NTT docomo iPhone Visual Voicemail problem

A few months ago I noticed that my iPhone Visual Voicemail was not working reliably. Most of the time messages kicked into the standard NTT docomo dial-in messaging service (1417). I didn’t pay it much mind until December when I had a lot of job related back and forth with missed calls showing in the docomo SNS feed but nothing ever showing in Visual Voicemail.

Today I finally called docomo support and got a quick answer:

“Are you using the latest iOS update?”

Of course I am.

“NTT docomo recognizes the problem and is working on the Visual Voicemail issue. When Apple releases the new update please install it and let us know if it doesn’t solve the issue.”

Okay, that sounds like a plan. Hopefully iOS 15.3 will fix the NTT Docomo Visual Voicemail issue. Until then NTT Docomo iPhone users will have to use the dedicated 1417 dial-in message if Visual Voicemail is not working. Judging from the quick support response it sounds like a widespread issue.

Suica Light, the Welcome Suica for locals

JR East announced, yet another, Suica card: Suica Light. In terms of functionality it has no card deposit, a 6 month transit validity, card issue is not direct from JR East and limited to local governments, schools and corporations. In other words it’s not for individual purchase and use. The concept is somewhat similar to Welcome Suica: a Suica for specific kind of user with a limited transit use validity, no card deposit, no refunds. A time limited, throw away Suica. What’s the point?

On one level JR East wants to offer a new option that simply replaces some paper ticketing for group travel and also leverages current Suica platform (transit and eMoney) infrastructure. The logical and easy step might be using QR to handle special ticketing that doesn’t fit with regular Suica. JR East has tested QR Code capable gates but there is no rollout map or announced strategy. The problem with QR for JR East is that it doesn’t grow their Suica platform.

2022 is a big year for JR East’s MaaS strategy centered on the Suica 2 in 1 Region Affiliate program with 8 new cards launching in the Tohoku region. The key new feature is that different special services can be attached to differently branded Suica cards. Local users get the benefit of special local services linked with the wide national Suica footprint. This is also what Suica Light is aiming for in a different way: special services and/or tour packages attached to a differently branded, limited validity Suica.

We’ll see how it goes but there are sticky points for Suica Light and Suica 2 in 1:

  • Recycling: the short validity means these Suica Light cards have a very short life. JR East should provide a recycling program so that users can safely dispose of them.
  • Anywhere/Anytime recharge: hard money recharge is the old standby but many users would greatly appreciate the ability to check the card balance and recharge it with a smartphone app when on the go. It’s high time that JR East provide a recharge app for all plastic Suica cards.
  • Management: with the proliferation of Suica 2 in 1 and Suica Light that are not issued directly by JR East, users need a mobile app to manage the card (confirm or add services) without a trip to the local card issuer office.
  • Mobile Support: Suica Light mobile issue has some challenges at JR East is not directly involved and the user needs to verify their ID, but Suica 2 in 1 needs mobile support, sooner the better.

The challenge facing JR East is building a flexible, feature rich, future proof Suica cloud backend that extends the fast local processing Suica frontend, while reducing costs. Not an easy task.

Apple Maps Japan Real-Time Transit is fake

I was surprised when discovering Japan is listed for real-time transit in the iOS and iPadOS Feature Availability page. It’s a fairly recent addition but nothing has changed in iOS 15 Apple Maps Japan transit directions, it’s delivering exactly the same transit info since the iOS 15 release, which itself was the same as iOS 14. Apple is slapping a new label on an old product.

It’s helpful to compare Japan so-called real-time transit with other regions that have had it for some time: Boston, New York, Los Angles.

Scheduled vs On-time departure
It’s very easy way to tell when real-time transit is real: upcoming departure time will display a colored network icon, green for on-time, red for delay. There are other real-time departure time notifications for updated departure-times and cancelled trains. This is the basic ‘real’ real-time transit benchmark.

More advanced Apple Maps real-time transit locations also incorporate train positions on the map and in the time schedule sheet but not all real-time listed regions have this (Boston does, NYC does not, etc.).

the most advanced real-time transit regions display train position on the map

Apple Maps JP transit directions only show static scheduled departure times pulled from the transit supplier time table server, the same data since Japan transit launched in October 2016. Static ‘scheduled’ times do not update regardless of delay or stoppage warnings. The result is confusing, unreliable transit information that Apple calls ‘real-time transit’.

Google Maps JP, of course, does it real. Here’s a comparison of the different information presented by Apple and Google for the same delay on the JR Shonan-Shinjuku line. Google updates departure times, Apple does not.

Google incorporates live train positions and also include train car and station crowdedness information…all missing from Apple Maps.

Google Maps Japan real-time train positions

As Apple and Google both use the same transit information supplier Jourdan you would expect them to deliver the same service quality, but this is not the case. Why? Google Maps also incorporate real-time transit information from JR Group companies and private transit operators. JR East for example supplies live train position and individual car information (crowdedness, temperature) that they use for their own app to the Public Transportation Open Data Center (PTODC). Japanese real-time transit information is readily available but Apple Maps does not go the extra step of incorporating this information and advertise static scheduled transit times as ‘real-time’.

Apple Maps Japan faux real-time transit appears to be the same situation for Taiwan and Hong Kong, both listed for ‘real-Time’. Taken together with the Sea of Japan deletion and other indications of (willful?) cultural ignorance, it’s another sign that Apple Maps is lost in Japan.

Dealing with a lost Wallet

Yusuke Sakakura writes:

As usual, I tried to get on the train using Apple Pay Suica at the ticket gate, but it didn’t respond at all and I got stuck. At first I thought it was because I was wearing a thick coat, so I held it up again, but there was no response … When I checked the Wallet app, all the credit cards and Suica were gone.

It sounds like he was using Suica on Apple Watch. Sakakura goes on to helpfully explain what can cause this and how to get your Wallet cards back. The most common cause for a lost Wallet is signing out of Apple ID. Another cause is turning off the passcode. As he points out, the notification warning when signing out of Apple ID or turning off the passcode is vague, it doesn’t specially say you are about wipe your credit cards and Suica from iPhone. Some users are not fully aware of the consequences and proceed, only to be rudely surprised when they find Wallet is empty.

In all cases it is easy to restore a lost Wallet. Sign-in to Apple ID, set a passcode, go to Wallet, tap + , tap Previous Card and re-add the listed cards. Suica is easier to re-add as there are no terms and conditions or security code steps involved. As always make sure iPhone has a robust network connection when adding Wallet cards.

Another issue to be aware of with Suica and PASMO is Express Mode deactivation without realizing it. This happens when iPhone Face ID has 5 false reads (easy to do when wearing a face mask), when Apple Watch is off the wrist, or when the iPhone side buttons are inadvertently pressed in a snug fitting pocket (often aggravated by the phone case).

One oddity I have encountered using Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch is wrist band fit. Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch works fine at the transit gate under layers of winter cloths but Express Transit is sometimes deactivated with a looser fitting band. I like wearing the braided sports loop but it tends to stretch over time and become loose compared with the snug fitting solo loop. On a recent trip I had to constantly enter the Apple Watch passcode as my winter coat sleeve layers pulled the loose fitting braided sport loop enough to fool wrist detection. From here on I’m sticking with cheaper, more reliable solo loop which never has this problem.

Here are some guides dealing with re-adding Suica and PASMO:

Transfer to a another device
Restore from a lost or wiped device
Safely remove Suica or PASMO

QR Vaccination Certificate iOS 15 Wallet support comes to Japan (Updated)

The Japanese Government Digital Agency released a QR Code COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate app for iOS and Android today, 2021-12-21. The iOS app has support for SMART Health QR Code certificates that can be added to iOS 15.1 Wallet iPhone and later.

The app requires a Japanese Individual Number Card (My Number Card) to issue a vaccination certificate which is linked to individual vaccination information. The process offers 2 options, domestic use and international use. Issuing a certificate is simple: select options, enter the user set My Number PIN and read the physical My Number Card. The International option requires a reading a passport number.

Users report success getting an issued certificate into Wallet but the process is somewhat manual. If you don’t get a Wallet prompt, do an in-app scan of the Smart Health QR Code to load it into Health and Wallet apps.

My own experience with the app was not good. I have vaccinations and a My Number Card, but get a 60910 error when I enter my PIN and read the card. Some My Number Card naming conventions, such as such as maiden + married names, or mixed English and Japanese are not accepted by the app for certificate issue.

The app support details explain this kind of issue can only be fixed with a visit to the city hall office where city officials update the registered My Number Card name information. The issue appears to affect more than a few people. The Digital Agency updated their website later in the day and told IT reporter Junya Suzuki that an app update is coming soon to address some unspecified naming issues, however the basic name limitations remain listed on the website and app.

We shall see…knowing my luck I’ll probably have go to to the local ward office records section anyway to get a real fix. I’ll report gory details later if I do.


UPDATE 2021-12-22
A number of issues have cropped up since the apps release. It seems that the Digital Agency subcontractor made mistakes, or failed to find them in their rush to get the Vaccination Certificate App out. Most likely there wasn’t proper subcontractor oversight or review, and iOS development appears to have taken a backseat to Android. The name issue is related to limitations in the current JP ePassport format. The timing is questionable as Japan is entering a gray zone regarding who should get booster vaccinations and when. Until that’s settled vaccination certificates are pretty useless for domestic use.

The list of issues so far:

  • The supported formats are ICAO VDS-NC and SMART Health Cards (SHC). Currently there is no support for EU DCC format which is widely used internationally.
  • Certificates are not added to Wallet automatically, it is done via an in-app scan of the SHC QR Code, not the VDS-NC one.
  • The app handles SHC code incorrectly and produces a SHC record that wrongly juxtaposes ‘family’ and ‘given’ names in Roman letters (fixed in v1.04 update).
  • Instead of reading ePassport data via NFC, the app uses OCR. Verification could be done with a NFC read of all ICAO MRTD (ePassport) information but the app does not do this. Instead the only requirement to get a passport read is a valid MRZ (machine readable zone) read of the birthdate that matches the birthday what gets read from the My Number Card.
  • JP ePassport format does not support maiden + married names (by design) and this is the given reason why OCR is used instead of NFC. The JP ePassport name limitation also the reason why the current version of the app refuses to issue vaccination certificates when the My Number Card contains such name combinations. (fixed in v1.08 update)