Someday We’ll Be Together

iOS 12.2 beta 6 has dropped with no sign of Smart Octopus support in Apple Pay from beta code spelunkers like Guilherme Rambo. A source close to the Cupertino mothership also indicated the situation in Hong Kong is “complex.” Live by the rumor and pay the price, it looks like the story sources and my judgement were wrong: Smart Octopus won’t be on Apple Pay when the OS 12.2 update is released at the March 25 Apple Special Event. Nevertheless, I stand by what I wrote back in December:


Digital Wallets like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay are the most tightly integrated NFC software and hardware digital wallet platforms out there with integrated FeliCa, but Apple is the only one to implement the necessary Secure Element on their own A Series/S Series hardware with FeliCa Networks keys, and sell the package globally.

Smart Octopus on Google Pay might look nice on paper but it can’t achieve anything of scale yet because of the highly fragmented nature of Android: to date hardware manufacturers have yet to produce an answer to Apple’s global FeliCa iPhone and Apple Watch, even though everybody’s smartphone has a NFC A-B-F chip. Not even Google has pulled it off.

Smart Octopus on Apple Pay isn’t just adding a card to a digital wallet platform, it is also a statement of who ultimately controls, operates and benefits from the public transit gates. It’s more about market politics than technology, in other words another battle in the contactless payment turf wars. The outcome will be fascinating to watch but determines whether Octopus will remain a great transit payment platform for Hong Kong with a future, or not.

I also have a new prediction that we’ll see Apple Pay Smart Octopus with the next major iOS release iOS 13, in 6 months. Take it for what it’s worth, but I feel confident that we can celebrate some good news at that time.

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iOS 12 Stocks still mostly broken for Japan

A word to the wise: do not rely on the iOS Stocks app for Japanese stocks. The iOS 11 Stocks version of the app was actually handy until Verizon took control of the old Yahoo Inc. backend service. 3 things happened: Japanese language support for stock tickers broke, stock prices updates were delayed 20 minutes or longer, and individual stock news feeds dried up.

iOS 12 Stocks fixed Japanese language support for stock tickers but they are not dynamic; if a company changes its name your registered stock ticker will never update until you delete and re-register it. Individual stock news feeds have returned but are mostly useless selection of bad AI.

The biggest problem remains: stock prices are still delayed anywhere from 20~30 minutes to 24 hours. If you follow Japanese stocks do yourself a favor and use Yahoo Japan Finance (web/app), or any of the stock apps on the App Store (JP).

iWork update to add vertical CJK text support at Apple Special Event (U)

Screenshot of vertical text Pages update from Flick News site

The Japanese Flick News site reports that iWork/Pages/Keynote will finally gain vertical CJK text layout support with the major iWork update announced today with the new iPad Air and iPad Mini, that should drop at the March 25 Apple Special Event along with iOS 12.2. Mainland China and Korea have pretty much abandoned traditional vertical layout for books and newspapers over the years but vertical text layout is still very important for the Japanese market.

Microsoft Word is the only major word processing application that currently supports CJK vertical text layout across macOS and iOS. The late great egword Universal 2, the first top to bottom Core Text word processing app on the market, returned to macOS recently but has yet to appear on iOS. Robust vertical text layout support in iWork across macOS and iOS will be a great update but like all things, the devil will be in the details. As one eminent Japanese font engineer once told me regarding OpenType J fonts and the state of typography in most apps:

the only OpenType (Japanese) layout engine out there is InDesign (J)…(this) means you have to use InDesign to access OpenType advanced typography…no matter what kind of fancy fonts you have, they look bad with poor typography.


Apple’s advanced typography technology lineage goes back to QuickDraw GX

Apple has a long history of creating rich text layout and font technology that never makes it into their own apps. Case in point: the Core Text API that provides vertical text layout handling has been around since OS X 10.5 Leopard (2007), why has it taken Apple 12 years to add that support in their word processing app suite?

As Apple makes clear the current version of iWork does not support vertical text layout

Update
Major Japanese IT news sites and blogs are running the iWorks CJK vertical text support update story and screenshot without attribution. It smells like somebody leaked a press release in advance of next week’s event.

Update 2
A press source tells me that Apple sent out iWork update PR to select outlets with the iPad announcement. Why not just put it on the Apple web site where everybody can see it? It would create some positive buzz in the Japanese market where Apple needs it. This kind of boneheaded nonsense is sad commentary on how also-ran and unimaginative Apple PR and marketing have become.

Security weaknesses cool China QR code use

Not all Japanese IT journalists are gaga over QR codes. Takefumi Makino writes on ASCII that QR codes really don’t make much business sense given that Japan already has a massive NFC/FeliCa contactless payment infrastructure in place. It’s so massive that QR payment players Line Pay and PayPay have said they are considering FeliCa cards for their respective payment networks. It’s all about accessing the mature population segment (60 and above) who hold the family purse strings but don’t like using smartphones and apps to pay for things, but they will use plastic.

As Makino san points out, the most attractive aspect of QR is the low cost that cleverly leverages the existing mobile and internet/cloud infrastructure: any store owner with a smartphone can offer contactless payments. Throw in lots of reward point goodies and you have a nice payment platform lock-in. In countries without a long history of credit card use like China and India, low overhead QR codes are an attractive ‘launchpad’ to bigger, better things. But there are well known QR code security weak points.

In China ‘static’ QR codes used for paying parking ticket fines quickly became a scam problem. QR players migrated to one time use/one minute window ‘dynamic’ QR codes, but even those codes have been hijacked from customers waiting in line with smartphone out and QR code ready:

The latest trend in China is paying for things ‘in-app’ or using face recognition technology, both of which have nothing to do QR. Makino san argues that QR is really just a convenient startup technology for contactless payment systems that migrate to better and more secure technologies. I think it is a valid point. Competing payment system technologies like FeliCa/Suica will soon leverage mobile and cloud infrastructure that could eliminate the QR cost advantage. It will be fascinating to see how the QR payment startups in Japan pan out over time.

Suica App Commuter Pass Limitations

A reader asked about Suica commuter passes and limitations. It’s a good question because there are Suica App limitations to be aware of when creating a virtual commuter Suica pass for Apple Pay use.

Japan Transit IC Mutual Use Association Map
The Japan Transit IC Mutual Use Association project started in 2007 and achieved transit and e-money interoperability in 2013. It continues to evolve and incorporate other transit smartcard systems into a single standard. Wikipedia

Let’s review the limitations of the current Japan Transit IC Mutual Use Association standard. The various JP transit cards (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, etc.) are tightly bound to the physical rail network fare area of the card issuer (JR East, JR West, etc.). Transit IC cards are compatible and allow users to travel in any transit IC area with any card, but the system architecture is limited to a single fare area per trip. It does not allow continuous travel between 2 different fare areas (such as Suica and TOICA) on the same trip.

Unfortunately this results in ‘gotcha gaps’ when a user might start a trip from a Suica region station but exit in an area outside the Suica region or an area with no transit IC card coverage at all. Going from Tokyo to Minobu for example: Suica works fine up to JR East operated Kofu but the JR Central operated Minobu line that starts there is outside any transit IC card fare area. Good old paper tickets or cold hard cash only please. If you make the mistake of traveling from Tokyo to Minobu with Suica, the train conductor or a station attendant will issue a paper voucher that you have to use to get Suica reset for transit use when back in a Suica area station. This kind of nonsense should disappear with Super Suica in 2021.

Metropolitan areas like Tokyo (Suica & PASMO) are highly integrated fare areas that operate as one virtual region covering all possible commuter routes that transverse different rail company lines such as JR East, Metro, Seibu, etc. Buses are also part of the mix and covered by Suica or PASMO cards.

Apple Pay Suica supports Suica commuter passes of course but there are limitations when creating them with Suica App:

  • The start point must be a JR East station
  • No bus, Shinkansen commuter pass (FREX), or student commuter pass options are available

Suica FREX Shinkansen commuter passes that cover both Shinkansen and regular lines in the JR East Suica region can be purchased via a web link (virtual), or JR Station (plastic) then loaded into Apple Pay like any Suica card.

Suica bus commuter passes have to be purchased at a bus company window such as Seibu, Tokyo Metro, Odakyu, Tokyu, etc. depending on the bus line. Confirm with the bus company that a Mobile Suica commuter purchase is available for the commute route. Purchase the Mobile Suica commuter pass then show the attendant your iPhone so they can record the Suica ID card number.

Suica commuter students passes are available for university students is the Mobile Suica web site but are complicated by the credit card requirement for using Apple Pay to setup a virtual Suica. Not every university student has a credit card. Mobile Suica support recommends purchasing a plastic Suica commuter pass at a JR East station then transferring it to Apple Pay, but there are some potential glitches. Apple support:

Commuter Suica cards that use romaji names or international phone numbers are not supported.
If you are trying to add a second Suica card to Apple Pay, make sure the name on the second card matches the first name on your My Suica and Commuter Suica card. If you have different names on multiple cards, download and register in the iOS Suica app, and call Suica Support at 050-2016-5005.

For complex Suica commuter route options not covered in Suica App, Mobile Suica support has a web link to apply for a virtual Suica commuter pass.