Apple Inc. is widely rumored to release its next-generation smartphone, dubbed the iPhone 7, in September with various reports suggesting that this year’s iPhone will be a minor upgrade to the current version. However, a new report claimed Thursday that the California tech giant is planning a new iPhone feature for Japanese users, allowing them to use their Apple handsets to pay for mass-transit rides.
IPhone 7, the presumed upcoming iteration of Apple’s flagship smartphone, will include a new technology called FeliCa — a wireless standard used by Japanese people to make payments in mass transit systems — which will allow users in Japan to store virtual pay-as-you-go passes for buses and trains on their new iPhones, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The FeliCa chip, developed by Sony Corp., is a dominant standard in Japan, unlike North America, Europe and Australia where the Near Field Communication (NFC) technology is widely used to enable Apple’s mobile-payments service, Apple Pay, on transport.
FeliCa is a big business in Japan with 1.9 million FeliCa payment terminals across the country, according to the Bank of Japan, handling nearly $46 billion in transactions last year. In comparison, there were 1.3 million NFC terminals in the U.S. and 320,000 in the U.K., Bloomberg reported, adding that the new feature will let iPhone 7 users to tap their handsets against the entrance scanners, without requiring them to carry their physical payment cards.
Sources also told Bloomberg that Apple plans to work with several transit card providers, including Suica and Pasmo, to create virtual versions of FeliCa transit cards that can be stored in the iPhone 7’s Wallet app.
According to Sony, the FeliCa chip can complete each transaction in approximately 0.1 seconds, making it suitable for use in fast-paced transit environments. In addition, the FeliCa chip can also store e-money that users can use at vending machines and cafes across the country.
Apple is expected to launch the new FeliCa payment feature with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus as soon as next month. Rumors are rife that Apple will hold a special event on Sept. 7 to unveil the next iPhone models, which will hit stores on Sept. 16, following a preorder period starting Sept. 9.
Bloomberg, however, warned that Apple could potentially delay the transit card feature to next year’s model if discussions with Japanese payment networks fall through.