wallet Ponta cards only work correctly when you tell the LAWSON cashier to use “Apple Pay”. Apple Wallet Ponta is Apple’s implementation of the VAS protocal for contactless NFC passes, reward cards, etc. and is NFC A. The Panasonic reader reads Ponta then selects the correct FeliCa payment method (Suica, iD, QUICPay). Users are complaining that LAWSON did not train store staff well but are getting up to speed quickly.

Lawson launches first Apple Pay NFC contactless rewards card in Japan

Payment acceptance marks at Lawsons 2
The Lawson POS screen will add Ponta NFC contactless to their ever-growing collection of acceptance marks

Lawson Japan announced NFC contactless support for the popular Ponta rewards card operated by the Recruit Group starting nationwide on November 7. The Lawson press release explains that iOS 12/watch OS 5 users with FeliCa capable Apple devices: iPhone 7 (JP)/iPhone 8/iPhone X and later, Apple Watch 2 (JP)/Apple Watch 3 and later can add a Ponta card to Wallet and use Ponta points for NFC contactless purchases.

Purchases made with Apple Pay Suica or Apple Pay credit cards automatically earn Ponta points without having to open the Ponta App or show a bar code. This is exactly what Apple was selling to developers in the WWDC18 Apple Pay session: no more messy QR or bar codes for Wallet cards and passes. Apple has also been using contactless NFC passes at recent Apple Events.

Neither Ponta Web or Ponta App can add Wallet passes right now so this means updates are due before the November 7 launch. Ponta rewards are issued and used by a large number of stores, hopefully the Lawson announcement is the start of a larger rollout and a mention on the Apple Pay Japan site. The less rummaging around to dig out a rewards card, all the better. It means I might actually use it more.

Juggling domestic and international App Store accounts in iOS 12

iOS 12 App Store limitations
iOS 12 App Store can update Apps from a secondary account but only App titles that exist in the main account App Store

I can’t find the link right now (found it) but some blogs reported back in early summer that iOS 12 iOS 11.3 gained the ability to update App Store content from 2 different account IDs, USA and international.

I have juggled USA and Japan App Store content since App Store day 1 2008. Updating meant constant logging out and logging in to different accounts manually, a pain in the neck that I grew accustomed to over the years. Things have slowly improved but seamless savvy domestic~international App Store switching is still not there yet in iOS 12.

iOS 12 updates Apps from both USA and Japan accounts but only for content that is exists in both App Stores. Any attempt to update Japan only content from Yahoo Japan, Docomo, etc., and the USA App store coughs up a ‘This item is no longer available’ error. Back to the old tried and true ‘log out of US store log in to Japan store’ update maneuver.

This kind of ‘USA English version first, internationalization and optimization later when we can get to it’ attitude seems to be getting worse at Apple instead of better. On iOS 12 alone we have Apple Music Japan content that still does not Kana sort, half-assed Apple Maps Japan content, no Japanese TV content what-so-ever even though Netflix Japan and Amazon Prime Japan are going all out. On the just released macOS Mojave 10.14 iMessages is still missing Location settings. The list goes on.

Apple likes to pride itself on being, slightly, ahead of the curve on software internationalization. Sometimes it is, sometimes not. Smart, savvy internationalization of OS, cloud and content services that lead the industry may not sound sexy or produce big profits, but they have a huge impact on product quality around the world.

Making Apple products the best possible products out there was what Steve Jobs was all about. Apple may be stumbling of late, let’s hope they remember their founder by putting all into the job at hand.

 

A12 Bionic Bulletproofed Apple Pay Suica

Anybody reading this blog is undoubtably confused by the endless discussion of Apple Pay Suica errors and problems. Here is some explanation to help you understand them and how A12 Bionic in iPhone XS and iPhone XR solves them.

Apple Pay Suica problems are not problems with FeliCa technology. The problems are caused by the way Apple implements FeliCa technology on their hardware. Instead of using a real FeliCa chip from Sony, Apple created a virtual FeliCa chip on the A-Series chip with per device unique keys licensed from FeliCa Networks.

Apple’s custom implementation of FeliCa on the Apple Pay platform is clever and cost-effective in many ways but there are downsides:

  • iOS/watch OS has to be running for Apple Pay Suica to work. Japanese Android devices with FeliCa chips can still use Suica when the battery runs down.
  • Different iOS/watchOS versions affect Apple Pay Suica performance in good ways, and bad ways.

Apple Pay Suica Express Card Software Problems
Wireless radio technology like NFC, WiFi, Bluetooth and cellular is a delicate balance of software and hardware that often seems like a black art. A small code tweak or tiniest hardware flaw can easily upset the balance and wreak havoc. Remember the ‘you’re holding it wrong’ iPhone 4 anntenagate crisis? Like that.

Occasional iOS versions have caused Apple Pay Suica Express Card performance problems:

  • The iOS 10.1 Apple Pay Suica debut release worked pretty well but occasionally tripped up at transit gates, slamming them shut and forcing a re-read. By iOS 10.3 Apple Pay Suica performance was great.
  • The Apple Pay Cash iOS 11.2 release made life miserable for all Apple Pay Suica users. Apple fixed it with the iOS 11.2.5 update.
iOS Suica Express Performance Timeline
iOS Suica Express Performance Timeline 2

It’s happening again with the iOS 12.0/iOS 5.0 debut release. iPhone 8, Revision B iPhone X, Apple Watch 3/4 users are experiencing unresponsive Express Cards or just good old error flicker (Suica error correction algorithms on JR East transit gates are truly amazing BTW). Apple iOS engineers are on it and Apple Pay Suica performance bug fixes are due in the iOS 12.1 update.

Express Card Power Reserve Mode
Express Card power reserve mode on iPhone XS and iPhone XR lasts up to 5 hours. You can use it for transit, recharge and purchase.

The A12 Bionic Difference
This kind of Suica, “iOS loves me, iOS loves me not” version by version game is a consequence of Apple requiring iOS to operate Suica on pre-A12 Bionic devices. iPhone XR/XS users do not have Suica problems on iOS 12 thanks to the new A12 Bionic architecture and Secure Enclave that powers Express Cards with power reserve. Here is what we know so far:

The superior performance of Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XR/XS suggests that the A12 Secure Enclave and Secure Element layer loads FeliCa keys and code and uses them not only in power reserve mode but also for regular mode Express card operation completely removing all the iOS overhead and interaction for basic Suica operations. It is much closer to how a Suica smartcard works. This makes iPhone XS Apple Pay Suica ‘bulletproof’ to any given iOS version. It just works, even when the battery runs down.

Apple Watch Series 4 still uses the ‘OS has to be running scheme’ as the Apple S4 does not support Express Cards with power reserve. I think the Apple Chip design team must be working on a S-Series chip that will have the same features of the A12 Bionic Secure Enclave and Secure Element architecture. Express Cards with power reserve and bulletproof Suica will be a great selling points for Apple Watch in Japan when it arrives.

Most of this explanation is about FeliCa and Apple Pay Suica but the same methods can be used for all other middleware stacks: Express Cards with power reserve work with Apple Pay Transit in China.

The iPhone X Suica Problem
Last but not least there is the iPhone X Suica problem which I have covered extensively over the past year and is causing new headaches and confusion as iPhone X users run into new problems after updating to iOS 12.0. This is a completely different beast from all of the above, a unique and rare Apple failure unrelated to iOS or A-Series Secure Enclave architecture. The iPhone X Suica problem is a NFC hardware problem with iPhone X units manufactured before April 2018 and is fixed in Revision B iPhone X units manufactured after that date. Exchanging a problem iPhone X unit is the only way to resolve the problem. Unfortunately Apple is making exchanges very difficult for iPhone X customers with problem devices who need help. I hope Apple will come its senses and issue a repair program for iPhone X customers who really need Apple’s help.

UPDATE
iOS 12.2 improves Apple Pay Suica Express Card performance and fixes issues on non-A12 Bionic devices.

NFC Goods on Tap for September 12 Apple Event

Apple is using the September 12 event to show off the new NFC Wallet Pass feature of iOS 12 and watchOS 5 to invited journalists and guests running the iOS 12 beta. The NFC feature was unveiled at WWDC and will be used for Student ID Cards in Wallet. Here’s an overview of NFC related news expected for September 12.

NFC Passes
Apple clearly wants to promote NFC Passes in Wallet over clunky QR Codes. Apple also wants to promote NFC Passes on Apple Watch over iPhone: NFC Passes are gorgeously displayed exclusively on the watchOS 5 page so expect them during the Apple Watch segment. Assa Abloy and Blackboard are working with Apple to make those happen. You might remember Assa Abloy from The Information rumor piece about door locks and ID Passes coming to Wallet.

Temple University’s OWLCard and John Hopkins J-Card offer some clues how they will work in Wallet:

  1. Contactless student ID cards are Stored Value (SV)
  2. Because they are SV cards, they can be recharged

Since they will reside in Apple Pay Wallet this means NFC Student ID Cards can be ‘recharged’ with Apple Pay credit cards instead of running to the nearest ‘refill/recharge’ station. Anytime, Anywhere Recharge.

Sound familiar? My goodness it’s just like Apple Pay Suica that you can recharge on the go and use for Suica coin lockers. The only real difference is that Apple Pay Student ID Cards cannot be used for transit. At least not yet.

An interesting aspect of implementing NFC Passes in Wallet is the PassKit NFC Certificate requirement issued by Apple to the developer and strictly controlled for security purposes. If Apple wants to open up NFC access to more developers, wider NFC Certificate distribution should be the ticket for developers to gain NFC access that was not possible up to now. The Apple Pay Developer page seems to back this up: “discover how to create contactless passes for rewards cards, gift cards, tickets, and more.”

NFC Reward Cards, Gift Cards, Tickets and more?
It would be in line with expectations if Apple announces NFC reward cards and gift cards alongside NFC Passes and Student IDs. It would be beyond expectations, but not far-fetched, if Apple also announces Apple Pay Transit for MIFARE based Taiwan transit cards, FeliCa based Octopus Hong Kong transit cards or perhaps something else…like Apple Pay PASMO. We won’t know until the event as Apple certainly cut code references out of the iOS 12 beta mix to keep code spelunkers at bay.

More Global FeliCa iPhone
The new iPhone models and Apple Watch Series 4 will certainly have Global FeliCa, hopefully free of the NFC hardware issues that plagued iPhone X production. The more important question for the Japanese market however is not the top-tier models but the iPhone 7 replacement aka iPhone SE 2 as tweeted by Guilherme Rambo.

SE 2 should have Global FeliCa as well and will make a great entry-level Apple Pay Suica device, not only for Japanese students on a budget but older Japanese who don’t need or want the latest bells and whistles. An entry level Global FeliCa iPhone has been missing from the JP lineup and will certainly help Apple hold onto Japanese market share. It will certainly help too if Apple throws in important Apple Pay Transit additions such as Apple Pay PASMO.

Long term I think Apple Watch will be next revolution thing for transit but only when transit cards and credit cards can be loaded directly to Apple Watch without an iPhone. When that happens, and it eventually will, watch out.

Enjoy the show.

UPDATE
Welcome to the new era of A12 Bionic NFC and iOS 12

Guilherme Rambo SE2 Tweet