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Apple is reportedly working to release a special iPhone model for the Japanese market that will integrate a specific iteration of Sony-developed FeliCa technology, a longstanding tap-to-pay solution for smartphones.
Citing sources familiar with Apple's plans, Bloomberg reports the company is looking to support FeliCa systems serving public transportation payment terminals. As in other countries, many of Japan's railways and buses accept smart card payments at the gate.
FeliCa was initially rolled out as an RFID chip solution embedded into so-called "smart cards" used in tap-to-pay transactions. A hybrid version developed by Japan's leading cellular provider NTT DoCoMo made its way onto smartphones. Dubbed Mobile FeliCa, or more commonly Osaifu-Keitai (roughly translated as "cellphone wallet") in Japan, the technology allows users to provision multiple FeliCa cards on their device. Accounts can also be recharged directly from an interface on the smartphone.
Apple's integration will presumably use Mobile FeliCa, not the original version, though Bloomberg failed to make the distinction between the two technologies. The report suggests Apple intends to install a Mobile FeliCa chip and supporting hardware into iPhone alongside its own Apple Pay NFC solution.
It should be noted that third-party accessory makers have for years marketed iPhone-compatible FeliCa adaptors, such as Panasonic's Osaifu-Keitai jacket seen above.
As one of the leading tap-to-pay solutions in Japan, FeliCa is an accepted mode of payment at many brick-and-mortar shops, as well as vending machines, though Apple is focusing on transit cards based on the standard like those offered by Suica and Pasmo. The company is, however, in talks to with a major financial institution to enable commercial transactions, the report said.
Support could show up in this year's iPhone revamp expected to debut in September, though integration might be pushed back as discussions with transit card providers are ongoing.