The End of Something

I have been reading Ken Kocienda’s Creative Selection and enjoying it. The epilogue is a little hard to take:

After Steve died, the Apple software development culture started to change. As time passed and other co-workers came and went, the culture changed more.

Kocienda left Apple in 2017. It was a time I was trying to get to the bottom of the iPhone X Suica problem. For me it was rude awakening, a gut feeling that Apple culture had changed.

The MacBook keyboard problem, the letter from Tim Cook to investors, the cancelled AirPower, the questionable Wallet UI changes in iOS 12.2…points to a changed Apple culture. It’s not the end certainly, but it’s the end of something.

Like Kocienda I consider myself lucky to have experienced the Steve Jobs return to Apple era, even just from the outside. Both Steve and Ken have good advice, don’t dwell on any great thing for long, just get busy working on the next great thing, whatever the next great thing is to you.


Almost Useable: Japanese Vertical Text Support in iWork Pages Update

CJK Vertical Text Layout in Pages and Bashō Haiku

Apple released updates for the iWork suite as promised, the biggest new feature is vertical CJK text support which should have been in place since 2005. Better late than never, here is a quick overview.

I’ll discuss vertical features from the Japanese typography point of view since vertical text is more important for Japan and Pages/Keynote/Numbers CJK vertical text is not offered in Simplified Chinese. In an era of devices where everything is horizontal, younger generations have grow up without the deep connection to traditional vertically written culture. Korea, and to a lesser extent the Traditional Chinese markets in Taiwan and Hong Kong, have pretty much abandoned vertical layout for mainstream newspapers, magazines and books which still flourish in the Japanese market.

Also Japan has the most comprehensive vertical text layout composition rules: the Japanese Industrial Standard typesetting and composition specification JIS X4051, the bible of Japanese composition and the only truly complete specification for vertical text composition in the world. I covered Japanese typography basics in another post but it’s important to remember a few essential differences:

Unlike DTP layout, which is graphics-driven, traditional Japanese text composition, called kumihan, is driven by how much text will fit in a given space. Designers know how many characters (virtual bodies) are supposed to be on a line and on a page before they start composition, and this is how they discuss layout with writers and editors. Western composition is calculated from margins, a wholly different concept.

kanji box 3
A virtual body Kanji with approximate baseline overlay red line.

It boils down to the western typography baseline rules and conventions which is what DTP layout and digital fonts were built around vs. Kanji virtual bodies which were never considered by software programmers back in the early 1980s. All written languages outside of the Roman Empire cultural heritage have been living with the limitations of those computer software decisions ever since. Especially in web browsers.

InDesign J gets around this limitation by creating Kanji virtual body information on the fly along with Adobe proprietary internal font metric tables. Everybody else who do not have their own typography and layout engine have to make do with OpenType baseline font metrics information, the advanced typography layout offered by Core Text, and their programming prowess.

The best Japanese word processing program egword universal 2, the first top to bottom Core Text word processor program, is proof that a focused and talented team can accomplish a great deal. egword universal 2 has grids and a well thought out subset of advanced Japanese typography features that satisfy most needs without overwhelming the user. It’s a testament of the the talent of Norihito Hirose and the Monokaki-do team.

egword universal 2 handles Kanji glyph variations with ease

Unfortunately Pages-Keynote-Numbers CJK vertical takes the low road adding as little as possible:

  • No easy access of OpenType/AAT advanced Japanese type features like glyph variations or proportional Kanji spacing, it’s the usual nightmare of hunting for features in the Apple Font Panel or using the input module
  • Importing Word Docs with vertical layout are not preserved and rendered in very bad horizontal layout
  • Last but not least: no ruby or furigana lousy ruby support
egword universal 2 ruby in action, ruby support is an essential feature for any Japanese language document creation

The last feature is so basic for Japanese document creation, it is mind boggling and embarrassing that Apple had the balls to offer CJK support without it in such an amateurish incarnation. The only CJK advanced typography feature offered is the ability to rotate groups of vertical glyphs horizontally, though it is a very amateurish, time consuming, one selection at a time affair.

Other than that, iWork CJK vertical text is almost exactly the same kind of simple implementation that macOS TextEdit has had for years. Short text strings of vertical text are okay for Keynote but the updated Pages is no replacement for Word or egword universal. And of course vertical text support is completely missing on web versions of Pages/Numbers/Keynote. No wonder Apple snuck the feature mention in a iWork update PR release to select media outlets instead of proper announcement.

Taken together with how many years it has taken Apple to get this simple low level of CJK vertical layout support into their word processor app, it is sad commentary on Apple’s advanced typography priorities in the post Steve Jobs era. It’s clear that Apple doesn’t care about advanced typography, they only say that they do.

Ruby characters are available via context menu and have been for some time. Apple’s implementation is pretty bad and rotating vertical glyphs via context menu pop-up is very manual and not very good either.

I tried writing a Haiku using Pages vertical text support.

Upcoming Apple Pay Transit Support Details

Matthew Panzarino posted (way at the bottom under Apple Pay stuff) some details of upcoming Apple Pay transit support for Portland, Chicago and New York. It’s interesting that even though slow vanilla flavor EMV contactless works on all systems, Apple is highlighting Portland’s HOP card as well as Chicago’s Ventra which means Apple Pay Express Cards only work on the HOP/Ventra prepaid transit card side (judging by Tim’s keynote slide and this). New York MTA is apparently EMV only at launch but will get the MIFARE based OMNY prepaid transit card at some point.

  • The number of vehicles and transit systems supported will vary by operator.
    Portland will include subways and busses, as will Chicago.
  • Chicago will support open loop and Ventra Card systems.
  • Portland will support open loop and HOP Card systems.
  • New York will pilot Apple Pay (EMV) on a couple of lines in the spring and then roll out to additional lines throughout the rest of the year.

This is the first time that iPhone users in the US will be exposed to Apple Pay Express Cards in mass. Until now it has been limited to Suica (FeliCa), China Transit (PBOC) and Student ID cards (MIFARE). It will be interesting to hear user experiences regarding speedy Express Cards (no Face ID/Touch ID) vs slower transaction EMV (Face ID/Touch ID every time) on the various systems after the rollout. Face ID at every transit gate is a real pain no matter what snotty TfL users say.

Google Pay has been busy too, adding official support yesterday for the Melbourne area Myki transit card (MIFARE) after a prolonged testing period. Hopefully Apple Pay will add Myki at some point as well as Hong Kong’s Octopus card which is a perfect fit for iPhone/Apple Watch global FeliCa support.

Apple Pay HOP with Express Transit launched on Portland TriMet May 21

Apple Pay Suica Withdrawal Refund

A reader asked if I could write a post about Suica card refunds. First of all there are different kinds of refunds: Shinkansen eTickets, Green Seat Purchase, Commute Plans and Stored Fare (SF). All of these are handled in Suica App and require a Mobile Suica account login.

A withdrawal refund of the Apple Pay Suica card SF (Stored Fare) balance is covered here, but beware: doing this withdraws the Suica card from the Apple Pay and Mobile Suica system forever. You can never use the Suica card again.

JR East recommends using up the balance instead of a withdrawal refund. It is far easier to use the balance then remove Suica from Wallet and let Apple Pay iCloud store it for you until needed again. The JR East recommendation is the best choice.

Suica withdrawal refund requirements are:

  • A Japanese bank account
  • A Mobile Suica account: this is free but registration can only be done via the Japanese language only Suica App
  • Suica App (not SuicaEng)
  • A refund processing fee of ¥220 for each Suica card refund
  • Once you refund a Suica card in Suica App it cannot be used again and has to be manually deleted from Wallet, your Mobile Suica account is also automatically deleted
  • No refunds of Suica balance when the card has not been used for 10 years

If you have a Mobile Suica account and a Japanese bank the process is straight forward. Open Suica App, if you have multiple Suica cards choose the one you want the refund, tap on Ticket Purchase•Manage Suica, scroll to the bottom of the list and tap Suica Refund.

Scroll to the bottom of Terms and Conditions and tap Agree. In the next screen confirm the SF refund amount of the Suica card then tap next.

In the next few screens you enter your bank account information so have the information ready. In the first screen enter the first 3 katakana of the bank name and tap search, select bank name, enter the first katakana of the bank branch name and tap search, select the bank branch name, enter the bank account type, account number and account name and tap next. In the final screen confirm your information then tap Suica Refund.

Once completed Mobile Suica sends an email to your registered address, the bank transfer from JR East takes 2~4 weeks to process.

Apple Pay Transit and 6 Reasons for Closed Transit Fare Systems

After the announcement of Apple Card and more Apple Pay Transit coming soon to “major cities in America” like Chicago (Salt Lake City/Utah Transit Authority is an embarrassment to Apple since UTA dropped Apple Pay EMV credit card support in summer 2018 because of too many difficulties), I came across this interesting tidbit about the Ventra card:

Arguably it’s a good thing that the Ventra prepaid debit card is going the way of the dinosaur. The debit card function debuted with a long list of fees that had the potential to siphon of much of the money stored on the card, including:

A $1.50 ATM withdrawal fee
A $2 fee to speak to someone about the retail debit account.
A $6.00 fee for closing out the debit balance
A $2 fee for a paper statement
A $2.95 fee to add money to the debit account using a personal credit card
A $10 per hour fee for “account research’’ to resolve account discrepancies

“These fees were probably not any different than other bank cards offered by Money Network or Meta Bank or other predatory banks,” says Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance, who reported on the issue at the time. “But it was shameful for the CTA to be aligned with that.”

After a backlash, most of these fees were reduced or eliminated, but CTA retail outlets were still allowed to charge Ventra card holders a fee of up to $4.95 to load cash on the debit sides of their cards. So maybe it is for the best that the CTA is getting out of the bank card business.

Streets Blog Chicago December 2017

Open loop transit fare systems with EMV contactless credit cards are invariably promoted as a great convenience and the bright open future of transit, but the dark business downsides of letting credit companies and banks on transit gates is rarely, if ever discussed.

Fees and predatory banks are never going away and will always be a problem as long as credit cards are allowed on transit gates. It’s a much better business solution to keep banks one step removed from the process and limited to the back end for adding money to transit prepaid cards that can then be used for building a real business that benefits the entire transit region. In one sense Apple changing the rules for Apple Pay Cash person to person transfers protects customers from a potential layer of ‘predatory fees’ by removing the credit card (debit cards are still ok) .

I have said it many times and say it again: if a transit region is serious about building a Japanese style Transit Platform, keeping transit gates closed system is the first rule of business. The next step is leveraging the transit card on digital payment platforms like Apple Pay and Google Pay that can mix and match credit/debit cards for adding money on the back end, link with rewards and much more.

For JR East the tight integration of transit, Suica and retail has been very successful: 30% of 2017 revenue (26.8 billion USD) was Suica/IT/Retail projected to grow to 40% by 2027. It’s a business model that grows revenue even when transit ridership has leveled off. This kind of growth is impossible to accomplish with open transit fare systems.

JR East presentation slide from March 2019