iPhone 7 Japanese Ads That Don’t Mention iPhone

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Docomo ad that references the new iPhone 7 without mentioning it.

Japanese culture is famous for expressing things discretely and indirectly. It’s a kind of game that goes back to the Heian era court nobility that loved to write love letters using common expressions that only the two principals could understand the true meaning of. The ones who were supposed to get it, got it.

You can see that discreet Heian sensibility at play in Japanese ads whenever a new iPhone is released. The carriers place all kinds of posters and banner ads mentioning: “the new smartphone everybody is talking about.”

iPhone is never mentioned but there is no question which new smartphone is being referred to. Everybody in Japan gets it. This is convenient for the carriers as they can place whatever ad they want without clearance from Apple. After all neither Apple nor iPhone is ever mentioned.

A good example is the Docomo train ad pictured above. Phone 7 finally includes 1.5 GHz band support for the Docomo network (band 21), allowing them to offer faster carrier aggregation speeds for iPhone 7 customers. Docomo is calls it Premium 4G and is aggressively rolling out 375Mbps service (see the map below).

Docomo’s speed advantage is advertised in the poster tag line at the bottom: “Enjoy the fastest LTE speeds in Japan on the new smartphone everybody is talking about.”

The creative possibilities are endless.

Suica Apple Pay Details

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Smartphone journalist Tsutsumu Ishikawa published an interview with JR East vice chairman Masaki Ogata covering details of Suica Apple Pay arriving in late October for iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 devices sold in Japan. Details include:

  • Any number of Suica cards can be added to Apple Pay. One for commuting to work, one for personal use, etc.
  • No automatic reloading (‘charge’ in Japanese) in Apple Pay. However the JR East Suica app will allow users to set automatic reload of Suica cards with any Apple Pay credit card (I can’t wait to test Suica reload with my US issued credit card).
  • The Suica app will also add other extras: creation of new Suica cards and commuter train passes, Green Car seat ticket purchases and Shinkansen Express ticket purchases. Tokkaido (Tokyo~Osaka) Shinkansen ticket and seat reservations will be added later as details are being worked out with JR Central.

The Suica app is built specifically for iPhone 7. One of the interesting things that Ogata san points out is the Suica app allows creation of new Suica and any iPhone 7 user in Japan can create and use one. Jr East says Suica works with all the major transit IC card systems from Hokkaido to Kyushu, so iPhone 7 is clearly a boon for JR East in extending Suica reach nationwide.

As previously noted, only iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 devices sold in Japan support FeliCa, the NFC flavor for Japanese Apple Pay. The same NFC chip is used worldwide but Apple appears to be limiting functionality to Japanese devices via software. We’ll know for certain with the official release of iOS 10.1/watchOS 3.1 which will launch Apple Pay in Japan.

Ogata san’s previous statement about supporting “inbound” iPhone 7 users, along with Apple’s ongoing discussions with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), suggest FeliCa Apple Pay availability for all iPhone 7 users visiting Japan. At some point…perhaps.

If that happens, iPhone 7 will certainly deserve the title “the iPhone for Japan.”

The “Uncool” Japanese iPhone 7

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iPhone 7 phones sold in Japan carry the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications regulatory mark engraved on the back due to the iPhone 7 FeliCa Apple Pay support. This has raised some eyebrows in the  Japanese press as no other FeliCa enabled feature phone or Android smartphone carries the MIC regulatory engraving on the back of the case.

Sankei Newspaper journalist Reo Otsubo san suggests it is due to the stronger FeliCa NFC radio signal in iPhone 7 compared to Android smartphones. According to the Japanese law regulating radio frequencies, any IC chip device emitting more than 500 µV (microvolts) per one meter up to a distance of three meters is required to show an easily visible MIC issued numbered regulatory mark on the device.

He asked Sanae Takaichi, Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications about it at the  September 20 MIC press briefing. My translation of the Japanese transcript:

Reporter: Reo Otsubo of the Sankei Newspaper here, the MIC regulatory mark (characters) engraved on the iPhone 7 (back) has been in the news, do you have any comment?

MIC Minister Sanae Takaichi: Regarding the regulatory mark (characters) on iPhone 7, it is there in accordance with the Japanese law governing radio frequencies. iPhone 7 incorporates electronic wallet functionality, and the ability to read and write Suica and IC chip data. Because it falls under the conditions of the above law, the MIC has issued a regulatory specification numbered mark. We do not see a problem with that. However a planned revision of the law, currently in the committee workgroup 2020 white paper, recommends displaying the MIC number on the smartphone screen instead of the case. This is under consideration.

Otsubo: Displaying the mark on the screen is perhaps not so good and causes controversy?

Takaichi: What do you mean?

Otsubo: How to put it, I think people will say it is uncool. Do you see that as a problem?

Takaichi: Uncool?

Otsubo: Maybe a little, if it is a regulatory mark (containing characters).

Takaichi: Is that uncool?

Otsubo: If it is very noticeable, I think some people will criticize that.

Takaichi: It is a regulatory mark in accordance with the law. I am extremely disappointed that people find it “uncool.” I think the mark should be in where one can see it easily. We will get opinions from the necessary parties and continue discussions.

Otsubo: Thank you.

Takaichi: Thank you very much for your trouble.

The exchange is hilarious but I’m not sure why Otsubo san thinks having the MIC regulatory mark on the screen would be any more “uncool” than the current engraving on the back. I assume ‘on the screen’ means being buried on the Regulatory page in Settings, but I could be missing something, lost in translation.

TrueType GX Model Lives On in OpenType Variable Fonts

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Go right over and read John Hudson’s explanation of the OpenType Variable Font format. Three quick but very interesting quotes:

OpenType Font Variations builds on the model established in Apple’s TrueType GX variations in the mid-1990s, but has fully integrated that model into all aspects of the OpenType format, including OpenType Layout, and is available to both TrueType and Compact Font Format (CFF) flavours of OpenType.

And

At the core of OpenType Font Variations are tables that define the design space and how it is presented to users. Some of these tables have been directly adapted from Apple’s TrueType GX architecture, but have been revised and enhanced.

And

The idea of fonts containing interpolable design space and named or dynamic instances is not new. OpenType variable fonts build directly on the technology introduced to TrueType by Apple in the QuickDraw GX graphics environment.

If you are old enough to remember QuickDraw GX, one of the coolest demo features was the font variation slider in the long gone LightningDraw GX app (Laris Software): select text, move slider, instant seamless on the fly font variations.

Dave Opstad, one of the original TrueType GX font engineers at Apple, should be feeling proud. Thank you Dave (and the GX team) for taking the heat and drawing that line in the sand. It made a difference after all.

Update: It is one thing to create a new font specification. It is quite another how it is implemented in the operating system. One last quote from John Hudson:

Apple, characteristically, are least forthcoming about future plans, but they have a head start on variable font support in their TrueType GX infrastructure, and have played an active role in bringing the technology to OpenType.

It is true that all the Apple Advanced Typography (AAT) font tables have been there since the QuickDraw GX days. Apple’s own support of AAT, at least from the Japanese font side, has sometimes been robust, sometimes not. You could almost hear Apple engineers arguing: “let’s go all in with OpenType layout” vs. “AAT still has things that OpenType layout does not.” The good thing is this has all been put to rest. The TrueType GX model and AAT tables are incorporated and carried forward in OpenType variable font technology. Everybody benefits.

The big questions are when will Apple add support for OpenType variable fonts in iOS, macOS, etc., and how. Will developers have to dig down into Core Text, or will Apple push it as high up as they can and make it easy?

One thing is certain: for the text layout and font development crowd, WWDC 2017 or 2018, is going to be very interesting.

iPhone 7 – The iPhone for Japan – Opening Weekend

Strongest iPhone Pre-Order Ever
iPhone 7 opening weekend is winding down and the Japanese press is reporting the strongest ever iPhone upgrade demand. Docomo president Kazuhiro Yoshikawa said pre-order demand was beating 6S rates, KDDI president Takashi Tanaka called it unprecedented and largest pre-order ever.

The exceptional demand comes from Apple delivering two key features long requested by Japanese customers: FeliCa (NFC-F) support and water resistance. FeliCa Apple Pay won’t arrive until late October but Twitter has been buzzing with Japanese user comments celebrating ‘I can finally do it all on one phone.’ For these holdouts iPhone 7 FeliCa support removes the last reason to hold onto Japanese feature phones or Android.

FeliCa Hardware Details
Teardowns from iFixIt and Chipworks confirm iPhone 7 phones around the world use the same NFC chip. As I suspected earlier, FeliCa NFC is turned on via software only for iPhone 7 phones sold in Japan. They also have the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) required FeliCa related mark on the back. No teardowns for Apple Watch Series 2 in Japan have appeared yet but the situation is undoubtably the same.


This confirmation makes JR East vice chairman Masaki Ogata’s earlier “inbound” customer support comments at the Apple event all the more interesting. Apple can turn FeliCa on for all “inbound” iPhone 7 users if regulatory details can be worked out with MIC (with some help from JR East).

One last Japan focused iPhone 7 feature is 1.5 GHz support for Docomo (band 21), and KDDI au/SoftBank (band 11). 1.5 GHz support allows Japanese carriers to offer faster carrier aggregation service for iPhone 7 customers.

OpenType Variable Fonts and CJK

gxjapanesefontsAfter hearing bits and pieces from Japanese font developers over the past year that Apple was looking at stroke font technology again, variable fonts for OpenType was announced today at the ATypI conference. This sounds like a good idea but I wonder: is this, yet another, western font centric development process that doesn’t pan out for Chinese, Japanese and Korean (CJK) fonts?

I already pointed out the limitations of the OpenType outline font format for CJK on mobile platforms. Adobe admits there’s a lot of work to do, so I look forward to see what changes are in store for the OpenType format, and if there is any attempt to address the huge problems of making variable CJK fonts work on the desktop, or even viable for mobile platforms.

We have been down this road before but at least Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Adobe are doing this together. We’ll see if this works out. Or not.

Update: Documentation details on the Microsoft OpenType site. More explanation here.