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.

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Ishikawa San Water Tests iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

Japanese Smartphone Journalist Tsutsumu Ishikawa takes his iPhone 7 and 7 Plus review units for a Japanese bath. Looks like fun. For many Japanese customers water resistance is a very important, and long requested, feature.

iOS 10: Reading the Apple Maps Cartography Tea Leaves Part 2

Apple cut the iOS 10 Japan public transit preview image and left it on the cutting room floor during the iPhone 7 site refresh. It was inexplicably replaced by a transit map view of New York showing route suggestions to Prospect Park. Why show New York transit on the Japanese site when Apple wants to promote the upcoming Japanese public transit for Apple Maps?

I guess the Apple Maps team just can’t catch a break. No worries though because Phil Shiller gave us a new ‘don’t blink or you’ll miss it’ Japan transit map preview image during the iPhone 7 keynote.

Even at squint worthy low resolution you can see the same Shinjuku station view. Subway lines and rail lines are now much thicker, a plus, but that’s all I can make out.

Could somebody at Apple marketing with some common sense please copy the image from Phil’s Keynote slide and paste it on the Apple Japan iOS Map page? The Apple Maps transit team would be very grateful, I am sure.

Update: The old Japan Transit preview image is still there on the iOS 10 Preview page. I lost track of it with the iPhone 7 refresh. The iPhone 7 page has its own iOS 10 Maps section with the New York transit image shown above. It would be nice if both iOS 10 Japan pages had the updated ‘Phil Schiller’ Japan transit image for closer inspection. The subway and rail line cartography improvements look good.

Apple Pay in Japan – Market Analysis and Developments

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(Apple Pay information here is out of date. See Apple Pay Japan Intro Q&A for up to date information)

Suica Everywhere
Go to the Apple Japan iPhone 7 page and scroll down to the Apple Pay section. Take a good look then go to the Apple Pay details page. Take another good look at the first three image and text sections. What do you see in every screen shot and throughout the text? Suica everywhere. All other cards are secondary information.

Sony invented FeliCa technology but the East Japan Railway Company (JR East) put it on the map with the release of the Suica (super urban intelligent card) platform in 2001. They developed a lot of infrastructure technology to make FeliCa reliable at enormous scale. JR East also owns a large FeliCa patent portfolio with Sony.

Apple was very smart to launch Apple Pay in Japan with Suica as the center. Suica has massive Godzilla-size coverage of the greater Tokyo area via the JR East RR (rail and retail) empire. Where Suica goes everybody else follows, or gets squashed. But what’s in it for JR East? Will they use the momentum of their Apple Pay deal as an opportunity to export FeliCa infrastructure and systems expertise, and if so, how? This is the question burning in the Japanese blog sphere and on Twitter.

Inbound FeliCa Support?
We know that only iPhone 7 phones sold in Japan support FeliCa (NFC-F). I can’t believe that Apple is making a special iPhone 7 just for Japan and suspect that Apple is turning off FeliCa on iPhone 7 phones sold outside of Japan via software (NFC-A/B only). This is alluded to in a Apple Event exit interview with JR East vice chairman Masaki Ogata, posted by Japanese journalist Tsutsumu Ishikawa who broke the Apple Pay-JR East story. In it Ogata san talks about the close relationship between Apple and JR East (several JR East executives were invited to the Apple event).

At the one minute mark Ishikawa san asks about FeliCa support for “inbound” iPhone customers from abroad.

Ogata: We are putting a lot of effort into supporting inbound (iPhone users). Current support is what you saw announced today, but it would be good to have (Apple Pay) Suica available for inbound users whose numbers are rapidly increasing.

Ishikawa: Does this mean Apple and JR East are working on this?

Ogata: We’ll work more closely together to raise the bar in many ways. We just want to deliver good service.

The context of the exchange heavily suggests inbound iPhone 7 customers will, at some point, be able to add FeliCa Suica. My feeling is the current block was put in place to make sure that Apple Pay Suica procurement could only be linked to Japanese issued credit cards. Once JR East and Apple have the kinks worked out for Apple Pay Suica procurement with credit cards issued overseas, they will hit the on switch. If regulatory issues are worked out between Apple, the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), and JR East, Apple can hit the on switch for all iPhone 7 users.

Making It Simple
It is clear from Ogata san’s statement and reports from Japanese journalists who got iPhone 7 hands on time, that Apple and JR East worked very closely together to make the Apple Pay Suica experience seamless and far better than Suica on Android and Japanese keitai (feature phones). iPhone 7 instantly reads and loads information from the physical Suica card including commuter rail pass and debit balance information. That’s it. Everything is on your iPhone and the old Suica card is obsolete.

Mobile Suica for Japanese keitai has been around for a long time but actual useage, from my long time observation, remains low. I just don’t see mobile Suica that much on my daily Tokyo commute grind. Apple and JR East are making it easy for those users, Android too, to migrate their Suica info to iPhone 7.

All the pieces are in place: a huge, well established FeliCa installed base , a UI that elegantly ties together all the disparate parts as only Apple can do. Apple has a very unique opportunity to disrupt the contactless payment market in Japan, and drive it to a whole new level. JR East has an opportunity to leverage their unparalleled FeliCa systems expertise and export their technology.

It will be fascinating to see how things play out when Apple Pay launches in Japan in late October.

Update: Tsutsumu Ishikawa posted a transcript of his interview with Masaki Ogata and I corrected my translation. Ishikawa san also explained that some people have misinterpreted Ogata’s comments. Ishikawa thinks Ogata is referring to the next iPhone which implies the current ‘only iPhone 7 phones and iWatch 2 watches sold in Japan’ FeliCa support is hardware based, not software. I still find that a stretch but we will soon found out after iPhone 7 ships later this week.

On the other hand, if Apple really is shipping special hardware for Japan, that would be eye opening evidence illustrating how important Apple Pay entry into the Japanese contactless payment market is for Apple. Hardware teardown confirm all iPhone 7 phones use the same NFC chip. Apple’s ‘Japanese iPhone 7 only’ FeliCa support is implemented via software.

If you  read Japanese (and pay the 500 JPY a month subscription fee for his “Tsutsumu’s SmartPhone Times” Newsletter), Ishikawa san’s newsletter covers all the behind-the-scene buildup to the ‘Apple +JR East + iPhone 7 = FeliCa Apple Pay  in Japan’ story that he broke in August (and Bloomberg later claimed for their own because it was in English, not Japanese).

It’s an entertaining read and really drives home the point that Apple making JR East the keystone founding relationship for Apple Pay was a genius move. It guaranteed a huge rollout of Japanese card services for the Apple Pay launch in October.

Finally, my sincere apologies to Tsutsumu Ishikawa san. I misspelled his first name in all previous blog posts. He does not read this blog but I wanted to apologize. All his mentions have been corrected.

SoftBank Pulls a SoftBank, Again

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A new iPhone announcement is always fun. Japanese carriers maneuver and compete with each other to capture the largest share of iPhone upgrades. iPhone 7 was expected to be, another, off year. Apple unveiled iPhone 7 and everything changed.

Maybe is was the Super Mario Run Nintendo announcement, or the endless Pokemon Go boom, or even the black comedy /political satire mega hit movie “Shin-Godzilla”.  Whatever the reason, monster-mania is everywhere.

SoftBank’s love affair with iPhone which had been on the rocks until the iPhone 7 event, has become monster again. SoftBank opened their iPhone 7 sales salvo by offering  a new “Giga-monster”  20GB monthly data tier for 6, 000 JPY.

By comparison Docomo offers 20 GB of monthly date for 16,000 JPY. The iPhone 7 monster carrier wars in Japan are just getting started.

Update 1: Right on cue KDDI au announced new “Data-Zilla” data tiers, 20GB and 30 GB that match SoftBank prices. To be fair though, KDDI au were first carrier to use the monster theme. Your turn Docomo.

Update 2: And Docomo makes it to the finish line with their “Ultra-pack” data tier campaign just before iPhone 7 goes on sales