Taro Matsumura was kind enough to tweet a screenshot of Suica Apple Pay and Apple Maps Japan Transit in action. If you have Suica loaded into Apple Pay and a transit route set in Apple Maps, the Suica in Wallet shows you in transit status (the vertical green bar if I am not mistaken). When you get off at the last station Wallet shows start~finish transit points and the total fare.
My Jet Black iPhone 7 Plus has been on order for over a month (sigh). When it finally arrives I’m eager to put Suica Apple Pay and Japan transit through some heavy local travel tests.
Japanese users vented their frustration on twitter this morning as iCloud servers strained under Apple Pay Japan launch day traffic. The Apple Japan iCloud status page showed that some users could not access Apple Pay. NHK also reported problems with JR East’s Mobile Suica system that experienced extremely heavy traffic. The JR East Suica support page (image below) acknowledged the unresponsive Mobile Suica server status and asked for customer patience.
Apple Pay card loading was working smoothly early this morning in Japan but the servers bogged down during peak commuting hours.
Update: JR East says the 3.5 hour Mobile Suica outage was due to 10 times the normal server traffic load. Service was restored by 11 am, IT Media has the details. Japanese iPhone customers in Tokyo really want to use Suica Apple Pay. It says something about the size of the Japanese iPhone installed base if it can take down the JR East Mobile Suica system: a road hardened infrastructure built for massive scale.
On a lighter note, JR East has plastered JR stations with Suica Apple Pay posters. There must be a Suica Apple Pay Yamanote train running somewhere too.
On a final note, with a launch this big, both for Apple and JR East, I predict Tim Cook will remark on it during the fourth quarter results conference call later today. It had to be Apple’s largest Apple Pay launch ever.
JR East has released their Suica app on the Japan App store. Here is a quick look using screen shots from the app store product description. I`ll post better versions later.
The opening screen shows your Apple Pay loaded Suica cards (up to eight cards can be loaded) with reload payment options via your designated Apple Pay credit card. There is also a green Ticket Purchase/Suica Management button at the bottom
The Ticket Purchase/Suica Management screen shows your current transit pass (if you have one). The purchase options below are: green car seating, Shinkansen express tickets, and transit pass purchase. Below that are Suica purchase history, change card info and name card options.
Ticket Purchase/Suica Management
The next two screen shots: Suica Details shows the Suica ID#, card balance, and transit pass details (if applicable). Suica Purchase allows you to create a new Suica on your iPhone 7 or Apple Watch Series 2 device.
The last two screenshots: Suica Account details on the left. The last screen is the message you get on older iPhones that do not support FeliCa NFC: “This iPhone does not support Apple Pay. Please pair this iPhone with an Apple Watch to use Apple Pay
Update 10/25 5 am Japan time: Apple Pay went online at 5am Japan time. Twitter users report successful Suica loading. I successfully loaded a JR East View Card on iPad Pro 9.7. If you are not seeing Apple Pay on your Apple Pay supported device after updating, try restarting the device.
iOS 10.1 had been released. As expected the update brings Apple Pay to:
iPhone 7 and 7 Plus devices sold in Japan for store, App and web purchasing
Suica transit and purchase support nationwide
Suica reloading with Apple Pay in Wallet and Transit Pass renewal
Now that Apple has launched their Japanese transit service for iOS 10.1 and macOS Sierra 10.12.1, let’s take a look and compare it with the local competition, Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps. This is a review of the final beta version. Some things may have changed in the official release (October 25 local Japan time), but so far I have not found any.
Too keep things simple this review covers three key areas: transit UI & signage, station footprints/indoor mapping, and agency data. I’ll use the traditional Japanese style three rank rating of previous reviews:
O (maru) = good
∆ (sankaku) = fair
X (peke) = NG/failure
Transit UI & Signage
The first real Japanese transit preview image that Apple released was similar to the left hand image below:
Apple’s transit route search results list: the UI is clean and spare but exclusively using only the new signage is a fatal error. The gray text color for travel time and fare details serves no purpose and is hard to read on iOS devices on the go. The Yahoo Japan approach of using the “回” kanji + number combination to instantly convey the number of transfers would save users the trouble of scanning the entire line and counting.
Google’s transit route search results list is reliable
Yahoo Japan’s transit route search results list: the best use of kanji offers the most informative list view of the competition. Kanji are colored only when they have a specific meaning: the shortest time, the cheapest fare, the least number of transfers.
Right at the start we arrive at what I think is the most controversial aspect of Apple’s Japan transit service that I suspect will be a deal breaker for many Japanese users: Apple goes all in with the new international station letter code + number signage that has recently been rolled out in metropolitan areas. It’s so new that nobody knows what a JB or JY or IK mean yet. It was designed for overseas visitors who can’t read kanji and not the Japanese who live here. Google and Yahoo Japan don’t use the new signage at all and stick with traditional kanji characters and transit line color coding. It’s what everybody has been using for a long time.
Apple’s fatal mistake is using ONLY the new signage in the single most important transit UI component: the route search result list view. Apple could have used kanji characters with the new signage as secondary information just like the real Shinjuku station sign at the top of this page. A tasteful mix of old and new would have been innovative yet respectful of Japanese users. I know the Apple Maps public transit team had good intentions here but the result smacks this side of “is this a Japanese product or just some westerners’s idea of one.” Apple will catch a lot of criticism for this UI gaffe, deservedly so.
The signage disaster is doubly unfortunate because it distracts from some nice transit UI improvements Apple is bringing to the party. For example, selecting Shinjuku station in map view (images below) offers all the various train and subway lines grouped neatly with easy access to destination and departures. To me this is better than digging around in Google or Yahoo Maps to find the same information.
Shinjuku Station neatly arranges the different train transit groups, notice the yellow transit information alert.
Train lines and times are grouped by destination. The new signage is a problem.
Transit information alert details for the Saitama line.
Taking A Ride
If users are not too discouraged by the route search result UI to look at route details, they might like what they find. Once you are in, route/trip details are well done. The new signage is used as backup to the kanji, not a replacement. They work well together which was the intention of the signage designers.
Apple transit route details are well done, the new signage is used intelligently as backup not as replacement. Stations grey out as you pass them. In this example the train is approaching Shinjuku.
Transit route for train and bus.
One nice touch is that Apple offers here is a spread of departures times instead of locking you into a set departure time like Google and Yahoo Japan. This is smart. Maybe you were walking slow and catching Pokemon on the way to the station. What ever the reason, going back to change the train departure times in Google and Yahoo Japan maps can be a hassle.
Another nice touch is that once you are on the train Apple transit uses GPS to grey out stations as you pass them. Apple, Google and Yahoo Japan transit services all need more contextual awareness. If you are late to the station, or miss a connection, train times and routes should change automatically and offer suggestions.
It would also be nice to have notification options so I can sleep on the train or talk with travel companions and receive alerts that my transfer station is coming up in 5 minutes. Stand alone Japanese transit apps have this but it belongs in built-in maps too. There are lots of incremental improvements and innovations Apple can do here, if they get there first they stand a chance of changing the map service game.
Apple transit also offers step by step transit directions. Personally I never find step by step transit useful, but others might.
Apple Pay Options
There are some interesting transit options that you can access at the bottom of the route search results list.
In addition to the transit types you can set on the fly, options include JR train/Shinkansen settings for transit fare calculations based on non-reserved seating, reserved seating and Green car seating. There is also an IC fare toggle to calculate fares for IC cards when at all possible. This is the Japanese transit hook into Suica Apple Pay that Apple mentioned in the iPhone 7 keynote and in the Apple Pay Japan press release.
Once Apple Pay Suica goes live I’ll review the transit integration features and update this section.
Transit UI Rating: O
Signage Rating: X
Station Footprints & Indoor Mapping
Before we get into it let’s compare Apple’s transit preview image from July with the real thing.
Shinjuku Station iOS 10 Japan Transit Preview
Shinjuku Station iOS 10.1 transit view
As said before, a preview movie trailer has scenes that never end up in the finished film. In this case the traditional dashed line railroad indicator seen in the preview, Google Maps, and Yahoo Japan Maps is gone. On the plus side transit lines are thicker, station footprint and indoor mapping colors are heavier with more contrast.
On the negative side Apple still has not learned that you simple do not do colored text labels with kanji characters. It’s one of biggest UI mistakes that western designers make and remains a huge UI problem for Apple’s cartography in Japan maps. Google and Yahoo Japan have long since dropped blanket use of colored kanji characters from their Japan map cartography. Apple should too.
Shinjuku Station iOS 10.1 map view
Shinjuku Station iOS 10.1 transit view
Map View vs. Transit View
One of the major differences between Google and Apple is that Apple has separate view settings for map, transit and satellite. Google uses a single map view with layers the user toggles on or off. Both approaches have downsides. A Google maps view of a dense and complicated area like Shinjuku station can be overwhelming, with too much information to be useful. Apple’s use of a separate view to reduce the information overload has merit but Apple’s method of switching views is awkward and time-consuming.
Google Shinjuku view with transit layer on
Apple Shinjuku transit view is less cluttered than Google’s
Transit view toggles on transit details for train/subway lines and bus stops, it also turns on indoor mapping details such as station exits and underground exits. So far exit information seems incomplete and is still being loaded into the system. All Apple has at this point is structure outlines but no real indoor mapping.
The big questions is what Apple’s completed indoor mapping will show. Will they go the Google way of mapping everything above and below ground, or take the Yahoo Japan way of just showing above and below structures directly related to the station? Indoor mapping is incredibly difficult to do well. I’ll update this section when indoor mapping is completely uploaded.
Yahoo Japan indoor map view of Shinjuku south exit. I prefer Yahoo Japan’s approach of isolating and simplifying indoor map views.
Google’s indoor mapping details for Shinjuku south exit.
Apple transit view of Shinjuku south exit area has some exit information but no indoor mapping details yet.
Station Footprint & Indoor Mapping Rating: NA
Agency Data Apple maps relies on 3rd party supplied data. The Japan product has long suffered from “C” grade suppliers. When incoming data is poor quality, there is little Apple can do to fix it other than changing the supplier. For example Incremental P (IPC) supplies Japanese map data, if you go to Shibu Onsen in Apple Maps you will see a strange data cut-off slicing across the area. Look at the same place in IPC’s iOS app and you see the same cut off.
Shinbu Onsen Apple Maps
Shibu Onsen IPC Maps
This is one kind of problem. Another problem is Apple not getting 100% throughput of the data they get from the supplier. Here are two screen shots of a nearby park. IPC supplies a lot of map detail that Apple simply does not load into their system.
Wada Hori Park Apple Maps
Wada Hori Park IPC
The challenge for Apple’s transit team was to get the best agency data AND get the best throughput. Based on limited testing in Tokyo, I’m happy to say that the Apple transit team appears to have succeeded in breaking the Japan data jinx.
Apple’s transit data supplier for Japan is Jorudan Co.,Ltd., the same company that supplies Google’s Japanese transit information. This is both good and bad. The good is Apple has access to the same quality Japanese transit data that Google uses. The bad is that any incomplete data or incompetent data hits Apple and Google equally. Apple’s options to improve their Japanese transit data quality above Google, are limited.
Japanese users have complained about Google’s bus transit data occasionally. In the short span of Apple’s transit service beta Japanese users have noted and complained about missing train information in rural areas. In my own Tokyo area testing I have hit some rough spots as well. Transfer information is not always reliable.
Apple transit route has the line transfer at Yoyogi station when it should be Shinjuku
In this route Apple transit has me walking out of Gotanta station to make a connecting train to the Ikegami line. This is incorrect
In the left hand example above the transit route lists the train transfer at Yoyogi station when it should be Shinjuku. The right hand example has instructions to walk out the east exit of Gotanda station to transfer to the Tokyu Ikegami line which is incorrect, the transfer point is inside the station.
The first example is either incorrect information from Jorudan (data supply) or incorrect processing (throughput) on the Apple side. I suspect the second example is a problem with Apple’s indoor mapping of Gotanda station: the same location also mistakenly groups the Asakusa subway and Tokyu Ikegami train lines together in the subway station.
One last item to mention is transit alerts. In Tokyo they are necessity, if the JR Yamanote line stops 30 minutes due to “passenger injury” (code word for suicide jumper), you want to know immediately so you can change your route. Nothing is worse than being stuck in a stopped commuter train between stations. Apple has included alerts in their transit service.
I have not had enough time with Apple’s service to form an opinion about alerts. My preference over the past year has been Yahoo Japan transit alerts. Yahoo Japan delivers alerts faster and provides more updates than Google.
Despite the rough edges mentioned above, Apple’s Japan transit data has been a smooth ride for me so far.
Agency Data Rating: O
The Apple Maps transit team has put a lot of effort into Japanese transit, even in the beta version it shows a lot of promise and potential.
There are rough spots that Apple will have to fix quickly if they want Japanese customers to use the new service. The new signage problem, for example, could be solved with a few kanji character additions and tweaks.
Rough spots and problems are not a problem if Apple finds and fixes them just like Steve Jobs said back at WWDC 1997: “we’ll find the mistakes and we’ll fix ’em.” The real test for the maps team is this: Apple has finally broken the Japanese data quality jinx, can Apple break the organizational jinx to rapidly identify and fix map and transit problems?
If the Apple Maps team can do that, the Japanese transit service launch will be a success.
Apple Pay in Japan launched with the release of iOS 10.1/WatchOS 3.1 on October 25, 2016. For convenience I collected Apple Pay Japan information from previous posts here along with new information. I’ll regularly update this page with news, tips and field test results.
Notice: Apple iCloud/Apple Pay servers and JR East Suica servers experienced extremely heavy launch day traffic. Apple Pay and Suica services have been restored and are working normally.
FeliCa FeliCa Type-F NFC technology is required for using contactless transit and store transaction systems in Japan.
Q. What Apple devices support FeliCa and work with Apple Pay in Japan?
A. Apple states:
iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus and Apple Watch Series 2 users will be able to make purchases in stores anywhere Suica, iD or QUICPay is accepted…
Apple Pay in Japan also works with some older devices that do not have FeliCa:
When paying for goods and services on the go within apps or Safari, Apple Pay works with iPhone 6 and later, iPad Pro, iPad Air 2, and iPad mini 3 and later. You can also use Apple Pay in Safari on any Mac introduced in or after 2012 running macOS Sierra, and confirm the payment with iPhone 6 or later or Apple Watch.
Q. I have an iPhone 7/ Apple Watch Series 2 device that I bought in my home country. Can I use Apple Pay for transit and store purchases in Japan?
A. No. Only iPhone 7/ Apple Watch Series 2 devices purchased in Japan support FeliCa Type-F NFC contactless technology required for Apple Pay transit and store purchases in Japan.
Q. Why is that?
A. Good question. Apple appears to be using the same NFC chip in all iPhone 7/ Apple Watch Series 2 devices but only activating NFC FeliCa for devices sold in Japan. This could be due to regulatory issues, licensing issues, or Japanese card company agreements that limit liability. Nobody outside of Apple and their Japanese Apple Pay partners knows the answer.
Q. If those issues are resolved will Apple activate FeliCa Type-F NFC for all iPhone 7/ Apple Watch Series 2 devices?
A. Another good question with no answer. The biggest Apple Pay Japanese partner, JR East, has said they hope to improve support for “Inbound” customers. Whether this translates to future FeliCa NFC support for all iPhone 7/ Apple Watch Series 2 customers visiting Japan is anybody’s guess.
Q. Can I buy an Apple Watch Series 2 watch in Japan and use FeliCa with my iPhone from abroad?
A. Yes, you can pair Apple Watch Series 2 with iPhone 5 and above to load and use Apple Pay for transit, store and in-app purchases. Japanese users who are not ready to upgrade to iPhone 7 are using this option however Apple’s official position is to say this does not work for iPhones from abroad. There are a growing number of folks from abroad that say it does indeed work just fine. I’ll continue to update this section as reliable information comes in.
Q. Does my Apple ID need to be a Japanese account to use Apple Pay in Japan?
A. No, it does not matter what country your Apple ID was created in. Any Apple ID can be used for Apple Pay.
Summary: you must purchase an iPhone 7 or Apple Watch Series 2 device in Japan to use FeliCa Apple Pay services. If you are visiting Japan and want to use FeliCa Apple Pay, either buy a sim unlocked iPhone 7 or Apple Watch Series 2 watch from Apple store in Japan.
JR East’s widely used transit/prepaid Suica card is the centerpiece and poster child for Apple Pay in Japan.
Q. How do I load Suica onto my iPhone?
A. Apple says all you need to do is touch iPhone 7 to your Suica card. iPhone 7 reads and automatically loads your Suica card information (commuter pass, debit amount, etc.) into Apple Pay. After Apple Pay loading process is complete, you cannot use the physical Suica card. If you have a very old Suica card and Apple Pay cannot load it, go to the nearest JR station where they will exchange it for a new Suica for free.
Q. How many Suica cards can I load?
A. JR East says up to eight Suica cards can be added to Apple Pay. One for commuting to work, one for personal use, etc.
Q. How do I reload/charge Suica Apple Pay?
A. You reload Suica (the prepaid account or your commuter pass) directly in Wallet with an Apple Pay loaded JCB, MasterCard or American Express credit card. See the credit card section below for details.
Q. Is Suica reloading automatic?
A. No, but if you add the Suica iPhone app from JR East you can set an Apple Pay JCB, MasterCard or American Express credit card for automatic Suica reloading. The Suica iPhone app is available in the Japan App Store.
Q. Do credit cards issued abroad work for reloading Suica?
A. Good question but for now assume that only Japanese issued credit cards work for Suica reloading. I’ll update this section as soon as I can field test US issued cards.
Q. Do I have to use TouchID every time I use Suica for transit or store purchases?
A. No, if you set your Suica Apple Pay card to Express mode you can bypass TouchID for automatic transit or store transactions.
Q. Can I load other transit cards such as PASMO, SMART, ICOCA and PiTaPa onto my iPhone 7?
A. No, but any Suica compatible transit card system will work with Suica Apple Pay. Suica covers the major transit systems in Japan.
Q. Can I extend Suica Apple Pay functionality?
A. Yes, the Suica iPhone app adds functionality: creation of new Suica cards and commuter train passes, Green Car seat ticket purchases and Shinkansen Express ticket purchases for JR East trains. Tokaido (Tokyo~Osaka) Shinkansen and Sanyō (Osaka~Fukuoka) Shinkansen ticket purchasing and seat reservations will be added later as systems are optimized with JR Central and JR West. A quick rundown of the Suica App here.
JR Central/JR West has a support page for using Apple Pay Suica with JR Central/JR West Shinkansen trains. JR East has said they are working with the other JR companies to provide full and seamless smartphone transit interoperability by the summer of 2017.
Q. I have Mobile Suica installed on my Android smartphone/Japanese feature phone. Can I migrate my Mobile Suica information to iPhone 7?
A. Yes but there are specific steps you need to follow after the Apple Pay launch to successfully migrate your information. JR East has a Mobile Suica support page (Japanese only). The page warns users to fetch their Suica data from JR East servers before migrating to iPhone.
Certain Mobile Suica features such as EX－IC reservations (the JR Central/JR West Shinkansen reservation system), Suica reloading via carrier billing, and Suica reloading via bank account billing will not work on Apple Pay. JR East plans to gradually restore missing Mobile Suica features via the Suica iPhone app.
Notice: the Suica Apple Pay Express mode allows you to use Suica without waking the device. The iPhone 7 or Apple Watch Series 2 device must be turned on but can be left locked. For Suica transit use make sure your device has enough battery power to complete your route as Suica transit payment transaction is made at the final transit point.
Credit & Prepaid Cards
Q. What cards can I use with Apple Pay?
A. The cards listed below can be used at stores displaying any of the contactless pay system logos listed above. Suica, iD, and QUICPay are commonly found together.
Q. VISA is not listed on the Apple Pay Japan page, does VISA work with Apple Pay?
A. VISA has not signed on for Apple Pay in Japan but VISA cards issued from the list above, and the full launch list from Apple, will work for store purchases. VISA cards will not work for Suica Apple Pay reloading, in-app purchases and web purchases.
Q. What credit cards work for Apple Pay in-app and web purchases?
A. The JCB, MasterCard or American Express cards listed above and in the full launch list work for in-app and web purchases.
Q. Can I use credit cards issued from other countries with Apple Pay in Japan?
A. No, you can only use Japanese issued cards with Apple Pay in Japan. Cards issued abroad do not support FeliCa Type-F NFC systems.
10/25 update: JR East Suica support and Suica app information, Rakuten Card addition, Apple Japan Apple Pay support information, Apple Pay participating bank and card issuer list and revised MUFG card status.
10/26 update: added Apple Japan Apple Pay support site and pages, FeliCa summary, Apple ID Q&A, and Suica transit notice.
Apple Pay ready terminals are appearing in stores ahead of the October 25 Japanese launch. This one was at the local Matsumotokiyoshi drug store which until now only accepted Rakuten Edy contactless payment. Japanese twitter users are reporting similar developments in their locales. The market disruption that Apple Pay is bringing to Japan will be fascinating to watch.