QR Codes has gotten a lot of hype in Japan, partly because merchants want to capture Chinese tourist money with AliPay and WeChat Pay, but also because the lower cost of QR payment systems appeals to small merchants who don’t want to buy or rent expensive NFC enabled POS systems.
Inexpensive NFC tags and NFC stickers are a logical payment alternative to full blown NFC POS systems and QR, but have remained out of the mainstream. NFC tags are great technology but they remain deeply geeky for the majority of users. The key is making NFC tags as friendly, easy and secure to use as Apple Pay. This is exactly what Apple plans to do.
The easiest way to think of it is that instead of tapping a reader to pay with Apple Pay, NFC tag Apple Pay turns your iPhone into the reader, in other words it is self contained. iPhone is all that you need to Apple Pay at a store.
What does this sound like to you? Yep, this is exactly what QR Codes do and NFC tag Apple Pay is aimed right at the ‘but the store doesn’t need an expensive NFC reader to use QR’ sweet spot that QR Codes have occupied up to now. NFC tag Apple Pay levels the play field, neatly eliminating the QR advantage while offering security that QR Codes cannot match. We’re going to hear a lot about this at WWDC19. More coverage on the WWDC19 Apple Pay Wish List.
The 1st data point is a survey from Yumenomachi that ranks the different cashless payment methods:
Credit cards: 88.4%
Transit cards: 49.7%
Apple Pay/Google Pay/Osaifu Keitai: 35.4%
Prepaid Reward Cards (nanaco, WAON, Edy): 31.7%
QR Codes (Line Pay, PayPay, etc): 25.6%
The 2nd data point is a survey from One Compath. This survey reports 56% of the respondents as using cashless more than a year ago, with slightly different ranking:
Credit cards: 71.4%
Transit cards: 31.7%
Prepaid Reward Cards (nanaco, WAON, Edy): 53.0%
The 3rd data point from the same One Compath survey is very interesting but not surprising. It ranks prepaid card use separately for transit and reward cards by prefecture. Transit card use for payments in the Kanto Area (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama) is 85%, while prepaid reward cards are the overall winner on a national basis. This is because of the reach of AEON supermarkets and convenience stores in rural areas where people don’t use transit cards or the local transit cards do not support purchases. The next generation Super Suica format is aimed specifically at incorporating these small rural area transit cards so they can be used anywhere as Suica.
One take away is that in the Kanto area Suica is easily the most used contactless card at checkout (Suica issuance is twice that of PASMO). Credit cards lead in cashless, but are still mostly swipe or Chip and PIN at checkout. When prepaid cards are totaled together, credit card and prepaid card use is almost equal. The surveys do not look at average purchase amounts for the different cashless methods. I suspect that Suica and other prepaid card use leads for smaller purchases while credit cards are used for larger purchase items.
Only 27% of iPhone users who can use Apple Pay use it
50% don’t use Apple Pay but are interested in using it
22% don’t use Apple Pay and don’t care about using it
These numbers jive with the 35.4% digital wallet use figure in data point 1. The short summary here is that there is still plenty of opportunity for Apple Pay to grow in the Japanese market, and the Super Suica format in 2021 has the potential to break down the regionality and shake up the market.
There are very few Apple Maps rumors for WWDC this year. All we have is one little paragraph from Mark Gurman:
An updated Maps app will make it easier to set frequent locations, like home or work addresses, and then navigate there. Users will also be able to create groups of frequent places and add a photo to them. The current interface for navigating to suggested or past destinations can sometimes be confusing. This will increase competition with Google Maps and Waze apps
The current interface for navigating to suggested or past destinations can sometimes be confusing? (Duh) Increase competition with Google Maps and Waze? (Really?)
Collection Eddy Cue outlined Apple Maps 2.0 as a dual approach of using anonymous iOS device data and Apple Maps vans to collect data while getting faster updates from devices vs. the next scheduled drive:
“The truth is that Maps needs to be [updated more], and even are today,” says Cue. “We’ll be doing this even more with our new maps, [with] the ability to change the map in real time and often… In the new map infrastructure, we can change that relatively quickly. If a new road opens up, immediately we can see that and make that change very, very quickly around it…”
In short: Traffic, real-time road conditions, road systems, new construction and changes in pedestrian walkways are about to get a lot better in Apple Maps.
TechCrunch Apple is rebuilding Maps from the ground up June 29, 2018
High quality in-house map data collection is a vital step, but there are limitations. The Google Maps Japan meltdown proved that even Google can’t do it all when they dropped premier Japanese map data supplier Zenrin. Japan has very high density urban areas and very remote rural areas that cannot be effectively mapped from a van no matter how much fancy recording equipment it has. Zenrin has a 1,000 person ‘ground truth’ team just for mapping those kind of places on site, on foot.
Processing Panzarino explained at length how the high-resolution image data collection effort fits with Apple’s in-house data qualification toolkit to identify problem areas with machine learning, so that the human team can quickly vet problems and update corrected map data for the trouble area:
The coupling of high-resolution image data from car and satellite, plus a 3D point cloud, results in Apple now being able to produce full orthogonal reconstructions of city streets with textures in place. This is massively higher-resolution and easier to see, visually…This is hugely important when it comes to the next step in Apple’s battle for supremely accurate and useful Maps: human editors.
Apple has had a team of tool builders working specifically on a toolkit that can be used by human editors to vet and parse data, street by street.
Many hundreds of editors will be using these tools, in addition to the thousands of employees Apple already has working on maps, but the tools had to be built first, now that Apple is no longer relying on third parties to vet and correct issues.
And the team also had to build computer vision and machine learning tools that allow it (Apple) to determine whether there are issues to be found at all.
There we have it: Apple is using in-house machine learning and no longer relies on 3rd party vetting or correction. How is that working out? Answer: not so great. At least in Japan. Let’s take a quick look around the Ikegami Honmonji Temple area.
Example #1: Ikegami Hall is completely missing in the map view even though it is in the satellite view.
Example #2: Duplicate Five-story Pagoda pin locations. The Manji character marked one is correct while the grey one from Foursquare is the wrong location and duplicate information that needs to be removed. <Kudos to Apple here for respecting local culture and using the traditional Manji character, while Google Maps resorts to censorship>
The conclusion here is that Apple Maps 2.0 isn’t living up to Eddy Cue’s stated goals, at least in Japan:
In example #1 the machine learning is supposed to identify problem areas when the satellite and map views don’t match up, but it does not. The human team is not alerted to the problem and cannot fix it.
In example #2 the system cannot distinguish between incorrect 3rd party supplied duplicate data and the real thing. In my experience Foursquare Japan and Yelp Japan have no human location vetting and most of their product is worthless. The choice Apple faces is this: is it better to show nothing, or is it better to show unvetted 3rd party data that has a high risk of being incorrect leading users to the wrong place? My suggestion: don’t use a 3rd party data point that has not been vetted by Apple map data collected by the Apple Maps van.
Presentation Cartography and the Maps UI is where it all comes together.
Apple has a team of cartographers on staff that work on more cultural, regional and artistic levels to ensure that its Maps are readable, recognizable and useful.
For instance, in the U.S., it is very common to have maps that have a relatively low level of detail even at a medium zoom. In Japan, however, the maps are absolutely packed with details at the same zoom, because that increased information density is what is expected by users.
Panzarino got it wrong here. Users in Japan don’t want a map view packed with details, it’s simply that high density metropolitan areas like Tokyo have much more information packed into a given area than American cities. Presenting high density information in clean easy to read cartography is very challenging.
Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps have both evolved their cartography away from detail packed views to cleaner cartography. Yahoo Japan Maps cartography is the best because they deploy good design with smartly edited zoom level assignment: this information is important at default zoom level, this other information belongs at zoom level 2, etc. This clean approach shows only the important details for the given zoom level for quick navigation. The differences in readability comparing Tokyo area views of Yahoo Japan Maps, Apple Maps and Google Maps are immediately noticeable. Here is Gotanda Station:
Apple Maps 2.0 fails here too. The cartography is less readable, recognizable and useful than the competition. The easiest fix would be for the Apple Maps cartography team to stop stuffing so much information at the same zoom level and intelligently rank information to display at different zoom levels.
Unfortunately that effort requires a group of humans with expert local area knowledge. An Apple Maps engineer explained the dilemma to me once, “Yahoo Japan Maps has the luxury of focusing all of their product development on just the Japan market.” It’s a luxury that neither Apple nor Google have.
WWDC19 Wish List
Here is my wish list for Apple Maps Japan 2.0 using the same categories, plus transit which is a separate app within Maps.
Traffic and Real Time Road Conditions: these important features are missing in Japan and absolutely must be added. Car navigation with Apple Maps in Japan is worthless without them.
Offline turn by turn navigation: Apple Maps turn by turn navigation completely dies in underground roads or in rural areas without a network connection. It’s like flying blind. Dedicated Japanese turn by turn navigation systems handle this without a problem.
Fix stuff: Improve the machine learning to identify problem areas for humans to fix, or hire humans who can identify and fix problems in Japan maps.
Vet Stuff or Don’t Use It: If Apple Maps cannot internally vet 3rd party social networked geo trash from notoriously unreliable Yelp, Foursquare and TripAdvisor, don’t use it.
Presentation(Cartography and Maps UI) This is where most of the action is, not only covering how the map looks, but also how users interact with it.
Apple Maps Cartography 2.0 Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps constantly tweak and evolve their map design, changing contrast, colors, text sizes, and more while pushing map information updates. Meanwhile Apple Maps cartography is fossilized in 2012 debut era garb. I can only assume 2 things. Either Apple thinks so highly of the current Apple Maps cartography design language that it will never change it. Or Apple is creating a whole new cartography design. Let’s hope for the latter.
Fix the information overload: with smarter zoom level editing
Eliminate Separate Map View/Transit View Modes Toggling back and forth between 2 modes in Apple Maps is passé. It desperately needs a revamp. Yahoo Japan Maps leads the way here by collapsing separate road map and transit maps into a single comprehensive map view that covers 99% of what users need, while offering a real rail map for the 1% who need a real rail map. It’s a time saver and smart way to eliminate toggling map views. More on this in the transit section.
Recents2.0 The current version of Recents is an old shoebox filled with crap: tapped places, liked places, Siri searches, suggestions, liked train stations to receive train delay notices, home, work, and stuff I have no idea why it’s even there. There are so many improvement suggestions I don’t know where to start. I’ll keep it simple and say, Apple please figure out what Recents is supposed to do, so that we don’t have to.
Nearby2.0: Nearby suffers the same problems as basic processing, Apple Maps 2.0 needs to do a better job of filtering out the junk. Anybody can list 10 nearby cafes, but only smart editors can give me 10 that are worth visiting. Also follow Yahoo Japan Maps nearby approach of keeping everything on one screen, with minimal pinch and zoom.
Live Weather Layer: this is Yahoo Japan Maps insanely great secret weapon. I always use it to find when its raining and where. It’s a life saver and must have Apple Maps 2.0 feature. Once you use it, you can never use another map that doesn’t have it.
Nearby Transit Time Widget Google and Apple both use the same transit data supplier, but Google Maps uses it much better than Apple Maps. Most people already know where they are going and how to get there. What they really want to know is: when is the next train? Google Maps does this via a handy widget that offers location based nearby station train times and bus times without having to open the map or tap on a station. This is incredibly simple and convenient. Apple Maps 2.0 needs to offer it.
Siri Transit Support Siri does not support transit requests. Siri can navigate you to the nearest station but after that you are on your own. The ability to ask Siri for transit times is an important Apple Maps 2.0 feature.
Transit Route Search 2.0 This is another area where Apple Maps has stood still while Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps continually push out improvements: route suggestion sorting by fare, transit time and number of transfers, train car position information for faster transfers and exits. Apple Maps 2.0 Transit needs to catch up with the competition.
Location Based Transit Alerts Apple Maps transit has wonderful integration with Apple Watch but it could be improved with better destination and transfer point alerts that also work on iPhone.
Improved Transit Card Integration Apple Maps has some basic integration with Apple Pay Suica but it could be improved by incorporating user Suica Commute Plan information for better route searches with more accurate fare information.
Adaptive Transit Times The problem with transit route suggestions on Apple Maps, Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps is that once the user selects a route suggestion, transit times are locked in. All too often a users catches an early or later train and has to input a new search to reset the transit time. But this is often impossible to do on the fly as transit route searches add a ‘time to station’ buffer. Transit times that adapt and automatically update to transit conditions would be a great feature to have in Apple Maps 2.0 transit.
We’ll see what, if anything, is delivered for iOS 13 Apple Maps 2.0 at the WWDC19. Keynote on June 3.
Developers who installed iOS 12.4 beta 1 after todays’s release are reporting that the EMV Express Transit feature that just went live in iOS 12.3, is missing from iOS 12.4 b1. These kinds of things can happen in early beta test cycles, my guess is this is why iOS 12.4 public beta has not been released.
Apple Pay Suica performance on watchOS 5.2.1 on Apple Watch Series 4 is great, but not as great as iOS 12.3 on iPhone XS. Because A12 Bionic removes the iOS overhead for Express Cards with power reserve, Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XS/XR feels light and snappy like a plastic Suica card. I can’t wait for Express Cards with power reserve on Apple Watch.
Suica Recharge on Apple Watch sucks and I have discovered how wonderfully useful Suica App really is. I have a Commuter Suica on Apple Watch and a My Suica on iPhone. Both of these can be recharged and managed (with different credit cards attached to each Suica!) in Suica App. It’s super convenient and has opened my eyes to a major Apple Pay Wallet design weakness: iPhone Wallet and Watch App Wallet should just be one thing that manages all of my Wallets cards on both devices in one place. Apple Watch Wallet is great, in a pinch, but it’s a lousy UI experience for managing transit card options and Suica Recharge. Apple Pay transit prepaid card users access those card options far more than credit cards. I added a unified Wallet request for iOS 13 to the Apple Pay WWDC19 wish list.
Suica Reminders for low balance and commuter plan renewals are another Apple Watch weak point. They don’t exist. Suica App to the rescue again with Notification Sounds. The 3 beep Suica low balance reminder (¥1,000 or less) works everywhere and is a life saver. It’s far more attention grabbing than Apple Pay Suica Notification Center reminders on iPhone.
A true story: I was buying lunch at a family owned Daily Yamazaki convenience store. You might know the kind, a Showa style convenience store stocked with Yamazaki breads, homemade sandwiches and bento, usually run by an older couple, a store from a different era that will unfortunately disappear.
I bought a bento and paid with Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch. The Suica 3 beep low balance reminder sound from the reader caught the attention of the owner who looked to be in his late 70s. “Suica works on that? It’s so small.” I assured him Suica worked on Apple Watch.
He smiled and said, “That’s really convenient. You’ll never lose it or have to find it when it’s on your wrist.”