New Apple Pay Suica ads

Google Pay Suica has been getting most of the JR East Suica marketing love these past few months but Apple Pay Suica is not down and out. JR East posted some new Apple Pay Suica ads on their website refresh which hopefully means that posters and train wrappers are coming soon.

In light of the coming changes in the Japanese mobile market, Apple is smart to market strengths, like Apple Pay Suica, instead of covering weaknesses, like iPhone XR pricing, with cool. Cool works best when you can rush out and impulse buy.

Skin in the Game

The so called Renault-Nissan ‘crisis’ has been fascinating to watch, not the actual event but how it is reported in the western press. It’s like time warping back to culturally biased 1980s style ‘Japan Inc. doesn’t play by the rules, has vested interests (what country doesn’t?), etc.’ reportage. When things get hot western journalists trot out the old stereotypes and prejudices with titles like “Carlos Ghosn: A criminal or just a foreigner?”, because it still sells. French cartoonists and FCCJ based journalists who should know better take the easy path and pander to the gutter, cringe worthy nasty stuff, instead of doing actual research and reporting such as Ghosn illegally funneling Nissan profits to Renault-Samsung to cover loses and show profit instead.

Only now is Reuters picking up the French connection side of the story which has been reported in Japanese media since day one and is a well-known narrative: Seeds of Renault-Nissan crisis sown in Macron’s ‘raid’When Ghosn came to Japan to fix Nissan he promised that Nissan stay separate and would never be merged with Renault. Macron the “former Rothschild dealmaker” broke that promise:

Then, on the evening of April 7, (2015) Macron called Ghosn to let him know – as a courtesy – that the state had bought another 4.73 percent of Renault for 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion), would announce its maneuver in the morning and planned to sell back down to 15 percent only after defeating his (Ghosn’s) opt-out.


With that step, seen by detractors and admirers alike as an unprecedented government “raid”, the simmering battle of egos between Ghosn the global CEO and Macron the wunderkind banker-turned-minister had burst into the open.

Brushing aside warnings, Macron pressed ahead and defeated the opt-out. The vote handed France an effective blocking minority at Renault, which in turn controlled Nissan shareholder meetings via its 43.4 percent stake in the Japanese firm.

Alarm bells rang in Tokyo as that sank in, ratcheting tensions higher over the months that followed.

Macron’s actions to push a Nissan-Renault merger broke all the trust Ghosn had built over the years with Nissan. Ghosn is certainly a victim as the western press likes to portray him but not at the hands of “the Japanese”, but by Macron himself. As the Reuters story makes clear, “President Macron himself has skin in the game,” Ghosn was just a disposable tool and stepping stone to the Élysée Palace.

Apple Maps Japan in-app restaurant reservations Inc. subsidiary Tabelog is one of the restaurant data suppliers for Apple Maps Japan. The recent Tabelog v6 app update added Apple Map third party extension support for restaurant reservations. Reservations are straightforward and similar to what OpenTable does in America.

After you install the Tabelog app it will show up in the Settings>Maps. When you tap on a restaurant that supports Tabelog reservations Apple Maps will display a reservation button.

Tap reservations and you can set the date, time and number of people.

Once you set the reservation and tap “Continue in Tabelog” you’ll get the inevitable ‘Sign in with Facebook, Google ID, Yahoo Japan ID, etc.’ This is where it falls down for me because you still have to enter name and telephone number after login with a Yahoo JAPAN ID. I have not tested the other login methods, it may be a smoother experience with a ID that has a name and phone number attached.

It’s a nice exercise but I doubt many people will actually use it: restaurant search results in Apple Maps do not indicate which restaurants accept Tabelog reservations. It’s much easier to search in the Tabelog app which has a handy in-app map that displays a Google Map with Tabelog pin overlays indicating nearby restaurants that take reservations and vacancy. Chalk up another miss for Apple Maps.

Google Maps in Tabelog
Google Maps in Tabelog indicates restaurants that take reservations and vacancy

Holding onto iPhone sales in Japan

note: this post has been incorporated in a separate summary post

The iPhone XS Japan launch was muted with none of the lines of the 2017 iPhone X launch. But as of last weekend the local Docomo store was completely out of iPhone XS stock, this weekend was the same. The store doesn’t list iPhone XR stock. It’s all you need to know which iPhone model is selling: people who want to upgrade their iPhone are choosing iPhone XS. iPhone XR is nice but the price is not nice enough to drive iPhone upgrades for people on the fence. If the WSJ iPhone XS price cut in Japan story is correct we should start seeing iPhone XR specials from Docomo, au and SoftBank this week.

I suspect there are lots of iPhone users on the fence, a XS price cut for JP carriers makes sense but as outlined earlier it won’t be enough. The Japanese government is pushing for market changes and Apple needs to change with it and do more if they want to hang onto iPhone market share. In order of importance these are:

  • Issue a iPhone X Suica problem repair program
    This is essential. As I have written many times before Apple really damaged their reputation in the Japanese market by sweeping defective NFC iPhone X production under the carpet. Apple can repair some of the damage by replacing iPhone X Suica problem devices and agressively fixing iOS 12 Suica Express Card performance issues.
  • Extend Apple Pay Japan and lower transaction fees
    Include important missing pre-paid cards that are on Osaifu-Keitai and Google Pay: nanaco (7 Eleven), WAON (AEON), Edy (Rakuten). Nanaco and WAON are particularly important in areas rural outside of the JR transit hubs. It’s said that Apple Pay Suica transaction fees are 3.75% while Google Pay Suica is 3.25%. The Japanese government pushing for a card transaction fee cap of 3.25% plus contactless payment incentives as part of the sales tax increase in 2019. Apple would be smart to lower Apple Pay transaction fees inline with proposals now instead of later.
  • Add TV content and improve Apple Music services
    Japan is the 2nd largest music market after the United States. Japanese TV content is missing on the Apple content platform that everybody else has (Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc) and can bundle, Apple cannot. If Apple waits for their subscription service rollout, it may be too late. With big bad Dentsu, the Imperial Death Star of Japanese media as the power driving Spotify in Japan, Apple Music also has to work overtime to keep up: hire the best Japanese music curators, create some cool J-Pop Beats 1 programs instead tired old UK content and fix the iCloud Music Library Japanese music metadata mess so Apple can sell HomePod.
  • Fix Apple Maps and Siri
    This is a given that has been covered before: the total experience needs to greater than the sum of the parts.

There isn’t much time, the 10% Japanese sales tax is due to start October 1, 2019.

Tweet of the Day

Line Pay QR Codes can now be used with, some, vending machines. It is just 3 easy steps and 1 minute of your time. Gotta love the gadget geeks who test this stuff. File under: #what’s the point

For reference here is Apple Pay Suica: