My Opal becomes the first app to directly read Opal cards

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My Opal‘ by Toastedmint has become the first app (that I know of!) that now actually reads the data directly off an Opal card using NFC

All you need is an Android phone with NFC support, and can be ‘unlocked’ with a 99c in-app purchase.

This isn’t exactly ‘brand new’, the ability to read a balance off a transit card, as it has been previously possible using apps like FareBot for the Clipper, EZ-Link and Suica cards. Or Hong Kong’s Octopus card with NFCard. The ability to read Opal card data is the unique thing here.

While there’s no shortage of ‘Opal’ apps that will scrape your account information and show you your balance and history, there’s a delay of anywhere from 10 minutes, to 1 hour, to even longer in some cases.  This also involves handing over your username and password (which is against the Opal website terms of use)

Due to the stored value nature of the Opal card and the way the system is architected, the card itself stores basic information so that it can operate without a need to ‘phone home’.

Transport officers already do this – the Samsung handheld devices can read the balance and other information off an Opal card (and submit an infringement notice from the same device), so that everything is there and ready to read and access. However, the Samsung devices that Transport Officers have, naturally have ‘officially sanctioned’ apps, including decryption keys to read more information than what My Opal exposes. For example, cards also store their concession/entitlement value, a list of transactions, etc – this isn’t exposed in the unencrypted area that My Opal uses.

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However, now ‘My Opal’ is able to read and decode the information available in the unencrypted area of your Opal card.

You’re able to see your card number, balance, total transactions, the number of journeys you’ve made this week, the last mode you took, whether your journey is in progress, what your previous tap was, and your last transaction (which is currently listed as your last journey date).

This information is considered up to date, as it is the information that the Opal card readers at barriers, stations, wharves and on buses will be using to calculate your fares.

The other benefit over relying on the website is that your last transaction date is listed – the website doesn’t list the tap off time, which can be important when it comes to the 60 minute transfer window. If you tap on at 10:00, tap off at 11:00, the only time shown online would be the tap on time. If you want to then start a new journey, you’ll have to remember exactly when you tapped off, whether it’s 10:57, 11:00, or 11:02. Now, My Opal can tell you.

Use of My Opal could also be a little bit iffy under the Opal terms of use. Use at your own risk, naturally – TfNSW would not be responsible for any loss or issues that occur from use.

My Opal is available on Google Play now.

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