Maintenance and Localization

Online guides are like underwear, if not changed regularly, they get stinky and nasty. There were a number of changes last month from JR East: multilingual help support and SuicaEng. This has greatly simplified Apple Pay Suica setup for virtual cards but has required updates to my Apple Pay Suica Guide and Suica App guide. Specifically I am updating instructions and screenshots that follow JR East’s recommendation of using SuicaEng to add Suica to Apple Pay, leaving Suica App for advanced users who need the extra functions and have the necessary Japanese language skill. It’s a work in progress that I hope to finish this week. It will have to do until JR East completely internationalizes Suica App.

Lots of people complain that JR East is incompetent because after 2 years Suica App is still only in Japanese. After all ‘it’s only an app localization job’. Right?

Wrong, very wrong.

This is exactly the trap that Apple fell into with Apple Maps. The original Apple Maps team and management made the huge mistake of approaching the task as ‘creating a map app’. Only after the disastrous launch of Apple Maps in 2012 did it become clear that the job was not about creating a map app at all. The real job was creating and deftly managing an entire digital map ecosystem. It’s a job that Apple is still learning

Suica App is really just an interface shell for all the gargantuan database systems piped into it from Mobile Suica Cloud. JR East will get the ecosystem internationalization job done eventually, but it must be a huge and expensive task with little hope of directly recuperating the costs. If JR East is taking their time to do system internationalization the right way, I have no problem waiting some more. It’s an investment in the future that hopefully leads to new business opportunities for the Suica platform and an easier to use system for everybody.

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Apple Pay Suica Refund

A reader asked if I could write a post about Suica card refunds. First of all there are different kinds of refunds. Refunds for Shinkansen e-tickets, Green Seat Reservations, Commute Plans are handled in Suica App. A refund of the Apple Pay Suica card SF (Stored Fare) balance is covered here, but beware as there are major hurdles. JR East recommends using up the balance instead of refunding because the Suica card cannot be used again after a refund. You have to delete the dead Suica card from Wallet, if you ever want to use Suica again you have to create a new one.

A nearly depleted Suica can be safely deleted from Wallet and added again only when needed. I think the JR East recommendation is the best choice especially if you plan to use Suica again.

The Suica refund requirements are:

  • A Mobile Suica account: this is free but registration can only be done via the Japanese only Suica App
  • Suica App (not SuicaEng)
  • A Japanese bank account
  • ¥220 refund processing fee for each Suica card refund
  • Once you refund a Suica card it cannot be used again and has to be deleted from Wallet, your Mobile Suica account is also automatically deleted

If you have a Mobile Suica account and a Japanese bank the process is straight forward. Open Suica App, if you have multiple Suica cards choose the one you want the refund, tap on Ticket Purchase•Manage Suica, scroll to the bottom of the list and tap Suica Refund.

Scroll to the bottom of Terms and Conditions and tap Agree. In the next screen confirm the SF refund amount of the Suica card then tap next.

In the next few screens you enter your bank account information so have the information ready. In the first screen enter the first 3 katakana of the bank name and tap search, select bank name, enter the first katakana of the bank branch name and tap search, select the bank branch name, enter the bank account type, account number and account name and tap next. In the final screen confirm your information then tap Suica Refund.

Once completed Mobile Suica sends an email to your registered address, the bank transfer from JR East takes 2~4 weeks to process.

Apple Pay Transit and 6 Reasons for Closed Transit Fare Systems

After the announcement of Apple Card and more Apple Pay Transit coming soon to “major cities in America” like Chicago (Salt Lake City/Utah Transit Authority is an embarrassment to Apple since UTA dropped Apple Pay EMV credit card support in summer 2018 because of too many difficulties), I came across this interesting tidbit about the Ventra card:

Arguably it’s a good thing that the Ventra prepaid debit card is going the way of the dinosaur. The debit card function debuted with a long list of fees that had the potential to siphon of much of the money stored on the card, including:

A $1.50 ATM withdrawal fee
A $2 fee to speak to someone about the retail debit account.
A $6.00 fee for closing out the debit balance
A $2 fee for a paper statement
A $2.95 fee to add money to the debit account using a personal credit card
A $10 per hour fee for “account research’’ to resolve account discrepancies

“These fees were probably not any different than other bank cards offered by Money Network or Meta Bank or other predatory banks,” says Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance, who reported on the issue at the time. “But it was shameful for the CTA to be aligned with that.”

After a backlash, most of these fees were reduced or eliminated, but CTA retail outlets were still allowed to charge Ventra card holders a fee of up to $4.95 to load cash on the debit sides of their cards. So maybe it is for the best that the CTA is getting out of the bank card business.

Streets Blog Chicago December 2017

Open loop transit fare systems with EMV contactless credit cards are invariably promoted as a great convenience and the bright open future of transit, but the dark business downsides of letting credit companies and banks on transit gates is rarely, if ever discussed.

Fees and predatory banks are never going away and will always be a problem as long as credit cards are allowed on transit gates. It’s a much better business solution to keep banks one step removed from the process and limited to the back end for adding money to transit prepaid cards that can then be used for building a real business that benefits the entire transit region. In one sense Apple changing the rules for Apple Pay Cash person to person transfers protects customers from a potential layer of ‘predatory fees’ by removing the credit card (debit cards are still ok) .

I have said it many times and say it again: if a transit region is serious about building a Japanese style Transit Platform, keeping transit gates closed system is the first rule of business. The next step is leveraging the transit card on digital payment platforms like Apple Pay and Google Pay that can mix and match credit/debit cards for adding money on the back end, link with rewards and much more.

For JR East the tight integration of transit, Suica and retail has been very successful: 30% of 2017 revenue (26.8 billion USD) was Suica/IT/Retail projected to grow to 40% by 2027. It’s a business model that grows revenue even when transit ridership has leveled off. This kind of growth is impossible to accomplish with open transit fare systems.

JR East presentation slide from March 2019

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

The SuicaEng App

Finally! After 2 years of waiting for a full blown English version of the Suica App with all the bells and whistles, JR East has done the smart thing and released the SuicaEng app instead. This simple streamlined English app does one thing: add a virtual Suica card to Apple Pay without a Mobile Suica account or any of the hassle of dealing with the Japanese only Suica App options. It does nothing else but should take care of most immediate inbound needs. It also does away with the ‘Region set to Japan’ requirement. The same virtual Suica restrictions of Suica App apply:

  • Only one Suica can be added, if you already have a Suica in Wallet you cannot add another one with SuicaEng, a second virtual Suica (My Suica/Commuter Suica) requires the full Suica App and free registration of a Mobile Suica account.
  • Once added, Suica is managed in Wallet or Watch app.

The best thing would be no apps at all and adding virtual Suica directly in Wallet, perhaps Apple and JR East will deliver that eventually. Meanwhile anything more complicated than adding virtual Suica: purchasing e-tickets, commuter pass, Green Seat reservations etc., still requires the Japanese only Suica App. I have updated the Apple Pay Suica Guide with the new information and screenshots.