Tokyo Cashless 2020: Are Apple Maps and Siri really Apple Pay level ready for the Tokyo Olympics?

1️⃣ Dear JR East, we need a new Suica Charge App
2️⃣ Consumption tax relief with the CASHLESS rebate program
3️⃣ >Are Apple Maps and Siri really Apple Pay level ready for the Tokyo Olympics?
4️⃣ Blame the Japan Cashless Payments mess on VISA and EMVCo, not FeliCa

Tokyo Cashless 2020 is a series covering all things cashless as Japan gears up for the big event. If there is a topic that you’d like covered tweet me @Kanjo


iOS 13 is not a software release. It’s a mission statement of what Apple hopes to achieve by the end of the iOS 13 life cycle. iOS 13 will be peaking out just as the Tokyo Olympics take place between 24 July – 9 August 2020. There will be a huge influx of inbound smartphones using all kinds of apps for transit, navigation and payments. Apple has told Japanese journalists that Apple services will be ready. How will peak iOS 13 Apple Pay, Apple Maps and Siri stack up with the competition? How useful will they really be? Let’s find out, starting with the strongest contender.

Apple Pay
Apple has put a tremendous effort into creating a global NFC platform that incorporates all the key NFC technologies (EMV, FeliCa, MIFARE, etc.) into one seamless package sold worldwide. This is still unique and unmatched. Inbound visitors with iPhone have the option of adding Suica to Wallet and instantly gaining all the benefits of using Japan’s famous tap and go transit and making contactless payments nationwide.

Apple Pay with Suica makes iPhone a great transit and payment solution for the Tokyo Olympics and Apple Pay Suica will be the inbound star player for all things transit and payments. iPhone and Apple Watch are so perfectly matched for using contactless payments in Japan during the Olympics that I can only wonder if Apple has been planning for this opportunity all along. Make no mistake, Apple Pay is going for the gold.

In addition to Suica support, merchant support is growing for inbound Apple Pay cards as well

Apple Maps
Apple Maps Japan is one of those players with great unfulfilled potential that is never realized. Apple has vowed that Maps will be ready for the Tokyo Olympics. This means that Apple Maps 2.0 for Japan will be ready with new detailed maps, Look Around, and, one hopes, indoor maps that include stations, not just airports and shopping malls.

The biggest use case for Apple Maps during the Olympics is transit directions and local walking area navigation in station areas. Apple Maps is still a very ‘America centric’ app in that default map views and the UI are geared for driving, not transit and walking. iOS Google Maps has a more intelligent approach that layers transit over the current map view that eliminates the transit view/map view UI toggling of the chunky Apple Maps UI. Google Maps is a much more smoothly integrated collection of services.

Even with the addition of better map detail of Apple Maps 2.0 and Look Around however, Apple Maps must absolutely clean up and completely revamp its cluttered cartography and Point of Interest (POI) layers and remove the bolted on transit functions with improved integration to be a serious contender in the Tokyo Olympics Navigation contest. I don’t see that happening: there’s no way 7 years of bad habits and ‘Where’s Wally’ can be magically fixed in the 10 month run up to the Olympics.

Siri
Bringing up the rear, Siri is the ‘Cool Runnings’ contender in the wrong Olympics. With Google Maps you can ask Google Assistant “when’s the next train to Shinjuku” and Google Maps will give you a list of transit options. Google Maps Transit also gives you platform guidance, optimum car positions for the destination station, and ground truth yellow exit numbers:

Siri and Apple Maps offer none of this. In fact Siri is not even programmed at this point to provide transit information and politely declines all such requests (and when did Japanese Siri’s speaking rate speed become so SLOOOOOW?). Even a manual Apple Maps Transit search does not provide the same level of Google Transit information: no platform guidance, no car positions, no crowd conditions, etc. Meanwhile JR East just announced an agreement with Google to offer Google Assistant Shinkansen transit information. This isn’t even a contest.

Quick Summary and Tokyo Olympics iPhone Guidance
Given the current state of Apple Pay, Apple Maps and Siri, I offer the following suggestions.

  • For iPhone 8/Apple Watch Series 3 and later inbound visitors from countries with Apple Pay availability:
    • Add Suica to your iPhone and recharge it with your Apple Pay card from home
    • Use Google Maps and Google Assistant for navigation and transit
  • For iPhone 8/Apple Watch Series 3 and later inbound visitors from countries without Apple Pay availability:
    • Purchase a regular plastic Suica card from a JR East station kiosk and transfer it to your iPhone (Welcome Suica cards cannot be transferred), you cannot recharge it with a credit card but Apple Pay Suica can recharged with cash at any convenience store checkout register, any 7 Eleven ATM, or JR station smart kiosk. The advantage of Apple Pay Suica over plastic Suica is that you always know what the balance is and when it needs recharging. You can avoid long queues at station recharge kiosks.
    • Use Google Maps and Google Assistant for navigation and transit
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You thought the Apple Pay Octopus launch was taking too long? Just ask EasyCard

Japanese transit companies like the JR Group (JR East, JR Central, JR West) are often criticized for being opaque and buddy buddy with politicians, but every transit agency around the world has to deal with politicians and governments on some level. That just comes with the job.

Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan are unique transit markets with tight integration and highly evolved transit card systems. Hong Kong and Taiwan have it easier than Japan in some ways as smaller usually means less baggage to carry going forward. But, being smaller has a downside too in that the breathing space between transit companies and government agencies is uncomfortably small, and sometimes suffocating.

Because of this, Hong Kong residents occasionally have a sarcastic distrustful view of Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) management, despite the fact that OCL delivers best of class services. Witness the frustration of OCL dragging out the Apple Pay Octopus launch details announcement. As one Hong Kong iPhone user told me, “I won’t believe it (Apple Pay Octopus) is really happening until Apple (not OCL) announces it.”

A similar situation is happening with Taiwan’s EasyCard. In mid August 2018, service updates for Mastercard kiosk recharge indicated that MRT was preparing some kind of mobile service. I assumed MIFARE was coming to iOS 12, bingo, and that Apple Pay would add EasyCard and iPass, but Samsung Pay snagged EasyCard with a formal announcement on April 11 and that was the end of it. Or so I thought. The reality is that EastCard has yet to launch on Samsung Pay and will start ‘testing’ from October. What happened?

A few days ago an older post about SuicaENG and the Wallet UI suddenly got lots of hits from Taiwan. I was scratching my head as Taiwan traffic is usually smallish and tried to Google Translate the Taiwanese site generating the traffic, but the result was incomprehensible. Fortunately a reader from Taiwan living in Japan kindly provided an explanation of EasyCard politics:

OK, EasyCard Corp is catching flak for…being slow to launch a mobile transit card service, on their own, without Cubic running the show? Being slow to launch a mobile transit card is not unique. Just ask the companies that run ICOCA, Toica, PASMO, etc., they don’t have their transit cards on mobile either and have far larger infrastructure budgets. This stuff takes time because everything transit absolutely has to work perfectly all the time. 7pay fuckups are not an option.

I can understand why Hong Kong iPhone users are a little frustrated with OCL taking their sweet time to launch Apple Pay Octopus, but when it finally launches, the tidal wave of iPhone users will make Smart Octopus on Samsung Pay look like the tiny beta test group that it is. Let’s just hope that Sunny Cheung and OCL are on it and working hard. And you are working hard on it, right Sunny?

iOS 13 Apple Pay Suica Performance

The initial releases of iOS 11 and iOS 12 were not good for Suica performance. It was 3 months of teething problems. iOS 11 didn’t settle down until iOS 11.3 and iOS 12 was a mess until Apple fixed everything spectacularly in iOS 12.3, which also saw the debut of EMV Express Transit.

iOS 13 has a reputation of being buggier than previous iOS releases. However, I am very happy to report that Apple Pay Suica performance on iOS 13 and 13.1 is far superior to iOS 11 or iOS 12. Apple did a lot of work on Wallet performance in preparation for iOS 12.4 Apple Card, and general Suica performance has held the line and even gained a little in iOS 13.1. This is great news for Apple Pay Suica users: everyone can safely upgrade and use iOS 13.1 Suica.

Two very minor UI rough edges remain:

  • Commute Plan expiration notifications don’t work at all.
  • Missing text on the Suica card UI when the iPhone Language setting is Australian English. You can work around this ‘Bad Aussie Suica’ issue by using another English language setting.

I managed to put together a quick video showing iOS 13.1 performance on iPhone 11 Pro and hope to post a higher quality version soon.

iOS 13 Wallet Suica

The arrival of the Suica transit platform on the Apple Pay platform heralded a progression of innovation.

  • October 2016 : Suica is the first transit card on Apple Pay and also the debut of Express Transit and FeliCa
  • September 2017: global NFC Apple Pay arrives with iPhone 8/X/Apple Watch Series 3
  • September 2018: A12 Bionic NFC delivers Express Cards with power reserve and Background NFC tag reading
  • September 2019: direct creation of Suica in Wallet

The last one is a small step with big implications that people are only beginning to see. Instead of a plastic card that is read into Wallet or added to Wallet with a 3rd party app, Suica creation is now a basic function of iOS 13 Wallet that works with other Apple Pay cards from anywhere to add money. Suica is part of iOS. Think about that.

All of these developments have been driven by Suica, this is why Suica is the Apple Pay bellweather. Transit card creation in Wallet and adding money with Apple Pay cards from anywhere will undoubtedly be part of Apple Pay Octopus and migrate to other Apple Pay Transit cards over time. If you want to see where the Apple Pay puck is going, keep an eye on Apple Pay Suica developments. What arrives on Suica first becomes standard later.

iOS 13 Apple Maps Japan Adds Traffic

Traffic has been missing in Apple Maps Japan all this time and driving in Tokyo without knowing traffic conditions is…. well let’s just say that it is unimaginable in a country where car navigation systems with real time traffic conditions are ubiquitous. Apple Maps Japan was pretty much useless for driving, so everybody uses Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps which have offered real time traffic for years.

This has finally changed with the iOS 13 release. It was a long wait but at least Traffic for Apple Maps in Japan is here and a viable car navigation option for iOS users. There are lots of missing pieces like Junction View for elevated expressways, and the dysfunctional, obsolete Maps UI forces users to toggle between Map View which has Traffic, and Transit View that does not, it remains a major irritant and mismatch for Japanese user needs. Did it every occur to the Apple Maps team that bus riders want to know what traffic conditions are so they can catch the desired train time at a transfer point? It seems not.

In other Japan digital map news, Google Maps has finally followed the Yahoo Japan Maps cartography lead by incorporating standard station yellow signage for exits. Things in the map finally match what you see on the ground. Yahoo Japan Maps still does it better, especially in challenging locations like Shinjuku station, but it’s a welcome start.

Unfortunately Apple Maps Japan sticks with their stupid purple exit signage that you NEVER find in real life. Let’s hope Apple fixes that, and lots more, before the Tokyo Olympics.