AirPods Pro Tokyo Commuter Quick Review

As a rule I don’t do product reviews, especially highly personal preference items like speakers and headphones. But after a few days of using AirPods Pro on the daily commute, they worth writing about. The original AirPods worked very well for my ears and losing headphone wires was a godsend. Far too many times the EarPods wire caught on some woman’s purse getting out of a crowded train with a violent tug that yanked EarPods out of my ears and sent my iPhone flying for the car floor.

The AirPods sound was good enough for my ears in quiet environments but as every train commuter knows, a quiet train is very rare. Meandering feeder lines like Tokyu Ikegami are so noisy on underpasses and bridges that serious music listening with AirPods is impossible.

My first 2 days with AirPods Pro were so miserable I seriously thought about returning them. The sound was thin and unbalanced. I swapped out the medium silicon tips for large and carefully played with the ear position. I was used to jamming in AirPods but AirPods Pro prefer a much lighter ear canal landing. Then everything clicked and I was sucked into a private listening space I never experienced before. It was like my very first Walkman experience back in college, with way better sounding earphones. Listening to music on the daily commute is fun again.

There are lots of noise cancelling headphones out there but I am very happy with the size and performance of AirPods Pro. The noise cancellation ~ outside sound balance is just right for my ears and the daily Tokyo commuter train grind, I hear only enough to keep me aware when needed. The toggle feature between noice cancellation and transparency mode is far more convenient than I ever imagined. AirPods Pro are certainly not cheap but if you are happy with AirPods on your daily commute I recommend giving AirPods Pro a listen at the nearest Apple Store.

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Consumption tax, Cashless rebates and Coffee shops

In case you are not a DOUTOR regular, you may not have noticed that they recently added QUICPay and iD to their cashless payment options. What’s interesting is that QUICPay and iD are the only way to pay with credit/debit cards. It’s completely contactless, the only swipe-able item is the DOUTOR prepaid store card (which is MIFARE on the reader btw). In other words DOUTOR is all ready for the CASHLESS rebate program that starts tomorrow along with the 10% consumption tax.

But DOUTOR is not listed in the iOS CASHLESS App. 7 Eleven, FamilyMart and Lawson are listed there, but MiniStop is not. What is going on? The CASHLESS rebate program is rolling out in waves. The first cut of 500,000 CASHLESS rebate stores goes online October 1, with successive waves at, hopefully, regular 10 day intervals until everybody is onboard. This keeps payment systems from overloading which I think is smart, as a Japanese friend put it, “It’s the smartest thing the Japanese government has done so far.”

You might notice double listings for CASHLESS rebate stores, one for credit cards, one for QR, one for e-payment cards. This is also a startup limitation. Store listings will be consolidated after the program starts.

There are some interesting startup store differences, DOUTOR and Starbucks are not listed, but Cafe Colorado is, and get this: they have the Odagiri Joe marketed AirPay system in place that takes everything from Suica to credit cards to NFC Pay. The local franchise owner is even excited about putting up his CASHLESS poster tomorrow.

If that’s not cashless progress, what is? Regardless of whether the CASHLESS rebate is ‘a success’ or not, it will be a tipping point. Already I notice a shift in public perception: if a store is cash only, it definitely looks behind the times in the minds of customers.

I think that’s the whole point.

The Apple Music Japanese Metadata Mess Continues

Kana gojuon (fifty sounds) sorting for Japanese artists on Apple Music and iCloud Music Library has never worked for me since those services started in 2015. No matter how much I enter and tweak kana sort fields in iTunes, 12 hours later iCloud Music Library on iOS ignores everything and sends kanji named artists to the bottom of the list under ‘#’.

Just for kicks I decided to engage Apple Support about the problem. The Japanese support staff was very professional and kind. It took 3 sessions of taking screenshots on iOS Apple Music and macOS iTunes, and collecting a sysdiagnose log to upload to Apple Support. I have done these a few times but had to admire the composure of the Apple support technician. I could never stay that cool walking a neophyte through the same data collection process.

He promised to call me with an update today and did so, “We heard from engineering but there is no solution for your issue.” I suspected as much but it was weirdly reassuring to know that Apple engineers could not fix it. He went on to explain that the kana sorting issue might be fixed in a future update. Or maybe not: it has been 4 years already, I’m not holding my breath.

Japan is the 2nd largest music market after the United States and far more profitable than other Asian countries. You would think that Apple would invest the time and effort to fix things. The strange thing is that kana sorting on iTunes and iTunes Match worked fine before Apple Music and iCloud Music Library. iTunes won’t be with us much longer, but it worked well for a long time. Goodbye old friend.

Apple Music Japan Updates “For You” Section

The Apple Music ‘For You’ section that was updated in the USA store on April 15, finally arrived on the Japan store today. The update offers much more customized content than the previous ‘For You’ for which I am glad, the old one had too much weekly repeats to keep my interest.

After listening to the Ramones, Apple Music immediately offered Punk bands galore, Monkees, Rolling Stones and many other interesting offbeat content. I look forward to playing with it. One thing I like right off is that disliking something immediately removes it from suggestion lists. Goodbye U2, may you never pollute my suggestion lists again. The real test will be how much good Japanese rock ‘n roll listening Apple Music offers up in addition to the standard western stuff.

It’s very strange that HomePod is still missing from the Japan market. There are lots of audiophiles with money here, with the right marketing approach HomePod could do well. Unfortunately Japanese artist kana sorting tags on Apple Music are still such a mess that kana sorting is remains broken since iCloud Music Library appeared. Every Japanese artist from Yumin to Utada ends up at the very bottom in the under # in iCloud Music Library no matter what you add to the Japanese kana sorting fields in iTunes. And if Japanese kana sorting is broken, Siri on HomePod is broken too. And if iTunes is going away in macOS 10.15, Japanese kana sorting for iCloud Music Library may be broken forever.

Juggling domestic and international App Store accounts in iOS 12

iOS 12 App Store limitations
iOS 12 App Store can update Apps from a secondary account but only App titles that exist in the main account App Store

I can’t find the link right now (found it) but some blogs reported back in early summer that iOS 12 iOS 11.3 gained the ability to update App Store content from 2 different account IDs, USA and international.

I have juggled USA and Japan App Store content since App Store day 1 2008. Updating meant constant logging out and logging in to different accounts manually, a pain in the neck that I grew accustomed to over the years. Things have slowly improved but seamless savvy domestic~international App Store switching is still not there yet in iOS 12.

iOS 12 updates Apps from both USA and Japan accounts but only for content that is exists in both App Stores. Any attempt to update Japan only content from Yahoo Japan, Docomo, etc., and the USA App store coughs up a ‘This item is no longer available’ error. Back to the old tried and true ‘log out of US store log in to Japan store’ update maneuver.

This kind of ‘USA English version first, internationalization and optimization later when we can get to it’ attitude seems to be getting worse at Apple instead of better. On iOS 12 alone we have Apple Music Japan content that still does not Kana sort, half-assed Apple Maps Japan content, no Japanese TV content what-so-ever even though Netflix Japan and Amazon Prime Japan are going all out. On the just released macOS Mojave 10.14 iMessages is still missing Location settings. The list goes on.

Apple likes to pride itself on being, slightly, ahead of the curve on software internationalization. Sometimes it is, sometimes not. Smart, savvy internationalization of OS, cloud and content services that lead the industry may not sound sexy or produce big profits, but they have a huge impact on product quality around the world.

Making Apple products the best possible products out there was what Steve Jobs was all about. Apple may be stumbling of late, let’s hope they remember their founder by putting all into the job at hand.