Leap Card app launches, but iPhone users left behind

25 Jan 2016

The Leap Card app to allow commuters use their phone’s NFC chip to top up their travel card has finally launched, but Ireland’s lack of Apple Pay means iPhone users have been left in the lurch.

The new Leap Card app is the next evolutionary step in what should be expected for public transport payment, whereby someone with a Leap account can simply top up their card on their phone while on the go.

Not having to purchase a top-up in a store physically will be particularly useful for bus users who have no means of topping up their cards on the buses themselves.

If a friend is short of a few quid, you can also pay for their Leap Card top-up through the app.

However, the glaring omission remains the lack of service on iPhones due to Apple’s rather restrictive policy on NFC technology in its phones.

No way, we can’t pay (with Apple Pay)

Currently, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s are the only iPhones to come with an NFC tag installed, however, the tag is completely useless as a means of connecting with other devices as it has not been assigned the job of using Apple Pay, which isn’t in Ireland yet.

Additionally, even if Apple Pay were to arrive in Ireland any time soon, Apple’s decision to not open its NFC to developers to create contactless technologies makes it impossible, bar a corporate change, for it to ever happen.

Meanwhile, any Android phone user with Android KitKat and above can download and access the app through Google Play.

Speaking at its launch today (25 January), the CEO of the National Transport Authority, Anne Graham, said: “This is a new technology in Ireland; in fact, we’re one of the first travel smartcards in the world to develop an App using NFC technology for reading card balances and for topping up. We have been actively trialling the app for a number of months now, and the early-user feedback has been very positive.”

The technology behind the card was developed by Vix Technology, a company that has been behind some of the biggest public transport contactless payments systems in the world, including the Hong Kong Octopus card.

Luas image via Nando Machado/Shutterstock

Updated, 12.20pm 25 Jan 2015: This article was updated to clarify that you can’t use the new app as a replacement for a Leap Card, rather it can be used to top up your card on the go. A line was also added to show that regardless of Apple Pay’s introduction, a NFC iOS app goes against Apple’s developer restrictions on its NFC chip.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic