Of Course Apple Pay is Bigger Than In-App Payments! Now that NFC POS systems actually work…in America

It was just a year ago that eMarketer made a big splash on Apple tech news sites with their Starbucks app is bigger than Apple Pay report:

Retailers are increasingly creating their own payment apps, which allow them to capture valuable data about their users. They can also build in rewards and perks to boost customer loyalty,

Starbucks App Leads Mobile Payment Competitors eMarketer.com

This turned out to be bullshit marketing nonsense because as I discovered using Apple Pay in America just when that report hit, the average Apple Pay store checkout experience sucked.

Now eMarketer is saying the same thing: “Apple Pay has benefited from the spread of new point-of-sale (POS) systems that work with the NFC signals Apple Pay runs on.” That work with the NFC signals Apple Pay runs on?! It sounds like eMarketer isn’t exactly sure what NFC is. Why not just say Apple Pay has benefited from the spread of new point of sale (POS) systems that work, yes, actually work now dammit! No more “you’re holding wrong” nonsense.

Duh. Is it just me or does the entire Apple tech news scene fail to see how poorly written and shoddy both eMarketer reports are? They are clickbait disguised as market research, nothing more.

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Suica and Octopus Compared

Hong Kong’s Octopus is coming to Apple Pay soon, it shares the same FeliCa technology base with Suica but there are some interesting differences.

Branding
The mobile version of Suica is Mobile Suica across 3 different payment platforms: Osaifu Keitai, Apple Pay and Google Pay. The current mobile version of Octopus is called Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay but it’s not clear yet if the Smart Octopus branding will stay with Samsung Pay or be set free.

Deposits
Mobile Suica does not have deposits. Plastic Suica cards have a ¥500 deposit but is automatically returned to the stored value (SV) balance when transferred to Apple Pay or Google Pay. Octopus has a HK$50 deposit on both plastic and mobile versions. An interesting difference is that the Octopus deposit will be used temporarily if the SV balance is insufficient to pay transit fare at the exit gate.

Stored Value Balance Limits
Suica has a SV balance limit of ¥20,000. Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) just raised the Octopus SV balance limit for cards issued after October 1, 2019 from HK$1,000 to HK$3,000. In JPY this is roughly double the current Suica limit, about ¥40,000 which puts it inline with other Japanese e-money card balance limits like WAON. Suica balance limits will likely be doubled when the next generation ‘Super Suica’ card architecture arrives in April 2021.

Number of Cards
Smart Octopus is limited to a single card per Samsung Pay user account. Mobile Suica/Apple Pay Suica can have the multiple Suica cards up to the device Wallet limit.

Recharge Fees
One of the many innovations that Apple Pay Suica brought was elimination of the annual Mobile Suica ¥1,050 ‘membership fee’, Google Pay got the same deal and Mobile Suica membership fees are disappearing altogether next year. Mobile Suica does not charge any upfront fee for recharges, but Smart Octopus does: 2.5% a pop for the luxury of recharging in Samsung Pay with Visa and Mastercard card brands although Union Pay cards are apparently free.

The differences in this last section are interesting. JR East charges nothing for recharging Mobile Suica, while OCL does for Smart Octopus. Mobile Suica has been around far longer and JR East has many more online services, such as EkiNet, to offset cloud expenses. Smart Octopus only started in December 2017 and the footprint of Samsung Pay devices compared with everything else is probably small and doesn’t drive enough transaction volume to offset Smart Octopus cloud startup costs. Apple Pay will growth the transaction size of Smart Octopus considerably, hopefully enough for OCL to reduce or eliminate the Add Value Service Fee at some point.

I look forward to digging through service details when Octopus finally launches on Apple Pay.

Apple Pay Octopus close to launch…or maybe not

In the on, off, on again Octopus Cards Limited relationship with Apple Pay, predicting a service launch is risky business. The last reliable statement was from Octopus Cards Limited CEO Sunny Cheung on September 19 saying that Apple Pay Octopus would not launch on iOS 13 release day, but would “start as soon as possible within the year.”

Take it for what it is worth but a reliable source tweeted the following leak from beta testers to me today:

According to an internal note leaked by beta testers, Octopus Customer Service has yet to receive training for Octopus on Apple Pay, and they are advised not to call the hotline before the project goes online officially. The note was released on 11/10. However, a subsequent email sent to beta testers says that the official launch is coming “very soon”. Considering that the project has been “coming soon” since July, I’m not sure what to make of this “very soon” wording.

I also hear from other sources that OCL is cracking down on Apple Pay Octopus beta test leaks by limiting access and shutting out some testers, unsuccessfully I might add. There have been so many leaks the only thing we don’t know is the launch date. The beta tester crackdown may be OCL’s way of keeping the launch date under wraps so that the press event launch still has a surprise or two.

To use a Donald Rumsfeldian turn of phrase, do we have a known known or an unknown known? Well, we do have iOS 13.2 due on October 30 but at this point any iOS point release has nothing to do with an Apple Pay Octopus launch. The leak is almost 2 weeks old, hopefully Octopus Customer Service staff is being trained for the launch. Other than that all we have is… a known unknown.

Unicode needs a new Mission

With Unicode adding more and more useless emoji, and seemly doing little else, it’s time to ask an important question: what the fuck is the Unicode Consortium supposed to be doing anyway?

It’s time to dust off Howard Oakley’s excellent blog post Why we can’t keep stringing along with Unicode, and think about the Normalization problem for file names and the Glyph Variation problem of CJK font sets. These problems fit together surprisingly well. My take is the problems must be tackled together as one thing to find a solution. Let’s take a look at the essential points that Oakley makes:

Unicode is one of the foundations of digital culture. Without it, the loss of world languages would have accelerated greatly, and humankind would have become the poorer. But if the effect of Unicode is to turn a tower of Babel into a confusion of encodings, it has surely failed to provide a sound encoding system for language.

Neither is normalisation an answer. To perform normalisation sufficient to ensure that users are extremely unlikely to confuse any characters with different codes, a great many string operations would need to go through an even more laborious normalisation process than is performed patchily at present.

Pretending that the problem isn’t significant, or will just quietly go away, is also not an answer, unless you work in a purely English linguistic environment. With increasing use of Unicode around the world, and increasing global use of electronic devices like computers, these problems can only grow in scale…

Having grown the Unicode standard from just over seven thousand characters in twenty-four scripts, in Unicode 1.0.0 of 1991, to more than an eighth of a million characters in 135 scripts now (Unicode 9.0), it is time for the Unicode Consortium to map indistiguishable characters to the same encodings, so that each visually distinguishable character is represented by one, and only one, encoding.

The Normalization Problem and the Gylph Variation Problem
As Oakley explains earlier in the post: the problem for file system naming boils down to the fact that Unicode represents many visually-identical characters using different encodings. Older file systems like HFS+ used Normalization to resolve the problem, but it is incomplete and inefficient. Modern file systems like APFS avoid Normalization to improve performance.

Glyph variations are the other side of the coin. Instead of identical looking characters using different encodings, we have different looking characters that are variations of the same ‘glyph’. They have the same encoding but they have to be distinguished as variation 1, 2, 3, etc. of the parent glyph. Because this is CJK problem, western software developers traditionally see it as a separate problem for the OpenType partners to solve and not worth considering.

Put another way there needs to be an unambiguous 1-to-1 mapping and an unambiguous 1-1/1-2/1-3-to-1 mapping. I say the problems are two sides of the same coin and must be solved together. Unicode has done a good job of mapping things but it is way past time for Unicode to evolve beyond that and tackle bigger things: lose the western centric problem solving worldview (i.e. let’s fix western encoding issues first and deal with CJK issues later), and start solving problems from a truly globally viewpoint.

On The Media

Tim has been on a roll recently. Not that Tim, the other Tim. Tim Pool. When YouTube and Twitter started purging ‘conservative’ Japanese content that wasn’t breaking any content rules, following what YouTube and Twitter were already doing in America, Tim Pool was the only online journalist reporting it.

I don’t always agree with Tim’s politics or watch every video post, but I always keep an eye on him. His reports on the devolution of mainstream media and how social media like YouTube and Twitter contribute to that decline, is on the nose. Another thing I like about Tim is that he believes in positive engagement and calling things as he finds it. This sets him apart from former Vice News colleagues: Tim has not lost the ability to think critically and objectively, he questions everything and tries to examine both sides of an issue. To me this is healthy.

And Tim knows when to play the YouTube de-ranking guessing game because he knows there are more important things to report on than waste time fighting YouTube. His milk toast reports are considered so dangerous by YouTube that real YouTube humans review his every video and suppress ones they don’t like:

One disturbing trend that social media drives is what I call cut and paste narrative journalism. Part of it is driven by the need for clicks and what big media thinks will sell. I see this frequently in mainstream western reporting on Japan that likes to portray Japan in a negative light. Here’s a recent piece written by Ian Bremmer for Time titled, Why the Japan-South Korea Trade War Is Worrying for the World, where you can see cut and paste narrative journalism in action.

Why the Japan-South Korea Trade War Is Worrying for the World

The opening sentence is a setup: “but it’s the trade spat between Japan and South Korea that signals the larger troubles ahead for the world.” This is Bremmer’s opinion, nothing else, and puts him squarely in the South Korea supporters club. There are plenty of economic experts who will tell you that Japanese ~ South Korean trade volume isn’t nearly as important as the media makes it out to be.

Skipping the next few sentences of regurgitated South Korean side only history, we arrive at the crucial sentence:

“Frustrated with the proceedings and determined to put pressure on Moon’s government to intervene in some way, Japan strengthened restrictions on several high-tech exports to South Korea in July and downgraded South Korea’s status as a trusted trading partner in August.”

This is classic cut and paste narrative. It substitutes fact for opinion, while presenting it as fact. Bremmer removes all the context of Japanese claims that South Korean was violating UN sanctions on North Korean, among many other things, leading up to the sanctions. Instead of crucial context we get: Japan is frustrated. Really? Can you prove that Ian?

The rest of the piece deflates from there into a half-hearted denouncement of President Trumps foreign policy, without naming Trump, as if Bremmer can’t decide whether it’s a good or bad thing for the U.S. to play the world’s policeman.

I find it hard to stay well informed with big media these days. Big media is still important but sifting the good from the bad is a lot more work. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to get easier.