Lawson launches first Apple Pay NFC contactless rewards card in Japan

Payment acceptance marks at Lawsons 2
The Lawson POS screen will add Ponta NFC contactless to their ever-growing collection of acceptance marks

Lawson Japan announced NFC contactless support for the popular Ponta rewards card operated by the Recruit Group starting nationwide on November 7. The Lawson press release explains that iOS 12/watch OS 5 users with FeliCa capable Apple devices: iPhone 7 (JP)/iPhone 8/iPhone X and later, Apple Watch 2 (JP)/Apple Watch 3 and later can add a Ponta card to Wallet and use Ponta points for NFC contactless purchases.

Purchases made with Apple Pay Suica or Apple Pay credit cards automatically earn Ponta points without having to open the Ponta App or show a bar code. This is exactly what Apple was selling to developers in the WWDC18 Apple Pay session: no more messy QR or bar codes for Wallet cards and passes. Apple has also been using contactless NFC passes at recent Apple Events.

Neither Ponta Web or Ponta App can add Wallet passes right now so this means updates are due before the November 7 launch. Ponta rewards are issued and used by a large number of stores, hopefully the Lawson announcement is the start of a larger rollout and a mention on the Apple Pay Japan site. The less rummaging around to dig out a rewards card, all the better. It means I might actually use it more.

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iOS 12.1 Apple Pay Suica performance issues (U)

Apple engineering closed my January 2018 iOS 11.2.5 Suica error flicker bug report with the release of iOS 12.1 beta 1: “We believe this issue is resolved in the latest iOS 12.1 beta.” Based on this iOS 12.1 includes bug fixes and performance improvements for Apple Pay Suica Express Card issues that users have experienced on iOS 12.0:

  • Express Transit Card transit gate error flicker
  • Unresponsive Express Transit at transit gate with Apple Pay authentication request
  • Suica Notifications stop working/Suica card balance doesn’t update
  • Slow or failed Apple Pay Suica Recharge attempts

Affected devices: iPhone 7 (JP models only), iPhone 8, iPhone X. Some Apple Watch users have complained of similar Suica problems with watchOS 5.0, the watchOS 5.1 update will hopefully address those as well. iPhone XS/XR are not affected by iOS 12 Apple Pay Suica issues thanks to A12 Bionic NFC features. Be on the safe side and backup your device before updating. See updates below for the latest information.

iPhone X Suica issues on iOS 12
The iPhone X Suica performance situation remains complicated due to the long running iPhone X NFC hardware issue and Apple‘s refusal to acknowledge it publicly. As previously reported, software updates do not fix the NFC hardware issue with iPhone X problem units manufactured before April 2018, the only fix is getting an exchange from Apple Support for a Rev-B iPhone X. See the iPhone X Exchange Guide for details. Rev-B iPhone X users who never had Suica problems on iOS 11.x report regular error flicker on iOS 12.0.

iOS 12.1 beta Suica performance
Reader reports of iOS 12.1 beta Suica performance were few but mixed. One reader reported that all versions of iOS 12.1 beta did not fix Suica error flicker problems on his Rev-B iPhone X. Another user also reported Suica error flicker with the iOS 12.1 beta, device unknown.

My experience with iOS 12.1 beta on iPhone XS was a positive one but as I wrote earlier, Suica on A12 Bionic is a whole new thing. Suica on A12 does not use iOS for basic operations. One strange episode with iOS 12.1 beta 5 proved this: Suica Express Card went dead, Suica notifications went dead but Suica kept silently working on every reader anyway. The closest thing to describe it is that the Express Card power reserve feature kicked in with iOS still up and running with plenty of battery power, and completely bypassed it.

Summary
I hope that the Apple engineering resolution of my iOS 11.2.5 Suica error flicker bug report means Apple Pay Suica performance bugs are fixed for everybody in the iOS 12.1 update. I’ll be in contact with Rev-B iPhone X users who experienced daily Suica error flicker on iOS 12.0 and will report their iOS 12.1 Suica experiences ASAP.


Update
Early feedback is not good: Rev-B iPhone X users are still experiencing transit gate error flicker with no apparent change from iOS 12.0. It looks like that issue has not been fixed for iPhone X Suica users. I will post updates as reports and details come in.


Update 2
Unfortunately some Apple Pay Suica Express Card performance issues are not fixed in iOS 12.1: regular error flicker continues to be a problem especially for iPhone X users on transit gates with some users even having troubles with convenience store readers. Meanwhile iPhone X users everywhere are reporting battery issues with the iOS 12.1 update. I wouldn’t be surprised if the issues are related. Apple clearly needs to keep working on Suica Express Card and battery bug fixes.

Traveling abroad with Apple Pay NFC switching credit cards

Japanese tech journalist Satoru Nakayama who posted his experience of riding the Shanghai subway with an Apple Pay Express Transit China card loaded on his iPhone earlier, continues his Apple Pay NFC switching global travel adventures with trips to Taipei and London. His Apple Pay Rakuten Mastercard which uses the FeliCa QUICPay network in Japan, worked perfectly with Mastercard Contactless readers overseas.

He noted that Mastercard Contactless is making rapid progress in Taiwan, encountering none of the Mastercard Apple Pay refusals he experienced earlier this year. London was also easy and he rode the London Underground without an Oyster card (MIFARE), using Apple Pay instead (EMV contactless). His picture highlights one shortcoming of using ‘Open Loop’ EMV contactless credit card payment for transit: no Express Cards.

Another problem Nakayama san encountered is that many London stores only accept contactless payment for purchases over 5 GBP or restaurants that only accept contactless payment for 2 people or more. This is a problem that Japan’s Osaifu-Keitai solved long ago: the “e-money” contactless payments system that Sony and NTT Docomo pioneered in 2004 covered both credit cards and prepaid cards. It also eliminated signatures, PIN codes and ‘no contactless payments on sales less than XX’ nonsense. Sony and NTT Docomo knew that people would not use contactless payments if they were not accepted everywhere without conditions, just like cash.

Apple Maps Japan Quick Point: indoor maps

Before starting let me get this out of the way: indoor mapping on digital devices is in the stone age and basically sucks. It doesn’t matter if it’s Google, Apple or Yahoo Japan Maps. It all sucks, some less than others. That would be Yahoo Japan Maps.

Indoor maps overwhelm the user with mediocre information and detail they don’t need, map vomit, and are more confusing than helpful. Getting intelligently collected human curated high density map information and presenting it in clear, concise user-friendly fashion is a challenge, especially so for indoor maps which have to collapse 3D information into a 2D format.

Apple Maps Japan has not officially announced indoor map availability yet but you can see it in action at Narita International Airport on iOS. Here is a quick comparison big view of Narita with Apple Maps, Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps.

As usual Yahoo Japan Maps has the most intelligent use of Japanese text, high contrast and different text sizes to emphasize significance but it ends here: Yahoo Japan Maps does not have indoor maps for airports as they have focused efforts on major train station indoor mapping instead. In terms of real everyday use, it’s the smarter choice.

Comparison closeups of Terminal 1 3rd Floor show that Apple Maps still suffers from the same old problems of using 3rd rate 3rd party data suppliers with poor vetting and coordination: some stores are located out on the tarmac. The Apple Maps reboot effort has yet to be felt in Japan.

A comparison closeup view of Terminal 1 4th Floor check in and store areas: Apple has a good idea in offering canned search buttons for Check-in, Restaurants, Cafes, restroom, etc. Unfortunately the iOS UI control puts Japanese names at the bottom of the every list and tapping a canned search button only highlights results that add another layer of visual noise. It would be much better if canned searches also hide or grey out unrelated details and offer Japanese names at the top of every list with alphabetized English names at the bottom. Meanwhile Google Maps uses the same hunt and peck ‘one size fits all’ search conventions for indoor and outdoor maps.

Realistically I cannot imagine using any of these indoor maps in real life on an iPhone screen. It’s much easier walking to an information booth or asking airport or station staff for directions. Until indoor maps and Siri get much smarter and tightly integrated with highly reliable information on the backend, I don’t see these solutions solving problems for anybody.

Apple Pay Suica Express Cards with power reserve on iPhone XR and iPhone XS

iPhone XR and iPhone XS both have the A12 Bionic powered “Express Cards with power reserve” feature. This feature can be used with FeliCa based Suica and Student ID cards, and China Transit Beijing and Shanghai transit cards. Another bonus of using Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XR and iPhone XS is that A12 Bionic bulletproofed Apple Pay Suica performance is so much better than all other devices.

Engadget JP reporter Takahiro Koguchi did the duty of running his iPhone XR test unit down into Express Card power reserve mode and running it through a transit gate. It works great. I wonder how many hours of Pokemon play it took Koguchi san to run into power reserve mode with the longer battery life of iPhone XR? Even on iPhone XS at 35% battery it took me 2 hours of Pokemon and 4 cups of Beck’s coffee until power reserve mode kicked in.

I covered the iPhone XS Apple Pay Suica Express Cards with power reserve feature in my earlier video. If anything the shorter battery life of iPhone XS means that Express Cards with power reserve might actually come in handy as Apple Pay Suica still works for transit, purchase and cash recharge for up to 5 hours.

Come to think of it the new 7-Eleven ATM Suica cash recharge service might actually work better/faster with Apple Pay Suica Express Card in power reserve mode as the pesky and unnecessary Touch ID/Face ID step is removed. If I have a day of Pokemon and Beck’s coffee to run my iPhone XS battery down and try it out, I’ll let you know.