Octopus app offers you new features (as long as you don’t use an iPhone)

Cashless payment giant streamlines mobile offering, but is limited by Apple’s restrictions on its products

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 June, 2017, 6:09pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 June, 2017, 10:58pm

Hong Kong’s cashless payment giant Octopus has launched a new app for topping up and making online payments through mobile phones. But it will not work on all phones, with limits still in place for Apple phone users.

The new app merges the peer-to-peer app O! ePay into an expanded Octopus app.

Octopus CEO Sunny Cheung said having one single app “offers greater mobile payment convenience to customers, who can enjoy the benefits of Octopus’ offline and online payment experience in one go.”

Hongkongers with Android phones will be able to use their handset to contactlessly top up their Octopus cards, check their balance or make online payments.

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In shops, they can make a payment just by tapping their phone, if they have an Octopus SIM card.

But if they use an iOS device, like an Apple iPhone, they will still need a separate mobile card reader for some uses, because Apple keeps its contactless functions limited, mostly for its own Apple Pay system.

Bosses at Octopus said that inconvenience for Apple users was a shame, but that they had no way of getting around the tech giant’s hardware restrictions.

“Of course we would like to offer iPhone the same system, but this is the situation we are facing. That’s why we have a mobile reader,” Cheung said.

Octopus technical director Sammy Kam said: “We have to wait for the day that Apple can open the [contactless] interface... and provide all the functions that are on the Android platform.”

Octopus’ market dominance faces challenge from e-payment newcomers

The Octopus card launched in Hong Kong in 1997, to combat fare dodging on public transport, and to add convenience for commuters. At the time, it was considered a technological breakthrough.

It uses a plastic card that users can top up with cash. The card interacts with payment readers in shops and on public transport contactlessly.

Today, 14 million transactions a day are conducted by Octopus, and there are more than 33 million of the cards in circulation – nearly five times the population of Hong Kong.

The newer, phone-based transactions rely on near-field communication (NFC) – the very function that Apple has restricted.

Kam said the company would begin using QR codes later this year to settle payments, to get around the lack of connectivity with iOS devices.

But the code system will only be used for purchases from smaller merchants at first.

Octopus is also partnering with businesses to provide payment, ticketing, and shopping services to its app users.