Full Bloom Tokyo

Yoshino Cherry blossoms along the Zenbuku-ji river, Suginami, Tokyo

It’s Hanami Time in Tokyo

Today is a beautiful day in Tokyo and the cherry blossoms are peaking. There is only one thing to do: pack a bento, gather some friends and go hanami cherry blossom viewing. Enjoy a perfect day.

iOS 10.3 Update Improves Suica Apple Pay Express Transit Performance

topMy experience with the latest iOS 10.3 upgrade has been a very positive one. iPhone 7 feels snappier, a completely subjective observation, but another pleasant surprise is nuch improved Suica Apple Pay Express Transit performance at the ticket gate.

Using Suica Apple Pay for over three months I noticed there were always certain dodgy ticket gate NFC readers. Most of the time they worked OK but other times the gate reader didn’t register and Suica Express Transit didn’t activate.

After lots of trial and error I developed a little knack to deal with dodgy ticket gates: put the iPhone screen back to sleep with a touch of the sleep/wake button and wave it over the ticket gate reader again. Worked every time.

I am happy to report that since upgrading to iOS 10.3, I don’t need to use my sleep knack anymore. Every single former dodgy ticket gate now works great with Suica Apple Pay Express Transit.

iPhone 7S Taking FeliCa Worldwide

apple-pay-japan_bigJapanese IT journalist Nobi Hayashi’s recent interview in Pen is a good review of all things Apple Pay Japan. Nobi explains why FeliCa flavored Apple Pay is a good fit for Japan, Suica and Tokyo which he calls “the most advanced payment metropolis there is.”

FeliCa, aka NFC Type F is the fastest of the NFC flavors. The fastest possible transaction speed is critical for stress free public transit. There is nothing else in the world like the JR East Suica and Suica compatible IC transit card infrastructure that can match the speed and quality of service they provide at such massive scale. FeliCa makes that possible.

Nobi also says that worldwide FeliCa support is coming with the next iPhone and anybody can add a Suica card to Apple Pay. As most techies know, Apple uses the same NXP manufactured FeliCa/NFC chip in iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 worldwide but only activates FeliCa for devices sold in Japan. There has been lots of conjecture why but the exact reasons have never been clear.

Apple Pay Region Speed Bumps
Ever notice that when you change the region setting in iOS your device does a soft restart? I suspect one of the many reasons for this is that Apple Pay and the NFC flavor choice (A/B/F) are not dynamic when loading new cards into the system. You must lock down the region first before adding cards to Apple Pay: USA region for USA issued cards, etc. Otherwise they don’t work.

Nobi has excellent contacts. I think he is on to something and the timing makes sense. It’s a combination of converging elements: iOS 11 will probably be more smart and dynamic changing NFC flavors on the fly, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications regulatory mark engraving will be a thing of the past and those fancy new Panasonic NFC  JT-R600CR readers that can do it all (NFC A/B/F) are not only going into McDonald‘s they are going everywhere.

Worldwide FeliCa
The Japanese government hopes to showcase Japan’s payment technology to the world during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. What better way than to have Suica ready FeliCa built into every visitors smartphone. JR East vice chairman Masaki Ogata previously said his company  hoped to support “Inbound” customers:

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.

That’s not the only aim however, Japanese companies have lots of FeliCa infrastructure technology and expertise they hope to sell abroad. Seen in that context the purpose of the Apple Pay Japan ad juggernaut becomes clear: Apple Pay becoming a massive success story in Japan helps Japanese companies sell FeliCa expertise abroad.

Apple wins, Japanese companies win. The next iPhone will be important not only to Apple but Japan as well.

Update: FeliCa is used loosely here as Apple uses it when referring to the NCF Type F component of FeliCa based technology used in iPhone 7. NFC-F is the only component of FeliCa technology used by Apple, and along with NFC A/B is a requirement for GCF (Global Certification Forum) certification of NFC devices.

Line Pay and Suica Apple Pay

Macgeek has another video in his continuing series of using Suica Apple Pay without credit cards. This one details using a JCB branded Line Pay pre-paid card bought at a Japanese convenience store and registering the card in the Suica app.

Apple Pay Japan does not accept pre-paid cards issued from any Japanese credit card issuers but you can get around this using the credit card recharge feature in Suica app that bypasses Apple Pay and charges Suica Apple Pay directly.

I find the initial setup rather cumbersome, but this should be easy if you are a Line user and have enough Japanese ability to create a virtual Suica card and register the Line Pay Card information in the Suica app.