Yes, iPhone Carrier Subsidies in Japan are Officially Dead: New Docomo Data Plans

The writing has been on the wall for over a year now, and sluggish iPhone XR sales only confirmed the fact, that iPhone carrier subsidies in Japan which have defined the industry since 2008, were dying. Today’s Docomo announcement unveiled new plans that discard all the complexity of previous plans like ‘FOMA’, ‘Xi’ and ‘docomo with’ all of which disappear on May 31, with 2 simple choices:

  • Giga-Ho: ¥4,980 a month for 30GB
  • Giga-Lite: ¥1,980 a month for 1GB with other date tiers available, 3GB@3,980, 5GB@4,980, 7GB@5,980

Docomo customers can apply for the plans from the Docomo web site or a Docomo shop starting May 22, service starts June 1. There are many configurations and new options available, from home internet bundle discounts to new family data sharing. And it looks like tethering fees are gone. Depending on the configuration savings can be as large as 40% compared to previous plans.

At first glance customers will still need to do some homework via the online cost simulator (something that Japanese love to do), or visit the nearest Docomo shop to find the configuration that fits your needs while giving the best discount. This is just part 1 of the continuing saga of data plans without subsidies. At the end of the announcement Docomo said stay tuned for more. KDDI au and SoftBank should be announcing new plans soon, and we’ll get Docomo part 2 when the new iPhones come out this fall.

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iOS 12.2 Update: Apple Card Flavored Suica

iOS 12.2 rearranges the familiar Wallet UI to make way for Apple Card with prepaid cards like Suica along for the ride. The changes on the Suica prepaid side include new ‘Add Money’ and commuter pass ‘Renew’ button designs, transaction icons and other layout tweaks that look more like the Samsung One UI than iOS. It’s a halfhearted attempt to make prepaid functions more accessible than the previous iOS 10.1~12.1 Wallet design, but not very a successful one because of UI changes dictated by the forthcoming Apple Card. The total is less than the sum of the sloppily rushed parts. Let’s take a look.

Wallet UI Changes
The main Wallet view for regular Suica cards now has the Add Money button for easy access next to the balance with the latest transaction listed with a huge icon in a separate area below. This ‘button up front’ tweak is easily the most successful and welcome design change for prepaid cards in iOS 12.2 Wallet:

The new Wallet design for Commuter Suica cards however fails to improve things from the previous design. The commuter pass information still resides on the same line with balance so you still have to tap to another screen to access Add Money and commuter pass renew buttons. There’s plenty of room without that huge useless transaction icon, why not just put it all on the main screen? Apple could have done a better design job here but again Apple Card was dictating the UI changes:

Tapping the new black “…” in the upper right corner brings up the Suica info/transactions view. The previous design had it in the lower right corner which I prefer as I find going down to tap feels more natural that reaching up to tap. Transaction history includes the new huge icons that indicate transaction type: transit-purchase-credit. These appear utter useless to me since the information is already listed in the text. Big icons in a list view are questionable at best, here they are just bad design because transit/e-money prepaid cards like Suica have a vastly different daily use profile than credit cards:

The Suica info window now has ‘Add Money’, ‘Renew’ placed near the top along with shortcut icons to Mobile Suica support. Look carefully and you can see the UI designers botched icon placement because some fool insisted the English word “Web” remain along with the Japanese even though English is completely unnecessary in Japanese localization. More Sloppy:

The ‘black instead of blue’ theme for the new Wallet card UI parts is a mystery and doesn’t mesh well with older Wallet UI parts such as adding cards which retain the older look. Why? Taken all altogether the Wallet UI changes feel lumpy and unpolished, Apple clearly didn’t sweat the details in the rush to get iOS 12.2 Wallet ready for Apple Card.

One last thing on iOS 12.2 Wallet changes, Japanese credit cards no longer list the latest transaction though I can only confirm this for JR East JCB View Card, Docomo Mastercard dCard and Tsutaya JCB T-Card. I suspect the change is part of the new transaction reporting feature unveiled with Apple Card. Perhaps Apple hopes to encourage card issuers to post transaction information dynamically and directly to Wallet instead of shunting it to separate apps. There are probably lots of Apple Pay Wallet changes under the hood that will be revealed at WWDC alluded to by Tim Cook today in the keynote that more Apple Transit like Ventra (iOS 12) and Smart Octopus (iOS 13) would be ‘coming later this year’.

iOS 12.2 Suica Express Card Performance
Last but not least we have Apple Pay Suica performance on iOS 12 which has not been robust so far. The list of Apple Pay Suica performance issues as of iOS 12.1.4 follows, see the most recent post for iOS 12.2 Suica Express Card performance information.

  • Suica Express Card error flicker: occasional error flicker at transit gates with iPhone 7, iPhone 8, iPhone X (Rev. B) and Apple Watch 2~4. This is a completely different issue from the iPhone X NFC hardware defect. There is no workaround and no feedback on iOS 12.2 performance yet.
  • Dead Suica Notifications/No Suica Balance Update: Suica Notifications stop working and Suica Balance fails to update at transit gates, store readers and Suica recharges. This affects iPhone 7, iPhone 8, iPhone X (Rev. B) and Apple Watch 2~4 but is easy to fix by putting Suica in Service Mode for a few seconds. No iOS 12.2 feedback yet.
  • Slow or unresponsive Suica Recharge: a long term issue where Apple Pay Suica recharge fails half of the time especially when recharging from a Suica notification shortcut. The good news is this issue in my iOS 12.2 beta testing appears to be fixed.
  • Dead Suica UI/Express Card power reserve ‘lite’: This only affects iPhone XS and iPhone XR. A kind of ‘Express Card power reserve lite’ bug kicks in occasionally. Suica works flawlessly on readers but the entire Apple Pay Suica UI dies: no notifications, no balance update, no Apple Pay sound, no feedback whatsoever. Service Mode does not revive the Suica UI but restart iPhone and all is good again. Fortunately this issue seems rare. Unfortunately I have experienced on 2 separate iPhone XS devices and the bug was worse in the final iOS 12.2 beta that shipped as the official release: previous iOS 12 versions exhibited this problem every other day, iOS 12.2 (16E227) has it after a few hours.

Update
Right on cue Japanese iPhone users are complaining about the UI changes in iOS 12.2 Wallet:

Update 2
iOS 12.2 Apple Pay Suica performance feedback

Chinese users reportedly dumping iPhone in retaliation to Huawei arrest

An ominous sign? All NewsNippon (ANN) reports that just 4 days before the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou “a large Chinese technology company” issued a company policy stating any employee caught using an iPhone would be fined the entire purchase price and that any employee using a Chinese smartphone would be reimbursed for 15% of the purchase price. The video reports some evidence out of Hong Kong and various Chinese SNS sites that users are supporting Huawei in the ‘trade war’ and dumping iPhone.

Like all news out of China it’s impossible to know how much of it is real as other news sources report that the Huawei arrest isn’t being reported in official Chinese news channels. Take it with a grain of salt but either way it’s not a good development.

iPhone Battery Replacement Refugees

MacRumors posted an excellent reminder that the iPhone $29 (¥3,200) battery replacement program ends December 31. If you want to take advantage of lower battery replacement prices for SE, 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus, and X act now. IT Media News reports that Japanese iPhone users are finding it very difficult to make reservations with ‘battery replacement refugees’ having to extraordinary efforts to get one.

Don’t wait and become a refugee, if you need an iPhone battery replacement start getting one now.

Holding onto iPhone sales in Japan

note: this post has been incorporated in a separate summary post

The iPhone XS Japan launch was muted with none of the lines of the 2017 iPhone X launch. But as of last weekend the local Docomo store was completely out of iPhone XS stock, this weekend was the same. The store doesn’t list iPhone XR stock. It’s all you need to know which iPhone model is selling: people who want to upgrade their iPhone are choosing iPhone XS. iPhone XR is nice but the price is not nice enough to drive iPhone upgrades for people on the fence. If the WSJ iPhone XS price cut in Japan story is correct we should start seeing iPhone XR specials from Docomo, au and SoftBank this week.

I suspect there are lots of iPhone users on the fence, a XS price cut for JP carriers makes sense but as outlined earlier it won’t be enough. The Japanese government is pushing for market changes and Apple needs to change with it and do more if they want to hang onto iPhone market share. In order of importance these are:

  • Issue a iPhone X Suica problem repair program
    This is essential. As I have written many times before Apple really damaged their reputation in the Japanese market by sweeping defective NFC iPhone X production under the carpet. Apple can repair some of the damage by replacing iPhone X Suica problem devices and agressively fixing iOS 12 Suica Express Card performance issues.
  • Extend Apple Pay Japan and lower transaction fees
    Include important missing pre-paid cards that are on Osaifu-Keitai and Google Pay: nanaco (7 Eleven), WAON (AEON), Edy (Rakuten). Nanaco and WAON are particularly important in areas rural outside of the JR transit hubs. It’s said that Apple Pay Suica transaction fees are 3.75% while Google Pay Suica is 3.25%. The Japanese government pushing for a card transaction fee cap of 3.25% plus contactless payment incentives as part of the sales tax increase in 2019. Apple would be smart to lower Apple Pay transaction fees inline with proposals now instead of later.
  • Add TV content and improve Apple Music services
    Japan is the 2nd largest music market after the United States. Japanese TV content is missing on the Apple content platform that everybody else has (Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc) and can bundle, Apple cannot. If Apple waits for their subscription service rollout, it may be too late. With big bad Dentsu, the Imperial Death Star of Japanese media as the power driving Spotify in Japan, Apple Music also has to work overtime to keep up: hire the best Japanese music curators, create some cool J-Pop Beats 1 programs instead tired old UK content and fix the iCloud Music Library Japanese music metadata mess so Apple can sell HomePod.
  • Fix Apple Maps and Siri
    This is a given that has been covered before: the total experience needs to greater than the sum of the parts.

There isn’t much time, the 10% Japanese sales tax is due to start October 1, 2019.