Technology is hard to cover well in a way that’s clear and easy to understand, that educates and elevates without dumbing down the technology or it’s intended audience. Technology like Apple Pay Suica is especially hard to cover well because it is multifaceted: it merges the Apple Pay platform of Global NFC technology deployed on iPhone and Apple Watch, with the Suica Transit Platform of FeliCa NFC deployed for transit and eMoney on a national scale, and how Apple delivers all of this to a global user base.
With so many parts it’s difficult to explain the greatness and importance of Apple Pay Suica, simply and clearly, and what connects it to Apple Card. Ken Bolido who is the production lead and creative director for Austin Evans, has created a video titled Apple’s SECRET Weapon aka Your iPhone has Super Powers…in Japan. Ken ‘get’s it’ and captures all of it brilliantly: why Apple Pay is Apple’s Secret Weapon, how Apple Pay Suica is a perfect embodiment of that secret weapon, and how it relates to Apple Card. If you want to understand any of this and how it will play out, watch Apple’s SECRET Weapon. It’s essential viewing and a perfect primer for the role Apple Pay Suica will play in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
I know, I know, it was a really stupid thing to do even though I had all the power tools at my disposal: Apple Pay Suica card, BIC CAMERA View JCB card, JRE POINT card, Mobile Suica and JRE POINT accounts, Suica App. Somehow I could never quite bring myself to take that final step of turning on the Auto-Charge option in Suica App.
You see, I’m a very manual man. I think it was my addiction to the Apple Pay ‘ka-ching’ sound. Even though it’s audio confirmation that my money is going down the drain, it just sounds so good. That and my addiction to Suica Notification shortcuts, they were always there but never really worked right until iOS 12.3. Those are flimsy but valid excuses. But now that notification shortcut recharge is working good in iOS 13, I knew I had to take the last step. The final blow was the Dr. Shump/Arale-chan JR East View card campaign ads. I always had a soft spot for Arale-chan, I mean if she didn’t originate the pile of poo emoji, nobody did. And so I turned on Auto-Charge.
What can I say? Auto-Charge makes the Apple Pay Suica experience better and smoother in every way. It’s far better than futzing with credit cards, even Apple Pay credit cards, but fellow Apple Pay 4S members already knew that.
I keep the auto-charge amount at the lowest setting, ¥2,000, because my manual man side is uncomfortable with large recharge amounts and prefers manual Apple Pay recharge to keep an eye on the money before it goes down the drain.
I look forward to the day when Suica Auto-Charge functionality extends from Suica/Pasmo gates to all transit gates nationwide. It would be insanely great if JR East opened up Auto-Charge to non-JR East View credit cards, but that will probably remain an exclusive incentive. If Super Suica delivers nationwide transit gate Auto-Charge compatibility, I’ll settle.
AquaBit Spirals CEO Tomohiro Hagiwara responded to my post and took up the Softcream Cashless Index (SCI) challenge, promising to deliver a SCI score of “over 5” with his SmartPlate NFC tag payment service that works with Apple Pay and Google Pay:
watchOS 6 does not support Core NFC, but developers with a PassKit NFC Certificate from Apple can do lots of interesting things with Apple Pay NFC functions. Not that I’m asking Hagiwara san to divulge anything because PassKit NFC Certificates come with all kinds of non-disclosure conditions. But I do look forward to all the Apple Pay goodies coming with iOS 13. So far we have Apple Pay Octopus, Apple Pay Ventra, and Apple Pay myki on the transit side, there will be lots of new stuff on the NFC tag side. It would be great if SmartPlate can join the iOS 13 Apple Pay service rollout with backup from Apple Pay lead Jennifer Bailey at the Apple Event.
I look forward to reporting about the NFC Tag Apple Pay experience, and tasting great softcream along the way.
Summer is here and the increasing number of Apple Pay Suica inbound tweets are fun to read as always. I saw inbound in action recently at a local station NewDays, 2 Chinese women walked up to the checkout and asked in English “Can we pay here with this?” One was waving a Suica card, the other waving her iPhone. People really appreciate the ease and speed of Suica Express Transit.
However, there are still lots of times on the road when you come face to face with the so called ‘curse of Japanese cash addiction’, and the fact that, even though things have changed a great deal since Apple Pay arrived in Japan, there’s still a long way to go.
I had the that kind of experience recently coming back from Minobu on the Keio Highway Bus. That particular bus has a 10 minute rest break at Shakado Parking Area just outside of Kofu on the Chuo Expressway. There’s barely enough time to dash to the restroom and grab a drink for a long congested crawl to Shinjuku Bus Terminal.
Like many Japanese highway rest areas, Shakado offers delicious looking local specialties. Kofu is a well known for it’s delicious fruits, the Shakado cafeteria softcream fruit parfait looked too good to pass up. With 6 minutes to spare I hunted for the softcream button on the meal ticket machine, which was Suica compatible, but couldn’t find it. I asked one of the staff and they pointed to a separate smaller ticket machine that was just for softcream, a separate stall vendor, and not only was it cash only, it was coin only.
Fortunately I had lots of coins that day, a rarity, but pitied another poor westerner wandering around obviously interested in that delicious looking softcream without a clue how to buy one, but I was out of time and dashed for the bus. With a softcream fruit parfait. It was delicious.
After 2 years of writing about cashless/contactless trends, I think I have finally hit on the perfect index for Japan: The Softcream Cashless Index (SCI). Nothing is more regional, seasonal, ubiquitous, cash only and delicious as the endlessly glorious variety of Japanese softcream. Sure, MiniStop has pretty good softcream and all the cashless options like Apple Pay Suica, but those parking area seasonal regionals like Yamagata Cherry softcream (to die for) are always cash cash.
On a scale of 1~10, I put the Japanese national SCI average at 2. Softcream stalls are the worst candidates for the usual cashless options: credit cards/FeliCa/QR etc., because they are mostly one person operations, or side stalls of larger retail operations. Nobody wants to invest in cashless terminals, or even cashless ticket machines, for such mundane, low priced, low margin softcream side business. If softcream can be made cashless, Japan will truly be a cashless nation.
The NFC Tag Apple Pay Option The ideal cashless payment infrastructure investment for softcream operations is no investment at all. This is why meal ticket machines are so popular in Japan for food serving businesses: they eliminate the cash register all together, the staff can focus on serving customers instead of wasting valuable time babysitting customer payments.
The process leverages “Core NFC,” enabling an iPhone to scan an NFC tag that launches an app or a website, so users can skip the step of downloading an app when accessing a new service, Bailey explained.
“There’s no app requirement and no requirement to pre-sign up,” Bailey said, describing how Bird is using the technology in a pilot, with Apple Pay’s “pay load” automatically working to establish the account information to set up a one-time purchase. “It’s so much easier for new users to get into these services very quickly,”
For NFC Tag Apple Pay to succeed in Japan, it has be offered through major payment providers like J-Mups or Recruit AirPay (who already provide regular terminal based Apple Pay), who can package it together with their cloud backend and an app. From the softcream vendor side, all they need to do is sign up for NFC tag payment service via the setup app and receive a free NFC tag and logo. And that’s it, they are in business.
The concept is similar to the SmartPlate demo only more streamlined. It has to remove all payment involvement from the softcream side, just like a meal ticket machine. The only thing they need to do is look at a screen to confirm payment.
In lieu of Google Pay offering a similar NFC tag payment scheme, the payment provider could conceivably offer an Android app to include that platform but this breaks the Jennifer Bailey rule: no app, no sign-up. This rule is what sets NFC Tag Apple Pay apart from QR Code pay services who want you to sign up in an app to get your personal data. This rule will be the reason for the success of NFC Tag Apple Pay.
Can it change the Softcream Cashless Index? If Apple and their Japanese payment partners can replicate the hands off, no cash register, no brainer experience of Japanese meal ticket machines with NFC Tag Apple Pay, definitely yes. There’s only a year to go until the hot summer Tokyo Olympics but if the SCI average can make it to a 5, or more, that would be a huge tasty success and invitation to eat your way across Japan without a wallet.
In case you missed the Showa era and ‘The Best Ten‘ tv parade of Japanese pop, you missed a lot of fun. And if you missed the Showa and Pink Lady era, you might be scratching your head while cultural references fly over it watching the latest TEPCO web commercial:
And now here is the real thing…right down to the side feather headband (apologies to viewers outside of Japan who might not be able to share in the fun…the mini skirts were very mini back then):
An interesting tidbit: the gimmicky Pink Lady choreographed moves were carefully aimed at school kids and a huge success. Pink Lady was far more popular with elementary school kids who were into the dance steps and hand moves than older age groups.