Next generation iPhone owners in Japan may soon be able to use their smartphones to pay for train, subways, and bus rides. Bloomberg reports that Apple is planning to add FeliCa technology — the wireless standard used by Japan's mass transit systems to accept payments — to its next iPhone, allowing users to store virtual pay-as-you-go passes in their Wallet app, and touch their phone to station barriers to travel.
The Sony-developed FeliCa chip is used primarily in Japan, and differs from the NFC systems used to enable contactless iPhone payment on transport in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. But despite its limited geographical range, FeliCa is big business — there are 1.9 million FeliCa payment terminals across the country, according to the Bank of Japan, handling around $46 billion of transactions last year. In comparison, Bloomberg notes that there are only 1.3 million NFC terminals in the United States, and 320,000 in the United Kingdom according to data from Let's Talk Payments and the UK Cards Association.
Apple wants to include FeliCa in the next iPhone but may delay it to 2017
In addition to paying for train journeys, consumers in Japan can add e-money to their FeliCa-enabled cards, allowing them to pay for purchases at vending machines, convenience stores, and even for games on Nintendo's Wii U console. It's not clear whether Apple's planned feature will also be usable for such transactions or simply for journeys on mass transit systems, but Bloomberg says that Apple is in talks with at least one major Japanese financial institution, with an eye to allowing these purchases.
Apple reportedly wants to include the feature in its next iPhone, due in September, but may delay it until 2017's model if discussions with transport card providers don't progress quickly. These discussions may be tricky: Japan has more than 70 railway companies, and a host of major travel cards, including biggest names Suica and Pasmo. Thankfully, they've worked together before. The process of traveling Japan's railways was simplified in 2013, when the companies behind 10 of the country's major transport cards — including Pasmo, Suica, and Icoca — signed a deal to make their cards operational across each others' networks.