Apple Pay Japan Inbound Outbound

6 months after the release of iOS 11 the new NFC switching Apple Pay functionality combined with the global NFC support in iPhone X / iPhone 8 / Apple Watch 3 is driving tremendous change in Japan while creating the most advanced Apple Pay environment that exists for iPhone customers.

As I said before, Japan is the world’s most interesting and diverse contactless payment market:

What’s interesting is that Global FeliCa support in iPhone 8, iPhone X and Apple Watch 3 lets anybody visiting Japan with those devices add Suica to Apple Pay and instantly enjoy the benefits of Japanese FeliCa contactless payments.

Apple Pay in Japan is the only place in the world where you can mix and match FeliCa and (contactless) EMV payments side by side with the same device. That’s astonishing, and lots of fun.

To appreciate the change Apple Pay is bringing to Japan, here’s a look at the Apple Pay environment for Inbound and Outbound global NFC iPhone customers.

Apple Pay Japan and NFC Pay
Japan issue credit card holders using iOS 11 Apple Pay have the best experience across the board for FeliCa payment networks in Japan and NFC Pay networks abroad.

The first full year of Apple Pay in Japan drove a large uptake in mobile payments spearheaded by Apple Pay Suica. Japanese iPhone users are magically morphing from Apple Pay paupers into the most sophisticated, diverse and technically advanced set of Apple Pay users that exist, all without doing a single thing except use Apple Pay in Japan… and abroad. A full list of outbound capable Apple Pay Japan issue credit cards is here.

The reason for the transformation is simple, the NFC switching function of iOS 11 Apple Pay seamlessly uses FeliCa networks in Japan and NFC Pay networks abroad for Japanese users without requiring any new payment infrastructure investment. Apple Pay simply utilizes what’s already in place very effectively. NTT Docomo has something like this for Docomo customers but Apple Pay takes it to a whole new global level.

Apple Pay Inbound
Inbound credit card holders using iOS 11 Apple Pay also have the best experience across the board for FeliCa payment networks in Japan using their Apple Pay credit cards from home to add money to Suica. NFC Pay in Japan is limited but Apple Pay Suica has you covered.

Apple Pay Inbound is a very different situation. NFC Pay support is still limited to ‘Gaijin Ghettos’ (McDonalds, Tokyo Disneyland, IKEA, a few vending machines, and so on). Customer experience is all over the place. The staff at my local McDonalds, none of them Japanese most of them from India, insist in mishmash Japanese English that Mastercard Contactless is not a payment option. Mastercard Contactless is an option of course but explaining that is a hassle. It’s much faster to pay with Apple Pay Suica and be on my way.

Do yourself a favor and put Suica on your global NFC iPhone. Apple Pay Suica neatly sidesteps the NFC Pay infrastructure shortage and liberates every iPhone X / 8 customer. Add money to it with your Apple Pay credit cards from home. It works like magic and the entire Japanese contactless nation is at your command.

Truth be told that Visa, Mastercard and American Express have done little over the years to promote their NFC Pay contactless services with Japanese merchants or customers anyway. Only recently has Visa started to market dual-mode iD/payWave Visa Debit cards via SMBC that do not work with Apple Pay but certainly attempt to compete with it with plastic.

That NFC Pay Infrastructure Problem
McDonalds, convenience stores and other retail empires have the IT and POS backend resources to add NFC Pay support at any time but one problem is the situation for middle tier businesses and smaller merchants. If their business is 99% Japanese, 1% of the customer base is no incentive to upgrade a payment processing system to add NFC Pay when there is no return.

The most important issue holding up NFC Pay support in Japan right now is this: the vast majority of inbound visitors are from China who don’t care about or use NFC Pay, they want QR Payments (WeChat, etc.). Payments infrastructure follows the money so that is why Rakuten Pay, Origami Pay Mizuho Bank and the soon to be released Docomo ‘d Harai’ are investing in QR, not NFC Pay support. These systems are about servicing Chinese visitors, nothing more.

Some people suggest that Japan should junk FeliCa and go all in with NFC Pay and MIFARE. That’s not only ridiculous and solves nothing, it’s a security risk. If there is a lesson to learn from Meltdown and Spector it is that technology diversity is strength. Right? The NFC Forum now requires NFC A-B-F support for smart device global certification anyway, smartphones are quickly evolving to take care of it all. The ‘let’s do everything with NFC A-B’ argument is a moot point.

It’s All About Vision
Japanese enjoy the world’s most diverse and advanced version of Apple Pay thanks to Apple’s iOS 11 advancements and decision to put global NFC in iPhone and Apple Watch. But it is also due to MasterCard, JCB and AMEX card issuers taking care of Japanese customers by providing dual global NFC ID numbers to Apple Pay. This is a fascinating development that points a way forward for all smartphones and platforms combined with global NFC support.

Japanese customers don’t have to do anything except use Apple Pay. iPhone takes care of everything, it just works. Why can’t it ‘just work’ for inbound Apple Pay too? Or other platforms? It doesn’t because credit card companies and issuers don’t really care about customers. They focus on capturing transaction fees rather than working together to improve customer services.

If Mastercard started offering dual global NFC ID numbers to all customers worldwide, I guarantee Visa would add NFC-F to the EMV/NFC spec faster than you could say: cash or charge? When it comes to the credit card industry world standards like EMV are just market share bargaining chips, nothing more. Customer service is a distant concern.

This is why I think transit operators in London, Singapore and elsewhere are insane allowing direct credit card EMV contactless transactions at the transit gate. Not only does it slow transactions way down, it’s also gives away money and control to credit card operators who do not care about transit customer service or transit safety.

It’s much smarter for transit operators to keep all the money and control with stored value cards, put them on smartphones and limit credit cards to a secondary role with an Apple Pay Suica Recharge approach. Oh, and while you’re at it, build your own retail transaction processing empire a la JR East Suica.

Reimagine New York metropolitan area transit with a Tokyo level of transportation infrastructure and station retail combined with a New York area ‘Suica’. The mass movement of money would rebuild New York’s economic foundation for the next generation. It’s amazing to me that Americans don’t consider themselves important enough to deserve this.

Moving people is moving money. Build a beautiful, attractive and insanely convenient transportation / retail network and people will flock to it showering money.




Apple Pay Japan Adds DC Card and JAL Cards

Mitsubishi UFJ Nicos added Apple Pay support for DC Card this week joining their MUFG Card which has been on Apple Pay since December 2016. The company also said that NICOS Card Apple Pay support is coming soon.

DC Card hosts both Mastercard and Visa brands but Apple Pay ads exclusively showcase DC Card Mastercard. The reason for this is that Visa Japan cards only support Apple Pay store purchases but not in-app / web purchases, Apple Pay Suica recharging or NFC switching.

DC Card Apple Pay

DC Card Mastercard fully supports Apple Pay and the NFC switching feature of iOS 11 Apple Pay allowing Japanese DC Card customers to use Apple Pay with Mastercard Contactless terminals around the world and the FeliCa QUICPay network at home. See the Apple Pay Japan Credit Card page for the full list of NFC switching card support

One final bonus is that Mastercard Japan offers the best exchange rates with overseas card purchases, better than Visa, American Express or JCB.

JAL also added more cards to Apple Pay via DC Card:

JAL Card Suica (via View Card)
JAL・JCB Card (via JCB)
JAL・Visa Card (via DC Card)
JAL・Mastercard (via DC Card)
JAL Card TOKYU POINT ClubQ (via DC Card)

JAL-JCB card and JAL-View Card have been on Apple Pay for over a year but the DC Card support is new. All of these work on the QUICPay payment network in Japan. JAL-DC Card Mastercard and JAL-JCB cards also support iOS 11 NFC switching for Apple Pay use abroad via Mastercard Contactless and J/Speedy payment networks.

iOS 11.2.5 Apple Pay Suica Error Flicker and iPhone X Battery Optimization

A reader who is also experiencing Apple Pay Suica transit gate error flicker with his iPhone X forwarded a fascinating blog post of Mobile Suica error flicker on Sony XPERIA Z5 Android devices.

There are 2 important points:

  • The Z5 Mobile Suica error flicker issue occurred on devices after upgrading to Android 7 (Nougat)
  • The Z5 error flicker issue is resolved by turning off Stamina mode (Sony devices only) for Mobile Suica app.

On Android devices Suica functionality is completely controlled by the JR East Mobile Suica app. On iPhone and Apple Watch Suica functionality is built into iOS 11 Apple Pay.

One of the interesting things about iOS 11.2.5 is that beta 1 and beta 2 did not have error flicker problems on my iPhone X but battery life was short. Error flicker reared its head in 11.2.5 beta 3 and battery life was suddenly much better. And so it was through to the iOS 11.2.5 official release. Limited testing of Apple Pay Suica on iOS 11.x and iPhone 7 / 8 shows the performance level just where it should be.

Real life experience of iPhone X Apple Pay Suica on iOS 11.2.5 is much improved over previous iOS 11 versions but still falls short of iOS 10.3.X iPhone 7 performance. Apple Pay Suica response at the transit gate with the ‘Done’ mark and sound is sometimes immediate, sometimes sluggish as if Apple Pay Suica is waking up from a deep sleep.

Battery optimization is always a moving target. What works for one hardware configuration is useless for another. And there is battery life and throttling too. Here is a comparison of iPhone NFC controllers.

iFixIt teardowns of recent iPhone models
iPhone 7 / 7 Plus: NXP 67V04 NFC controller
iPhone 8 / 8 Plus: NXP 80V18 PN80V NFC controller
iPhone X: NXP 80V18 PN80V NFC controller

iOS 11.2.5 15D60
Restore image file list for iOS 11.2.5 15D60

Apple has different iOS restore images for different hardware configurations, John Gruber pointed out that iPhone X iOS is a completely different iOS:

Apple hasn’t called attention to this, but effectively there are two versions of iOS 11 — I’ll call them “iOS 11 X”, which runs only on iPhone X, and “iOS 11 Classic”, which runs on everything else.

Based on my 11.2.5 beta test experience and the Sony Z5 error flicker issue I think Apple Pay Suica error flicker on iPhone X is a battery optimization related issue. Apple still needs to fine tune iPhone X battery optimization and NFC controller performance for Apple Pay Suica.

Apple Pay Suica is the single most important ‘Apple exclusive’ iOS 11 feature for the Japanese market, it brings new customers to iPhone. Apple Pay Suica performance deserves Apple’s full attention to make Suica the best iPhone customer experience there is.

Die FeliCa Die!

There are two kinds of gaijin who live in Japan. Those who hate Japan but love Japanese money, and those who love Japan and love Japanese money. But all of us love to complain.

Gaijin rants that link to Ata Distance are fascinating and fun to read but tend to fall into two kinds of opinions:

  1. Japanese technology sucks because they do not follow “world standards”
  2. The Japanese iPhone camera shutter sound sucks

I guess that Japan being the first country with mobile contactless payments, or that NFC Forum certification for NFC mobile devices requires NFC Type A/B and Type F support, or that all new iPhone and Galaxy devices have this, with Huawei and Oppo to join later doesn’t mean anything.

Time for Tim Cook to put FeliCa in the grave and let the world live with slow less secure MIFARE and even slower EMV transaction speeds. Have fun getting out of those clogged congested and dangerous station gates!

As for the shutter sound, Japanese users take this in stride because they use camera apps that don’t make a shutter sound, or they use Live Photo.

Regarding the disappearing Apple Pay Suica card, the JR East support page has a fix for that:

  1. Sign into iCloud with the same Apple ID and re-add Suica in Wallet
  2. If that does not work, go to the Mobile Suica web site, sign in with your Mobile Suica ID and re-issue your Suica

HomePod and the Apple Music Japanese Metadata Mess

Naoko Ken joking aside, Apple Music Japanese sorting is still a hot mess. The root problem is the different ways that iTunes in the Cloud (purchased tracks), iTunes Match (CD tracks stored in iCloud), and Apple Music (streaming) tag Japanese artist names.

iCloud Music Library is supposed to hold everything together as one big intergrated whole but it does not. The different programs that use iCloud Music Library, iTunes, Siri, Apple Music app, each see Japanese artist names differently and treat them differently.

I have a large Yumi Matsutoya (Yuming) music collection. Most of her vast catalog is not on iTunes or Apple Music so I put Yuming in iCloud Music Library via iTunes Match. Countless weekends carefully adding kana in the iTunes name sorting tags so that Yuming sorts correctly in the Apple Music app artist list was in vain. No matter what kana tags are in iTunes, Apple Music app refuses to sort.

Messy Metadata and Siri
Japanese artist, album and song title metadata on purchased iTunes tracks is all over the place. Sometimes the kana sort tags are correct, sometimes they are empty, sometimes they are incorrectly tagged with kanji which is a no-no: kana tags have to have kana otherwise Japanese sorting does not work.

I suspect Apple Music tracks have their own tagging scheme which is why iCloud Music Library ignores iTunes kana tags. Unfortunately Siri depends on accurate metadata to carry out commands.

If I ask Siri in Japanese to “play some Yumi Matsutoya,” Siri complies and starts to play Yuming. But Siri does not play Yuming tunes from my iCloud Music Library. Siri plays post 2011 Apple Music Yumi Matsutoya tracks that I don’t own, or want to hear. Apple Music is the problem so I turn off Apple Music in iOS settings and try Siri again.

But Siri still plays post 2011 Yuming Apple Music, this time from an instantly created station. And so it goes. No matter what, Siri cannot play my Yumi Matsutoya collection. The story is the same for many other Japanese artists in my collection. This is not a good advertisement for selling HomePod in Japan.

Japan is one of most profitable music markets after the US market. If Apple wants to sell HomePod in Japan at some point, they’ll have to get their Apple Music Japanese metadata problem sorted out first.