Once in a while I get a surge of traffic from reddit and like to see which post was linked and the attached discussion. This was very hard to do before reddit added comment searches and even so it takes a few days before a new entry shows up in search results. The latest one was about iPhone X and NFC.
Question: What’s the difference between X and XS ? Which is better ? My second question: Recently I bought an X Japanese Version. Is it different from regular X ??
Answer 1: X to XS is Just a small minor cpu upgrade and minor antenna fixes making the iPhone bottom speaker/microphone holes assymetrical, if you bought a X from Japan and are planning to use it for commuting using apple pay there, make sure to check the production date, pre2018 iPhone X has a suica gate problems that got fixed with the Rev B iPhone X. iPhone X suica problem
Answer 2: Also, all Japanese iPhones have a different NFC reader, so they won’t work with non Japanese tap and pay terminals and other NFC points, eg on public transit and similar
Yikes, all the good and bad of reddit in one post. The question is a good one but the good natured answers are equally helpful and utterly misleading.
Answer 1 is a little off in that bad iPhone X NFC was not a Suica problem, NFC was unreliable across the board regardless of type (A-B-F) or protocol (EMV, FeliCa, etc.), with iPhone X NFC crapping out completely later on (after AppleCare expired naturally). The Rev B thing was just my made up name for units manufactured after April 2018 with reliable NFC. And even though most people have moved on to newer iPhone models with much superior NFC performance, the big bad iPhone X NFC problem continues to haunt users. For me, with 3 replacements and a lot of headaches, iPhone X was the worst iPhone ever. iPhone X users deserved a NFC repair program but never got one because at the time Apple Pay Express Transit was only available in Japan. Apple at its Tim Cookian worst.
The JRE POINT website and apps (iOS•Android) received a makeover on August 29. The purpose of the reboot was to increase security with Face/Touch ID login, and add some long overdue features such as removing the single Mobile Suica registration limit. With the new service, account users can register up to 20 Suica cards of any type and also share JRE POINT with other JRE POINT ‘family’ member accounts.
As with all JR East online services that get a reboot, things did not go very well. The first 48 hours were full of glitches and the app basically did not work for many people. After a few update patches things are working for the most part, the JRE POINT iOS app is currently 3.0.4 but still needs some fixes as auto login only works half the time. By far the best new features are the ability to add more than one Mobile Suica card, handy for families, as well as point sharing although it’s rather cumbersome.
From a UI perspective, JRE POINT app is very similar to Eki-Net in that the UI jettisons native iOS and Android controls for a clumsy web UI. The only reason for using the app instead of the web site is to use the JRE POINT barcode at checkout and play the stupid little games for extra JRE POINT. The Face/Touch ID login support is less appealing than you might expect, it’s only used in lieu of the 6 PIN code to access point transaction history, or change login ID and password.
I’ve updated the JRE POINT guide for the new features and UI. Let me know if you find anything missing.
The original AirPods were a godsend for morning rush hour commuting on the super crowded Yamanote line in Tokyo. The sound quality was not all that different from the wired EarPods that came with iPhone, but they were wireless and that was a game changer. There were countless times when my EarPods cable would catch on a woman’s bag squeezing past in a rush for the car doors, with EarPods and iPhone suddenly ripped out of my ears and pocket, either falling to the floor, or most embarrassing of all, trailing behind a running person while I scrambled to catch them. AirPods eliminated that problem and physical cable noises too, more than enough to put up with the familiar EarPod issues of not staying in the ear so well, or cleaning ear wax buildup on the inside mesh.
Then came AirPods Pro and the magic of noise cancellation, transparency mode and earphones that fit snuggly, so comfortable I’d forget I was wearing them. AirPods Pro 1 were a perfect companion for riding the rails. The noise cancellation was good enough to filter most of the rail and station noise for all but the most extreme cases, such as JR Shinjuku platforms with multiple busy train lines, and loud announcements that have gotten much louder since AirPods Pro arrived as more and more people use…noise cancelling earphones. JR East has compensated by cranking train announcement volumes everywhere but especially so for platforms.
There is also the COVID effect which mandates partially open train car windows for COVID killing fresh air circulation. Not all windows are opened and only a bit, 10 cm or so, usually one window on each side between the doors. But even that little opening is extremely loud when a train goes underground or through underpasses. Older cars that run on the Tokyu Ikegami line are also not soundproofed like the modern Yamanote E235 trains. COVID era train commuting is a very challenging sound environment for AirPods Pro.
AirPods Pro 2: the best AirPods for COVID era train commuting I’m happy to report that AirPods Pro 2 are a great improvement over the original AirPods Pro for rush hour train commuting in the COVID era. Here is my quick AirPods Pro 2 take from riding the rails everyday:
Audio Performance With so many AirPods Pro 2 reviews out there, there is not much to add except to say the audio performance enhancement is as real as they say, the soundscape experience is much more immersive. My first impression grows stronger every day: if you like Dolby Atmos spatial audio mixes, these are the AirPods to have.
Noise cancellation Apple’s claim of 2x noise cancellation over AirPods Pro 1st generation sounds about right. Switch point clatter, underpass roar, tunnel transit with open windows, extra loud platform announcements and more, are quiet but discernible background sounds instead of music killing sound tsunamis. You can even listen to music inside a pachinko parlor, the ultimate sound tsunami. Not that you would want to that, but with AirPods Pro 2 noise cancellation, you can.
Adaptive Transparency Transparency mode is one of the killer features of AirPods Pro 1. The real time audio of transparency mode is on a level that other earphone makers have yet to match. How do you beat a hard to beat feature? By making it so natural you forget that you’re wearing them. 2nd generation transparency is much less tinny than the original. Everything sounds more natural, I’m not conscious of my voice like I was with the 1st generation, I feel like I’m having a normal conversation without earphones. Because it’s not flashy, the new ‘Adaptive’ feature is hard to pin down, but there’s a perfect way to test it. Stand outside a pachinko parlor near the entrance and wait for someone to go through the door. The resulting sound tsunami that always overwhelms 1st generation transparency is handled by adaptive transparency with ease, it doesn’t overwhelm your ears.
Touch control AirPods was a huge improvement over EarPods in every way except one: the volume/playback control buttons. Listening to music in a packed train has special challenges. There isn’t always enough space to hold iPhone in one hand and a strap or pole in another. I always put my iPhone in my pack before getting on. Apple Watch isn’t a reliable solution either. Double clicking to bring up the player app and then rotate the knob to adjust volume is great in theory, but the reality is a pain point: not enough room to maneuver, buggy WatchOS that doesn’t change the volume, etc. AirPods Pro 2 touch controls are finally complete. They are easy to use and use discreetly. That is huge.
All aboard AirPods Pro 1 were easily my favorite piece of Apple hardware these past few years. I got more day to day enjoyment than anything else. For me AirPod Pros 2 are a wonderful upgrade, not only for the new features and enhanced performance, but also for bringing the Dolby Atmos spatial audio experience into focus. I finally ‘get it’. We are still at the very beginning of the spatial audio era, but with AirPods Pro 2, I look forward to exploring new soundscapes yet to come. To enjoy a fully customized AirPods Pro 2 listening experience, make sure you dig into all the options, they make a big difference. Have fun.
Notice: this post will be updated with new developments, latest info here
When foreign issue VISA cards in Wallet stopped working for some kinds of Apple Pay in-app purchases from Japanese merchants starting on August 5, the first people to howl in pain were Apple Pay PASMO users who suddenly couldn’t recharge the stored fare balance or renew commuter passes with their Chase Sapphire VISA cards. Chase Sapphire still codes for 3x travel points on PASMO you see and long time resident Suica users had migrated to PASMO when JR East and VISA shut down 3x travel points.
I did the usual duty of talking with Mobile Suica support, official line: there should be no problem, contact the card issuer. I then contacted Wells Fargo card services support, official line: there should be no problem with your VISA, contact the merchant. Entirely expected of course but I did confirm that Mobile Suica transaction attempts were not even showing on the Wells Fago system. They said it might be a ‘communications issue’.
I suspected a larger issue than just Apple Pay and an Android Suica user confirmed the same non-JP VISA problem with Google Pay Suica. I also alerted IT journalist Junya Suzuki who focuses on mobile payments. His first thought was something might be going on with the VISA Japan merchant acquirer side of the payment network. Merchant acquirers are very secretive and nobody knows who is the merchant acquirer is for Mobile Suica/Mobile PASMO. Maybe they were tightening online transaction security…or something else. Everything was clear as mud though one source did say this:
An acquirer made the decision stopping handling cards issued in other countries. Acquirer are different between Apple Pay and Google Pay, so that’s why I said Apple Pay. Another guy suggests Apple or such acquirer may face money laundering issue by registering Apple Pay with pre-paid Visa cards or so.
A reader asked me if Japan was banning non-JP VISA cards across the board along with a screenshot of Universal Studios Japan advance ticket sales page with a red colored important notice on the top that said: “We apologize that currently Visa and Mastercard credit cards issued outside Japan are not available until further notice.”
The evidence pointed to a larger problem than just Mobile Suica and PASMO. The USJ wording also suggests that JTRWeb have their hands tied ‘until further notice’ and echos what JR East PR told Suzuki san about the non-JP VISA recharge problem being beyond their immediate control. Something seems to be happening with the VISA merchant acquirer…but in different highly selective ways. For example why does Apple Pay Suica work with foreign issue Mastercard and AMEX but not VISA, or why does foreign issue VISA work for Apple Pay in-app purchases with Japanese apps like Starbucks, but not in-app purchase with JR East for Suica recharge?
Phishing attacks and VISA Touch promotion It’s helpful to examine the impact of phishing attacks that hit docomo, Line Pay, PayPay and other QR code payment services in late 2020, and JR East online services (Mobile Suica, JRE POINT, Eki-Net and VIEW card) in early 2022. Responses to phishing attacks has been slow, varied and vague. Companies like to say they value customer security but are short detailing what they’re doing about it.
Docomo quickly suspended, then killed off, their problematic docomo koza e-paymnet service. Then Japanese credit card issuers got serious and responded by upgrading to EMV 3-D Secure v2 for browser and mobile app payments (edit: EMV 3-D Secure is the EMV e-commerce browser and app authentication spec for all members but card brands use their own naming) and are due to phase out 3-D Secure v1 by October 2022.
JR East upgraded Suica App to 3-D Secure v2 for in-house credit card purchases and changed the JRE POINT Suica recharge process to make it more secure, but seemly little else. Scratch under the surface however and you’ll notice unannounced recharge security blocks even in Apple Pay Suica. There are also new limits for certain Japanese issue cards registered in Suica App. Recharge with Revolut VISA for example is now limited to 3,000 JPY per day despite the fact that Suica App uses 3-D Secure v2. Clear as mud…again.
Which brings up to the most important point of the whole problem: why is the VISA payment network not accepting foreign issue cards for Apple Pay Suica and Google Pay Suica recharge when those digital wallets offer the highest levels of secure online transactions out there? A bumpy 3-D Secure v2 transition might explain what’s happening for online sites who don’t support Apple Pay and have not updated to newer protocol. But the transition has been going on for a while now, and it doesn’t explain what’s happening with Apple Pay Suica/PASMO and Google Pay Suica (Osaifu Keitai) which have nothing to do with EMV 3-D Secure.
The timing is perfect however when you consider that VISA is heavily promoting ‘VISA Touch’ EMV contactless. It’s very convenient that Apple Pay Suica and PASMO are suddenly sidelined as easy payment options for inbound visitors.
The Apple Pay difference The security issue doesn’t apply to Apple Pay. Apple Pay comes with the extra security and guarantees that Apple provides to issuers and merchants, once a card is added to Apple Wallet, it is cleared for all things Apple Pay (ditto for Google Pay). This is why a plastic contactless card that doesn’t work on TfL open loop transit gates works when it is added to Apple Wallet. It’s the Apple Pay difference.
So we circle back to foreign issue VISA again. Why are cards cleared for Apple Pay, cards that worked fine until August 5, suddenly not working? Is JR East shutting down recharge for foreign issue cards like Hong Kong Octopus and China T-Union do without telling us? So far JR East support says that all credit and debit cards that support Apple Pay in-app purchase are good to go. They certainly want inbound visitors to use Suica. What little evidence we have so far points to a change on the VISA merchant acquirer side. Everybody else seems to be doing what they always do and haven’t changed anything.
VISA has a history of not playing nice with Japanese stored value cards on mobile. JP issue VISA cards didn’t work for Apple Pay in-app purchases and Suica recharge until last year, it took VISA 5 years to ‘resolve’ that issue. VISA cards still do not work with Mobile WAON and Mobile nanaco on Android and Apple Pay, they likely never will. My take is that VISA is happy with people buying things with VISA, they are certainly happy with people borrowing money with VISA, but they are not happy with people using VISA to move money into stored value prepaid cards for making payments, earning points, etc., that are not VISA.
Junya Suzuki thinks the VISA merchant acquirers might be coming under pressure from potential money laundering risks. I think people have the right to move their money where they want to, after all we’re only talking a max Suica balance of ¥20,000 here. Whatever the reason let’s hope it is fixed soon, though I have learned over the years that card brand payment issues are never simple. Time will tell. At the very least I think we can say this is another skirmish in the ongoing digital payment turf wars.
iOS 16 doesn’t have many big new flashy features. There is the Dynamic Island for iPhone 14 Pro, which I would love to have but I’m holding on to my iPhone 13 for another year…or two. Fortunately there are plenty of nice refinements for the rest of us without the latest greatest iPhone hardware, Apple Pay and Wallet are no exception. The full list is on the New features available with iOS 16 page. As usual the iOS 16 and watchOS 9 pages for each country are edited to reflect available, or coming soon, “Key Features and Enhancements” for the region balanced against the full spec USA feature set.
An interesting thing about iOS 16 Apple Pay and Wallet is that not all the listed features apply to regular users…at least not at first. Some are behind the scenes stuff for merchants and developers that will take time to land in our Apple Pay Wallet as features we can use. Let’s take a quick look by breaking down the categories.
1) General improvements (for everybody) Quick access menu: a handy new shortcut menu for all Wallet cards and passes via tapping the More button. The menu varies according to the card feature set. Transit cards like Suica have the most, payment cards without notifications (all Japanese issue payments cards) have the least. It’s a nice tweak most useful as a fast way to toggle individual card notifications on and off. Zollotech posted a video that covers quick access menus for Apple Card and Apple Cash along with an overview of iOS 16 Apple Pay and Wallet option settings.
Apple Pay Order Tracking: announced at WWDC22, this new Wallet button sitting next to the ‘Add’ button seems like a no-brainer: when I order something with Apple Pay I get automatic tracking…nice but I wonder how it will play out. Apple Store app for example already has robust tracking and accepts Apple Pay, so do a lot of other apps. Will they remove the function from their app, offer choice between in-app or Wallet order tracking, or something else? Either way it will be a while before we see merchant updates.
2) Digital key features (for most markets): iOS 15 was the Apple Pay and Wallet upgrade that set the course for the next few years with keys and ID. The iOS 16 improvements are about making adding a key and family sharing easy. Hotel keys are now sharable like car and home keys, gotta let the kids have access and all…though I suspect office keys remain on the un-sharable list.
Key sharing (coming with an update later this year): in addition to Messages and Mail, 3rd party messaging apps such as What’s App will support key sharing. In Japan the only 3rd party messaging app that matters is Line. iOS 16 looks to be the breakout year for keys in Wallet.
Add keys from Safari: more important that it might seem at first, there are plenty of uses for loading a key into Wallet from a time sensitive Safari web page link instead of the usual time wasting mess of downloading an app, creating an account, making a reservation, etc. You know the drill. Digital key issue remains a complex thing that usually requires an app with an account to securely issue a mobile key remotely with set limitations (time, area, etc.). Hopefully adding keys in Safari gives developers easier service options, but connecting identity with access remains a challenge.
It’s important to note that issuing digital keys is only one step of the complex process that allows guests to bypass the front desk. Apple’s announcement certainly does not spell the end of the hotel app as we know it…
It’s a big step toward streamlining a process that has, until this point, prevented many guests from using their phone as a digital room key. But, Wallet only solves one segment of the end-to-end operation required to get a guest checked in and room access issued. The bigger issue is connecting identity with access, which requires many more steps beyond issuing a key.
The solution to this is the new iOS 16 ID in Wallet features for apps in the next section.
Multi-stay hotel keys: if you stay in the same hotel chain on your trip that already supports Wallet hotel keys, you might have the opportunity to use this feature where you load one hotel key into Wallet that works across all your reservations. Like order tracking I think this one will take time for the major hotel chains to get onboard, and of course the devil is in the check-in/activation details.
Easy device migration for keys: I assume this refers to the Previous Cards Wallet category that came with iOS 15. The iOS 16 features page text blurb suggests a possible UI tweak, but I don’t have any key to test. We’ll have to wait and see.
3) ID in Wallet features (USA only): the next big step for ID in Wallet after getting them out the door is app support. This is where digital ID moves beyond airport TSA security checks and becomes really useful.
ID cards presented in apps and Verify your identity in apps sound exactly the same so you have to read the fine print carefully. ID cards in apps describes 2 specific pieces of information: identification and age, validated by Face/Touch ID. Taking a wild guess, there are plenty of account registrations that only need to confirm your identity and age as part of a signup process. Digital ID can vastly simplify the process.
Verify identity in apps describes ‘verified information’, i.e. more than just ‘I am this person, I am xx years old’. The iOS 16 pages shows a car rental app confirming a user’s driver license status and driving privileges. This has a lot more use (and abuse) potential. The hotel app and key issue verification problem mentioned earlier is exactly what digital ID in apps can help solve. MaaS apps are another example where verification is essential for offering special discounts for seniors, locals, inbound visitors, etc. Reliable, secure and universal digital ID would solve a lot of service problems, but privacy, how does the app use digital ID information, how long is it stored, etc., is always a concern.
Apple Pay features for merchants and developers: It’s a little strange that Apple is listing Merchant tokens and Multiple merchant support on the feature page. These are backend additions to PassKit and it will take time for merchants and the developers they employ to implement them. Both of these expand the Apple Pay experience. For me merchant tokens is the more powerful feature, one that enable reoccurring and auto-reload payments. It could be a boon for subscription services and much easier auto-recharge in apps and transit cards like Suica and PASMO. Auto-recharge is one of my favorite Apple Pay Suica features and it would be great if JR East freed it from the shackles of Suica App and View Card and added Apple Pay auto-recharge.
4) Apple Pay Services (for the USA): aka longtime USA only services: Apple Cash and Apple Card with the new addition of Apple Pay Later…coming later this year. All of these fall squarely in heavily regulated banking services, so don’t expect them to expand beyond the USA any time soon. The iOS 15.5-ish rebranding of iTunes Pass into Apple Account card, now with Wallet reload in iOS 16, should expand more quickly.
As with all recent iOS releases, the fun features comes later on in the life-cycle. I’ll update this post as with new information as the iOS 16 Apple Pay and Wallet story unfolds. Until then have a happy cashless, er, you know what I mean.