My JR-EAST mess

My JR-EAST, like a lot of JR East software services, is a nice idea, poorly implemented. It’s an attempt to unify scattered account login IDs for various JR East web services that evolved independently but need to work together as one in the mobile app era: Mobile Suica, JRE POINT, Eki-Net, View-Net.

The mess was brought home to me recently when I helped a co-worker register his Apple Pay Suica card for Eki-Net Shinkansen eTicket service because the eTicket discounts are attractive. He created a Eki-Net account, which you can only do via the webpage, not the app.

Him: Where do I get the Suica ID?
You need Suica App for that.
One download later it took him 2 tries to register the Suica ID because Suica App copies the entire ID string but Eki-Net cuts off the last 2 numbers as the first 2 sting letters have to be manually selected from a pull down menu. Dumb.

Him: I want to use Green Seat upgrades.
You have to login to Suica App to do that.
Can I use the Eki-Net ID to login?
No, you have to sign up with Mobile Suica.
Can I buy Tokkaido Shinkansen eTickets too?
No, you have to sign up with the JR Central EX service.

And so it went and that’s the mess of JR East software services: each one has a separate registration process and login. On the MY JR-EAST webpage users can register a single ID and PW then login and link other services. One MY JR-EAST ID/PW for Mobile Suica, Eki-Net, JRE POINT, View-Net, except it doesn’t work. Oh wait, it does work for webpage login but not apps. Suica App supports MY JR-East login but JRE POINT and Eki-Net apps do not. View-Net doesn’t even have a mobile app. If JR East wants customers to use their services, why do they make it so hard? This doesn’t jive with the company’s stated intent of reducing in-station service staff and encourage customers to use online resources instead.

It should work like this: the JR Group companies accept online reservation accounts from each other, b better yet they mutually host each other’s online reservation system. I shouldn’t need a separate ID account and registered credit card just because I want to buy a Tokaido Shinkansen eTicket. Let me do that in Eki-Net. The same goes for EX (JR Central) and e5489 (JR West) which are already compatible with each other. Ditto JR Hokkaido and JR Kyushu. Use the sign in with Apple ID model to make all these services work seamlessly with each other and give your customers a break. They might actually start liking JR software services, a first.

All JR Group online services were created back in the era of ISDN internet and iMode handsets. If the JR Group companies want travelers to return after the COVID vaccination program winds down, they have to get their mobile act together and build for the future.

‘Say Apple Pay’ is going away

The success of Apple Pay lies in its consistent and well integrated UI that hides complexity from users. There are limitations however, and users are bumping up against them the more they use Apple Pay and the increasingly complex Wallet. This happens with fellow gaijin in Japan unfamiliar with the JP mobile payment landscape and history. The differences are outlined in detail here but all you need to know is that at it was first conceived ‘say Apple Pay’ = the default Apple Pay card. This was short-circuited by the addition of Express Transit in 2016 for Suica, a new kind of default card that trumps the old one, that has been a problem on OMNY transit gates for manual swipe legacy MetroCard users.

The basic issue is outlined in FeliCa Dude’s tweet: when Wallet has multiple EMV cards, iPhone doesn’t know which EMV PSE (Payment System Environment) to present to the reader…the digital equivalent of card clash. The user has to manually select one. It’s one of the reasons why the Ventra system is open loop for plastic contactless plastic cards and Apple Pay without Express Transit, but not for EMV Express Transit. Instead Ventra uses closed loop EMV for Apple Pay Ventra, but EMV open loop vs EMV closed loop will always be an uneasy mix on the same system.

Officially Apple Pay only has single default payment card, the ‘say Apple Pay’ card. Unofficially you can have one payment card, one EMV Express Transit card, and multiple native Express Transit cards: one Suica, one PASMO, one Octopus, one Clipper, etc. Saying Apple Pay doesn’t work when there are multiple default cards.

This is going to get worse when Apple finally releases Apple Pay Code Payments which have been in internal testing since the first iOS 14 betas a year ago. We might see some Code Payment details during WWDC21, and I am sure that we will see more UWB Touchess action. Either way the days of saying Apple Pay are numbered. What kind of Apple Pay? NFC, QR or Touchless? And which default card? I’ve said it before and say it again:

There is one more interesting role that Apple has planned for UWB…one that promises to improve the entire Apple Pay and Wallet experience: communicating with the reader before transaction to select the right Wallet card for the job, at a distance, for a truly smart Wallet app. With national ID cards, passports and more coming to Wallet at some point, UWB could be the Wallet reboot we really need.

‘We really need a Wallet reboot’ is on full display with recently refreshed Apple Pay webpage with Wallet getting a whole separate page because Wallet holds many kinds of cards: payment, transit, reward, student ID, passes and card keys. There are some interesting branding tweaks that suggest some changes coming with iOS 15. The first one is the change from Express Transit to Express Mode. This brings it in line with Student ID which has been called Express Mode all along as it opens doors, like a transit gate, and pays for stuff, like Suica and Octopus. Express Mode/Transit debuted with the iOS 10.1 Apple Pay Suica launch in 2016, the Japanese UI uses the term Express Card which is a better fit as the Suica is more than just transit. Hopefully this is just a teaser for WWDC21 and iOS 15.

Instant issue for Apple Pay Edy, nanaco, WAON?

A fun mockup of Wallet add card options for Edy, nanaco, WAON that will probably never happen. If they come it will be digital issue via apps.

Now that VISA JP finally signed with Apple Pay, what about the last holdouts: Edy, nanaco and WAON? These have been on Google Pay for some time but like all things Google Pay Japan, it is courtesy of Osaifu Keitai rather than native Google support. Apple was smart to go for Suica first, then PASMO (which has yet to appear on Google Pay) but it’s time to complete the Apple Pay Japan lineup.

Google Pay Japan has 2 basic categories for adding cards: EMV bank payment cards (AMEX, JCB, mastercard, VISA) and Japanese eMoney cards (Suica, Edy, nanaco, WAON, iD, QUICPay). In other words, Google Pay arranges cards by NFC flavor. This is because many Android devices sold outside of Japan don’t include FeliCa even though they have the hardware to do so. Google Pixel 5 for example has Mobile FeliCa installed on every single device it sells, but only activates it for Japanese models. Perhaps this will change with Pixel 6, we will see.

Apple Pay doesn’t make a distinction between NFC flavors, just one global NFC. No EMV or FeliCa bank payment cards, just payment cards, period. Apple also encourages Japanese bank card issuers to use the NFC switching and dual mode features of iOS and watchOS Wallet for seamless use on any payment reader in Japan or abroad. The same thing applies to Wallet transit cards. Wallet can have multiple Express Transit cards and juggle between FeliCa (Suica, Octopus, PASMO) MIFARE (SmarTrip, Clipper, TAP) and PBOC (China T-Union cards).

So what is the Wallet category for non-transit stored value prepaid payment cards? I have no idea but for this exercise I’ll use eMoney (電子マネー). Apple Pay has everything in place to flip the switch since 2016, what’s the holdup? There’s a big problem using the Suica add card Wallet process for eMoney cards. This problem is on full display with Google Pay WAON: the user has to create an WAON account in Google Pay to add it. Worse, if the user deletes the WAON card they loose the Google Pay created WAON ID and card balance.

I don’t think Apple wants this ‘create an account’ nightmare scenario in Apple Pay, that’s what apps are for. Fortunately we have a growing collection of ‘instant issue’ apps for adding cards to Wallet and digital issue only is quickly becoming standard for Apple Pay Japan debit/prepaid cards: kyash, Minna no Ginko, Toyota Wallet, etc. The digital issue app model is perfect for Edy, nanaco and WAON who want to be collecting accounts instead of selling plastic prepaid cards. They already have iOS apps. Leave the account creation and management drudgery in the app so users curse the app instead of Apple Pay. Once done the user taps ‘Add to Wallet’ and presto, instant WAON all ready to go with direct Wallet recharge. Other bonuses: (1) instant issue apps eliminate ‘I wanna transfer my plastic card to Wallet’ overhead, (2) if anything goes wrong and the balance is lost, it’s the fault of the app, not Apple Pay. Keeping things simple and streamlined is key for a good Apple Pay user experience, one more Wallet reboot challenge for iOS 15.

Japan mobile payment survey results

I gave the Twitter survey function a workout and asked 2 questions:

  • Which Japanese mobile payment do you use most?
  • Which Japanese reward points do you use most?

The results are not surprising but come with many caveats: the survey sampling was puny, in English and pretty much limited to a small group of Twitter followers, which means they are pretty much already invested in Mobile Suica. Also it is important to remember that mobile payment use profiles in Japan are highly regional, what’s convenient in Tokyo isn’t necessarily convenient in other areas. That said, there are some interesting and fun takeaways.

Japanese mobile payment takeaways and feedback

  • The 55% Suica/PASMO figure expresses the power of Apple Pay Express Transit (and similar for Osaifu Keitai) for store purchases in the COVID induced face mask era without the hassle of Face ID. It’s important to remember that the ballyhooed Unlock with Apple Watch Face ID feature introduced with iOS 14.5 is useless for Apple Pay authorization. Remember too that Mobile Suica has good support on wearables: Apple Watch, Garmin, fitbit, etc., the widest mobile payment platform in Japan.
  • Despite the heavy marketing VISA Touch from VISA Japan, the majority of users have been using Apple Pay and Osaifu Keitai for iD and QUICPay, etc. I suspect EMV ‘Touch’ (Visa, MC, AMEX, JCB) probably appeals more to plastic card users as VISA is pushing EMV only plastic cards vs. digital wallet dual mode Apple Pay.
  • QR Code payment apps (PayPay, dBarai, LinePay, etc.) are not as popular as you might think and are probably feeling the pain of recent bank account linking security problems, and the recent revelations of user transaction records being stored outside of Japan.

Changes quite a lot. Recently using EMV touch a lot because of SMCC 15% back campaign and Amex 20% at FamilyMart. Otherwise probably a little bit of everything just to get maximum reward. (Tokyo)

I don’t ride trains so I have no real use for Suica. Using it to pay in shops is too much of a PITA since you have to constantly recharge it. (Kagoshima, note that Suica Auto-charge only works in JR East transit region)

I do iD for the point rewards (none in JP CC recharge of Suica) otherwise Express Transit is perfect. (Tokyo)

Mostly Suica (via Garmin Pay), but I’ve been using au Pay (QR or barcode) a lot more recently. (Hiroshima)

Japanese reward point takeaway
Results are complicated. Twitter surveys are limited to 4 choices, I lumped the Japanese carrier reward point systems for docomo, au and SoftBank (dPoint, au•PONTA, T-POINT) into one category, the top choice at 43%. However if we break down the carrier number by carrier marketshare ratio we get the following:

  1. 21% JRE POINT
  2. 28% Rakuten POINT
  3. 19% dPOINT
  4. 14% au•PONTA POINT
  5. 10% T-POINT
  6. 8% V POINT

The key takeaway for reward points is the power of the Rakuten ‘Economic Zone’, i.e. where all the Rakuten pieces including shopping, banking/credit card/payments, transit (Rakuten Suica), mobile, stock trading, travel, etc., are glued together by Rakuten POINT and feed off each other. The Rakuten Economic Zone is the model that others will have to successfully emulate if they are going to be serious long term competitors. NTT docomo announced a tie-up with MUFG this month, the digital banking wars are just getting started.

The Owakon

If you watch Japanese YouTubers like Heraiza you soon hear the buzzword ‘Owakon’. Owakon is one of those clever Japanese creations that combines ‘owari’ (over) + ‘content’ to create a handy new expression for ‘oh so over’ dead content. And it doesn’t only apply to things, it applies to people too, like ‘oh so over’ dead-tired, overexposed TV ‘talent’ living off the management company connections instead of real talent.

One of the many interesting realizations brought home by the COVID crisis: being stuck at home has only proved how dead Japanese TV is. Young people have turned it off and are streaming or watching YouTube. Proof? Look no further than the overflow of YouTube ‘Kaidan’ content. Kaidan (ghost stories), are a traditional folk performance so well loved in Edo era, also firmly engrained in the Rakugo cannon.

Kaidan YouTuber channels like Shinpei Shimada, Nana-fushigi, Toshi Boys (City Boys) Yachin no Yasui Heya (Cheap rent room) and countless others are fascinating…not so much for the content but the fact that these channels are pulling in viewers and ads. Money and eyeballs are going here instead of ‘Owakon’ TV. Nanafushiki is a duo who were working regional events and radio but never made it big on TV doing better than ever on YouTube.

Heraiza, as usual, deftly points out why Owakon TV talent does so badly when going YouTube. Her latest goes to the heart, er jugular, in her take down of TV comedian Hiroyuki Miyasako’s just announced ‘revolutionary’ new YouTube show: Farthest end of the world Restaurant. The problem? Not enough sex, just tired old TV comedians and their management companies trying to escape Owakon TV.

Good luck with that.