Super Suica 2 in 1 cards announced for Aomori and Akita City buses (Updated)

Super Suica diagram

Another day, another JR East Super Suica 2 in 1 card announcement, this one for Aomori City buses due to launch in spring 2022, just about the same time as Mobile ICOCA. This is the 3rd and 4th Super Suica 2 in 1 card announcement so far:

The latest announcements are similar to earlier press releases but there are some interesting new details that shed more light on what the Super Suica service will look like.

  • Local Branding: Super Suica 2 in 1 local area cards will have their own branding and reward points. I suspect local reward points can be exchanged for or plug into the JRE POINT system as well. There will also likely be special services and discounts for local area residents linked to Ny Number Card.
  • Suica benefits: Though they have different branding local 2 in 1 cards are Suica cards with all the Suica infrastructure benefits including Mobile Suica, Shinkansen eTickets, Transit IC compatibility, eMoney, etc.
  • Contactless: eliminating paper tickets and hard cash in areas without Transit IC cards in the COVID era is a good thing though credit card companies are marketing the hell out of it too. More on this in a later post.

Super Suica offers the benefits of Suica infrastructure to local transit agencies within the JR East area who don’t have the resources to launch or maintain their own Transit IC card system. Plugging those orphaned areas into the wider transit network with the same infrastructure is the sensible thing to do, I wish JR East had done this years ago. We should see more announcements in the coming months and Japanese press coverage as the first services prepare to launch in March 2021.

Super Suica 2 in 1 card announced for Akita City buses on November 30.

Big Sur Time Machine Migration

Howard Oakley reports a smooth experience upgrading to macOS 11.0.1 Big Sur. Good news, but I’m waiting for the 11.1 update while preparing for the Big Sur big move by getting my Time Machine updates in order: I retired the old Time Capsule, removed the hard disk and repurposed it as a local Time Machine backup disk. Goodbye NAS Time Machine backups.

As Oakley pointed out just after WWDC20, and as Ars Technica confirms in their Big Sur review, updating to Big Sur comes down to 2 Time Machine choices: 1) the legacy HFS+ hard link way and, 2) The APFS snapshot way. There is no way to migrate from HFS+ Time Machine to APFS Time Machine except by starting afresh. The default Big Sur Time Machine setting formats a new disk as APFS as shown in the video. Goodbye HFS+ Time Machine backups.

Oakley’s key advice is this:

I also strongly recommend that, whether using HFS+ or APFS to store your Time Machine backups in future, you start making a fresh backup set with Big Sur. You’ll have to do that if you switch to using APFS anyway, but following the problems which occurred with Catalina, you’ll be much better off if you archive your old backup set and start afresh.

To do that I plan to:

  1. Backup macOS Catalina 10.15.7 to 2 different Time Machine hard disks: one for archive, one for migration
  2. Turn off automatic Time Machine backups
  3. Upgrade to macOS Big Sur 11.1, then if the upgrade is successful…
  4. Wipe one of the Catalina Time Machine hard disks and let Big Sur Time Machine create a new APFS backup with auto backups.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Google Maps ‘Real-Time’ Crowdedness Caveats: wherever data is available

Google Maps Japan has offered crowdedness transit information since June. The latest app version is expanding this feature:

If you need to take transit, Google Maps can help you more easily social distance with live crowdedness information. On Android and iOS globally, you’ll start seeing how crowded your bus, train, or subway line is right now based on real-time feedback from Google Maps users around the world (wherever data is available).

Google Maps updates to get you through the holidays

Crowdedness is missing altogether in Apple Maps Japan transit, not surprising as Apple is very slow adding new features and transit only just got around to adding train platform numbers. Google Maps crowdedness information is a welcome feature but be wary about the ‘real-time’ label with the ‘wherever data is available’ sticker.

As the announcement explains, crowdedness data is ‘real-time feedback’. In Japan the feedback is solicited in the app: ‘how crowded is your train’. This is a completely subjective observation and depends on whatever the person making said feedback thinks and feels. Manual feedback may not the only measure, but it is time and train specific beyond the capability of GPS and carries the most weight.

JR East provides crowdedness information collected from train and station cameras that they plug into the JR East app. They also supply this to Google Maps, Yahoo Japan Maps and other map services. Detail level depends on the line: Yamanote line train cameras and sensors provide car by car crowdedness and much more while Chuo line trains sensors only summarize the entire train.

The gap between Google Map feedback and JR East crowdedness data sets can be seen in Google Maps transit directions. JR East supplied data is highlighted in red text labeled ‘live’, Google feedback data is not. In the above screenshot Google Maps feedback lists the Yamanote train as crowded, JR East data does not. The take away: use transit agency data when available, after a few months of using it I find Google Maps feedback crowdedness data is, at best, subjective.

Japan Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in discussions with Apple for Wallet My Number Card Support

IT journalist Junya Suzuki posted an interesting “Pay Attention” column today regarding the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) plans for a digital version of My Number Card (Individual Number Card). MIC wants to extend card use and smartphone support for a digital My Number Card is seen as an important driver as many people in Japan have yet to even get the plastic version at the local city office. Japanese government officials stated they planned to create a digital My Number Card in 2019.

MIC digital My Number Card proposal for smartphones

The MIC proposal for putting out a digital My Number Card uses FeliCa and laid out security policy details on November 12 (download the full set of PDF docs). Smartphone support requires a ‘Global FeliCa’ embedded Secure Element (eSE). This means SIM card FeliCa support is out of the question, the reality is SIM cards lost out in the ‘secure element wars’ years ago. Some 80% of Android smartphones currently sold in Japan have FeliCa eSE chips, Apple has had global FeliCa (aka global NFC) in place in A/S series chips since iPhone 8 / Apple Watch Series 3. Apple Watch will likely be the only ‘wearable’ My Number Card when it launches.

今回Android端末が対象となっていますが、Android端末といってもいわゆる『グローバルFeliCa』と呼ばれる2018年度に発表された新しい方式に対応した端末が対象となっています。2020年秋モデルで対象となるAndroid端末は8割程度ですが、2022年内のサービス開始時点ではさらに拡大することを見越しています。 FeliCaを採用した理由は、スマートフォンの保護領域(SE)に安全にアクセスできる仕組みを提供しているのがフェリカネットワークという点で、同様の仕組みが提供されるのであれば特にFeliCaにこだわっているわけではありません。 またiPhoneが日本でシェアを多く持っているという現状も認識しており、Appleと交渉を行なっている段階です(総務省)

Deciphering Digital My Number Card Support (Japanese)

Suzuki’s article has a direct quote (above) from the MIC, the relevant Apple bit is the last sentence: “We recognize that iPhone has a large share in Japan and we are in discussions with Apple.” Not particularly earthshaking but confirmation is always good to have. The digital My Number Card is expected to launch in 2022 but it’s not clear if Apple Wallet support will launch simultaneously with Osaifu Keitai Android. The digital My Number Card MIC documents only outline Osaifu Keitai Android with dedicated FeliCa chips but Apple Pay would work the same way even though the FeliCa eSE is implemented in the A/S Series.

Suzuki san does not discuss this but I wonder if digital My Number Card will utilize the new security features of next generation FeliCa that just started shipping and is the basis for Super Suica launching early 2021. I also wonder if Google Wallet support will come much later, if at all. Google has been content to ride the coat tails of Osaifu Keitai and candy wrap it instead of rolling their own native support. That strategy likely won’t work for direct My Number Card support in Google Wallet.

JR East Ticketless Touch and Go Shinkansen expanding system wide

The yellow area is new

Another day, another Suica related announcement. JR East ticketless Touch and Go Shinkansen service for Suica and other compatible Transit IC cards will be expanding in March 2021. It will basically cover all Shinkansen lines directly managed by JR East. Previously it only covered the Kanto region. Touch and Go differs from Eki-Net Shinkansen eTickets in that Touch and Go uses the Suica balance for Shinkansen fare, eTickets do not.

The service is very simple: register Suica, PASMO, etc. at any JR East station pink recharge kiosk for Touch and Go. Then waltz through the Shinkansen gate and get on a non-reserved Shinkansen seat. A typical use case looks like the diagram below.

Touch and Go Flow
Touch and Go Flow: recharge before you go

Of course the new service area comes with a campaign: 10% JRE POINT fare reward for Touch and Go travel in the new area for the first 3 months. As I have said before, JR East is busy ramping up for Super Suica. Now that we have expanded Touch and Go Shinkansen, a larger Super Suica stored value purse is a given. Do I hear ¥30,000? ¥40,000? The latter would put Suica on par with WAON.