First announced as ‘coming later this year’ in August, Apple Pay WAON and Apple Pay nanaco will launch October 21 JST. The popular prepaid cards, Express Mode payment cards, are two of the last big three eMoney card holdouts that have been on Osaifu Keitai mobile phones for some time: 2005 for Edy, 2007 for WAON, 2011 for nanaco. Google Pay support was added in 2018. The launch PR announcements were extremely sparse and rushed, service details are promised for launch day.
Earlier this year I predicted these cards would be added with apps, not directly in Wallet. To that end AEON released a new iAEON app in late August featuring screenshots of future versions for adding Mobile WAON to iOS 15 Wallet. A Mobile nanaco app should finally launch on iOS as well.
One of the reasons it has taken so long for WAON and nanaco to join Apple Pay despite the ability to do so since the introduction of FeliCa capable iPhone 7 in 2016, is the account creation process for mobile. Unlike their anonymous plastic siblings that anybody can buy at convenience stores, and also unlike Suica, mobile WAON and mobile nanaco on Android require a user account to add WAON or nanaco card to Google Pay. Plastic card to mobile device transfers are not supported. The cumbersome registration process for adding these cards in Google Pay Wallet is something that Apple doesn’t want anything to do with, hence the app method. That way users vent account frustrations at AEON and Seven & i Holdings instead of Apple.
Why are Apple Pay WAON and nanaco coming after the Apple Event when they could have launched anytime with iOS 15.0? If Apple did somehow convince AEON and Seven & i Holdings to ditch the mobile account requirement and support plastic card transfers for direct Wallet adding, like Suica and PASMO, it would be a very big deal and Apple Pay exclusive. Don’t hold your breath, the timing was just coincidence.
But why now? Is it the allure of iOS 15? Nope. The Japanese mobile payments market has been on a migratory path since the release of Apple Pay in 2016 which pulled all the various FeliCa payment threads into one slick and convenient service. This development, plus the VISA JP/SMBC feud with NTT Docomo, created an opening for code payment platforms wannabes with every tom, dick, yoko and harry creating their own ‘〇〇 Pay’ service and app.
Seven & i Holdings crashed and burned with their 7Pay disaster, meanwhile AEON launched AEON Pay cod payments on August 31 with the iAEON app that follows the Toyota Wallet model. That model is what every Japanese payment player is aiming for: a virtual financial service account with multiple payment options: NFC payment cards, code payments, reward points and so on that lock users to their economic zone of choice (Rakuten, NTT docomo, SoftBank, etc.)
So now the old reliable plastic eMoney cards are being repositioned as one payment option of many in sleek modern digital swiss army payment apps. To make this strategy work, the cards need to be on Apple Pay. Unfortunately the very long delay getting WAON and nanaco on Apple Pay means they are much less important that if they had launched back in 2016 along with Suica. People always lay any delay blame on Apple and transaction fees, but my take is the account sign-up for mobile part and user privacy was the major sticking point. On the nanaco side, the 7pay code payment fiasco was also a major distraction as they planned to ditch nanaco cards for QR. As always it will be interesting to see how the situation evolves. One thing for sure, it’s only a question of time before the last holdout Rakuten Edy comes to Apple Pay…’if’ is no longer an option.
The JR Shibuya station platform and track realignment of the Yamanote Inner Circle line takes place October 23~24 (unless bad weather postpones it to November 20~21). All Yamanote Inner Circle train service between Ikebukuro and Osaki stations is suspended all day, both days.
JR East has posted multilingual information (English, Chinese, Korean) that includes detour transfer guidance to non-JR lines during the line closure. The English wording is fuzzy because the exact distinctions between mag-strip commuter passes, Suica commuter passes and Suica IC transit fare are not always clear to the reader. It’s also important to understand detour transfer rules.
Detour Transfers Tokyo area transit operators have special detour transfer rules to deal with transit situations when there is an unexpected stoppage and in-transit users suddenly need to use a different transit route from the normal one to reach their destination. Detour transfers have one rule for Suica or PASMO commuter passes, both mobile and plastic: do not use automatic transit gates during the detour portion of the route, go to a station agent window gate instead and use the reader. The station agent checks the validity of the commuter pass and waves you through, the NFC equivalent of visually inspecting printed tickets and passes. Regular non-commuter pass Suica, PASMO and other transit cards are outside of detour transfer rules and are charged normal IC transit fare.
For example, my normal commute route from JR Asagaya to Tokyu Ikegami has a line transfer point at Gotanda. A Gotanda transfer isn’t possible during the service suspension. Instead I plan to transfer at Shibuya to the Tokyu Toyoko line, ride to Jiyugaoka > transfer to Tokyu Ooimachi line > transfer at Hatanodai to Tokyu Ikegami line > exit at Ikegami.
In this case I make 2 automatic gate reads and 2 station agent window reads with my Apple Watch Suica commute pass: the JR Asagaya start point (automatic gate as always), leaving JR Shibuya (JR station agent window reader) transfer to Tokyu Toyoko line (Tokyu station agent window reader), Tokyu Ikegami (automatic gate as always).
This poster at the Tokyu Ikegami station clearly shows the ‘do not use automatic gates during detour rule.’ Always use the station agent window reader on the detour portion and you’ll reach your final destination even with a long detour.
I have been in Japan for so long that I assumed the cute, cleverly effective transit card mascot characters like Suica penguin, PASMO robot, ICOCA duck (er platypus?), etc., are employed by transit companies around the world. They are not. Let’s compare…
TfL Oyster? Not cute.
San Fransisco Clipper? So unoriginal.
Sydney Opal? Ditto.
Hong Kong Octopus? Borrowed mascot better than none?
For goodness sake, if transit companies around the world can’t implement the great technology that makes Suica great, they could at least create cute fun mascot characters that brighten the commuting day and help people feel good about riding transit again. And you do want people to ride transit again after the COVID nightmare right? Cleverly designed mascots with a touch of anime kawai’ are a great marketing tool for that.
I have lots of respect for Bloomberg reporter Gearoid Reidy and Craig Mod, but a recent Twitter exchange they had about code payment apps vs NFC reminded me that no matter how long westerners reside in Japan and appreciate the culture, our western cultural ‘winner or loser’ take on things too often gets in the way of truly understanding what’s going on. The Japanese take complexity in stride and are very adept at dealing with situations that drive us westerners crazy.
This is especially true when the debate is about that contentious intersection of contactless payments and technology: EMV is the winner FeliCa the loser, code payments are the winner NFC is the loser, and so on. As fun as that debate can be at times, the black and white distracts westerners, and even some Japanese from analyzing the gray to find out what’s driving the narratives and why.
My take has always been that Japan is the best place to observe trends first before they happen elsewhere. This is what Gearoid half jokingly calls ‘j a p a n i f i c a t i o n’. It’s real and has nothing to do with liking or disliking Japan. Either way, too many dismiss the opportunity to learn ahead of the curve. My take has also been that the crazy kaleidoscope of Japanese payment choices is coming to your country too. We got a taste of that with the announcement of the Australian national QR payments and rewards platform called eQR.
The standard Japanese market debate point of code payments vs NFC assumes the China Alipay model. China didn’t have the mobile NFC contactless payments infrastructure that Japan had, so the Alipay code payment model makes sense there. In Japan it does not, which is why Gearoid and Craig are scratching their heads in public. Code payments in Japan are all about leverage, big data, and carriers. Leverage in that carriers like NTT docomo keep the dBarai accounts in-house and use the float for their own purposes instead of letting banks and credit card companies earn interest on dCard accounts. That’s why they encourage users to use dCard to recharge the code payment dBarai account instead of using the card directly.
It’s a similar situation for SoftBank and PayPay, though I suspect it has more to do with deficit financing funnery that SoftBank Holdings is so adept at. Heaven help us, and all those Vision Fund supporters, if it comes crashing down. PayPay has been helpful though at shining a bright light on Japanese payment networks and the various service fee structures from CAFIS on down. VISA JP has suddenly seen the light and proposes to do something about it…perhaps.
Code payments are just a tool in the swiss army knife payment wallet app, like Toyota Wallet, insurance and leverage. We saw that in action when Apple Pay first launched in America and Walmart answered with CurrentC. We’re seeing again with eQR in Australia and it will keep happening when merchants or banks or payment service players need a tool to bargain a better percentage. Heck even Apple Pay is flirting with the idea of adding code payments to Wallet, though I think their hesitancy to do so means…it’s just a bargaining tool for Apple too.
The iPhone X NFC problem will continue to be a problem as long as there are iPhone X users out there. The daily number of hits to those relevant posts tells me so. I ran across a Japanese iPhone X failure tweet a while back. Suica stopped working with a Wallet error: the maximum number of Apple Pay cards (zero) has been reached. Other iPhone X NFC failures report a similar error. I retweeted it hoping all worked out for the best. Unfortunately like all things related to the iPhone X NFC problem, it did not. The user gave me an update:
Thanks. I consulted Apple in May. They immediately did a remote diagnosis and told me it was an NFC failure and the repair would be a replacement ¥70,980. I gave them the information on @Kanjo’s page and twitter, and asked if Apple already knew about this problem.
However, “Your iPhone has already been determined to be faulty, so this we cannot help you. You may want to consult an authorized repair shop or Apple store.” 😢
One of the weird aspects of the saga is that I’m almost certain it was an Apple employee who emailed and suggested that I gather and compare iPhone X manufacturing dates to find the cause. That and the internal Apple Support doc says all that you need to know: Apple knew iPhone X NFC was defective but chose to ignore the problem and ride it out.
Apple chose this path of inaction because: (1) it was only a problem in Japan as Japan was the only country with Apple Pay Express Transit at the time, (2) Apple considered the Japanese market expendable enough to hang out and dry because Japanese customers don’t complain loudly like American and European customers or at least enough to cross the language barrier (so convenient that), (3) the IT tech press wasn’t competent enough to catch and report the issue.
One thing is certain, no way could Apple get away with ignoring such a problem today. It’s a crime that iPhone X users never got the Apple repair program they deserved.
Reviewing Apple Maps is impossible because it’s not the same product everywhere. The iOS 15 Apple Maps users get in California is completely different from the Apple Maps users get in Japan. The vast collection of services under the Maps umbrella is such that a comprehensive overview would require separate reviews of each category and country: (1) Directions: driving, transit, bike, walking, (2) Search: pre-canned Nearby, Point of Interest, etc. (3) The two different versions of Look Around, (4) Guides, (5) Cartography design and map data quality.
The reason for this of course is that much of Apple Maps is outsourced, very little is collected in-house and created by Apple. So Apple uses many different local data suppliers of varying quality to deliver most of these services for each country. And most regions outside of major metropolitan areas only offer a small sub-set of those services.
For this iOS 15 Apple Maps non-review, I’ll limit observations to a few features in Japan, or lack thereof. Before diving in it is important to be acquainted with the basic longstanding quality problems that Apple Maps Japan has suffered from:
Extremely uneven quality from Point of Interest (POI) data suppliers
Poor data vetting and coordination on the Apple Maps system side (duplicates, etc.) with no real way to report duplication errors.
Poor Japanese typography, specifically unfamiliarity with or unwillingness to accommodate and optimize non-roman character sets like Kanji that have special rules for legibility.
I created a similar feature availability chart to O’Beirne’s one, focusing only on Japan and clearly separating out Apple in-house and 3rd party supplied data. The only truly and widely available feature beyond the basics (Driving, Walking, Nearby) is Transit Directions.
iOS 15 New Cartography All countries, more or less, get the Apple Maps ‘new look’ cartography which everybody seems to either love or hate neatly summed up in the above Twitter timeline screenshot. Justin O’Beirne will be covering it soon and won’t repeat his efforts here. Let’s start with the basic new UI elements. iOS 15 Apple Maps has 4 views compared with the 3 views of previous iOS versions: Explore, Driving, Transit, Satellite. Explore is new and serves as the default view for exploring details and Points of Interest (POI) in full glory, or drowning in gory details…depending on your point of view.
Explore attempts to limit POI clutter with a new map design element: the ‘micro POI’. Micro POI are textless small dots using the same POI color scheme that tells the users there is more information available by zooming in. It’s a nice idea that Google Maps cribbed and implemented in better (bigger, higher contrast, easy to see) fashion that Apple.
The micro POI failure in Apple Maps is due to another new map element: highlighted commercial areas. Google Maps has highlighted commercial areas with a slightly different background color for some time. Apple Maps now highlights these areas with a pale orange background color that separates it from the standard grey background of non-commercial areas. Unfortunately the commercial POI color is also orange…so you end up with orange text on orange background. Micro POI look better in Dark Mode because the different background color adds most contrast. Hopefully Apple will continue to improve their new design to match the clarity and high contrast readability of Google and Yahoo Japan.
Japanese typography problems remain The new cartography is a mixed bag on the colored Kanji typography front. Dark mode has improved dramatically but regular light mode still suffers from low contrast where the text color is almost the same as the background color. And Apple Maps still does ‘fukuro moji‘ wrong, there are too many times where there should be a black outline instead of white to make the text label readable. This issue is the perfect opportunity for AI that intelligently delivers the best display typography whatever the background is. Google Maps is remains miles ahead here and also respects user dynamic text size and bold text settings which Apple Maps completely ignores.
Transit Improvements Transit notifications are finally here but in my extensive testing, I found the design to be weird, inconsistent and the notification mechanism is not reliable. First of all Transit directions take over the screen like driving directions but only when set in iPhone but not, Apple Watch. Transfer and destination notifications are non standard app only banners that are also work differently on Apple Watch: they only show when Apple Maps is in the background.
The notification mechanism itself is GPS based and doesn’t work well in subways or big stations like Shinjuku that have notoriously bad GPS reception. Most of the time I get ‘next station disembark’ alerts after the train pulls out of Shinjuku. It’s the same story for Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Shibuya, and other major stations.
Transit directions now includes train car exit information, but real time transit and train crowding information is still missing. All of these have been on Google Maps in Japan for some time and the UI is much more useful for searching transit route options.
One last time I’ll close out this post and Apple Maps coverage with some final thoughts on the Japan product. Apple Maps reaches the 10 year mark in 2022, the ‘New Maps’ effort will be 4 years old. Things have improved for some regions but the overall level of fit and polish feels the same because the same old iOS 6 era problems lurk under the new candy coated surface. The more I use iOS 15 Apple Maps, the less I like it.
The basic malaise of Apple Maps in Japan is focus. The product team thinks that throwing questionable new features into the mix, the new cartography design, Look Around, etc., make a better product. They don’t. They don’t because each new feature is not best in class and/or doesn’t address the needs of the region. The result is a highly integrated collection of mediocre mini products and services. It doesn’t add up…the total is less than the sum of the parts.
Compare that to the success of the highly focused Apple Pay Japan, Jennifer Bailey’s team built a very strong foundation and improved it from there. Take Look Around for example, Tokyo data is from 2019 and has not been updated since then (as of this writing in October 2021) and it’s a confusing mix where some Tokyo Look Up areas have POI information and some don’t. Tokyo changes quickly but Look Around is not improving or even keeping up and the data collection effort remains very limited compared to America, Europe and Australia. The perplexing Editor Recommendation Guides are in English language only in a Japanese language product. Indoor maps don’t include stations. And so it goes.
Instead of spreading themselves thin, Apple would do better to put new features on hold and rebuild the basic foundation. Because until that happens, Apple Maps Japan, a product that still refuses to name the Sea of Japan, is going nowhere.