Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch: First Impressions

Now that iOS 12.3 is out with great Apple Pay Suica performance and no more bugs, I have a new side project: Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch. I moved my daily Commuter Suica to Apple Watch and it’s an interesting experience. Some first impressions.

  • Apple Pay Suica performance on watchOS 5.2.1 on Apple Watch Series 4 is great, but not as great as iOS 12.3 on iPhone XS. Because A12 Bionic removes the iOS overhead for Express Cards with power reserve, Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XS/XR feels light and snappy like a plastic Suica card. I can’t wait for Express Cards with power reserve on Apple Watch.
  • Suica Recharge on Apple Watch sucks and I have discovered how wonderfully useful Suica App really is. I have a Commuter Suica on Apple Watch and a My Suica on iPhone. Both of these can be recharged and managed (with different credit cards attached to each Suica!) in Suica App. It’s super convenient and has opened my eyes to a major Apple Pay Wallet design weakness: iPhone Wallet and Watch App Wallet should just be one thing that manages all of my Wallets cards on both devices in one place. Apple Watch Wallet is great, in a pinch, but it’s a lousy UI experience for managing transit card options and Suica Recharge. Apple Pay transit prepaid card users access those card options far more than credit cards. I added a unified Wallet request for iOS 13 to the Apple Pay WWDC19 wish list.
  • Suica Reminders for low balance and commuter plan renewals are another Apple Watch weak point. They don’t exist. Suica App to the rescue again with Notification Sounds. The 3 beep Suica low balance reminder (¥1,000 or less) works everywhere and is a life saver. It’s far more attention grabbing than Apple Pay Suica Notification Center reminders on iPhone.

A true story: I was buying lunch at a family owned Daily Yamazaki convenience store. You might know the kind, a Showa style convenience store stocked with Yamazaki breads, homemade sandwiches and bento, usually run by an older couple, a store from a different era that will unfortunately disappear.

I bought a bento and paid with Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch. The Suica 3 beep low balance reminder sound from the reader caught the attention of the owner who looked to be in his late 70s. “Suica works on that? It’s so small.” I assured him Suica worked on Apple Watch.

He smiled and said, “That’s really convenient. You’ll never lose it or have to find it when it’s on your wrist.”

It is indeed.

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New Apple Pay Transit Support Page Jargon

iOS 12.3 might look like a minor update, but Apple Pay has gotten a major under the hood overhaul. It feels like Apple is pulling all the different NFC technology threads together into one tight knot in advance of iOS 13: Apple Pay Suica performance is stellar and finally bug free, the beta label on China transit cards which had been there since iOS 11.3 is finally gone, the Wallet UI has been revamped for Apple Card which Apple employees just started receiving with more changes coming, and we have the new EMV Express Transit option which uses a payment card (credit/debit cards) designated for Express Transit mode on Portland TriMet.

In case you have not noticed, Apple Pay Transit support pages have been completely rewritten with some new jargon:

  • Transit without Apple Pay Express Transit mode enabled: everywhere else

By the end of summer the Express Transit mode enabled list will look like this: China Beijing and Shanghai PBOC), Japan (nationwide Suica FeliCa), USA (Portland TriMet EMV and HOP MIFARE) and Chicago (Ventra MIFARE). New York OMNY will end up on the ‘Transit without Apple Pay Express Transit mode enabled’ list.

There is also some new jargon in iOS 12.3 Wallet Settings:

The Express Transit Card setting lists Transit Cards (Suica, HOP, etc.) and Payment Cards (VISA, Mastercard, American Express, etc.). Notice that Transit Cards can be ‘Multiple’ and the description: (EMV) will be used to pay for transit when (Suica, HOP, Beijing Transit, etc) is not requested by payment reader. Ideally this means that the payment reader will gracefully accept your preferred payment method to pay the fare.

The reality is going to be messy. I guarantee there will be lots of people who set a payment card for Express Transit and try going through a transit gate in Singapore, Sydney, London, Tokyo, etc. without a thought, and get a nasty surprise. What? I thought Apple Pay worked here?

That is not a problem for techies who want to try things, but for regular users who just want things to work, it makes Apple Pay look bad. People don’t have high expectations about bank cards, but they have higher expectations for Apple Pay. Put another way, banks have nothing to lose with lousy service because they already have a lousy reputation. Apple Pay is different and has more to lose when things go wrong. And that’s a risky place to be.

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iOS 12.3 Update and Apple Pay Transit Improvements (U)

The iOS 12.3 update has some important improvements for iPhone users in Japan and Apple Pay Transit users everywhere:

Reiwa Era Calendar Support
Reiwa Era is also supported in watchOS 5.2.1 and macOS 10.14.5

Improved Apple Pay Suica Performance
iOS 12.3 is the best iOS version for Apple Pay Suica and Express Transit cards that Apple has produced, period. This is the single most important feature for users in Japan. Previous Suica iOS performance issues are all gone: Suica balance not updating, unresponsive Suica UI, unresponsive Suica Recharge, etc. Longtime iPhone Suica users will be pleasantly surprised, as will HOP and Ventra card users when Apple Pay Express Transit arrives on those systems this summer. If for no other reason, update to iOS 12.3 for superior trouble free Apple Pay Suica and Express Transit performance.

EMV Express Transit Support (U)
This is a new Apple Pay Wallet option for EMV payment cards to be set for Express Transit on open loop transit systems that support the feature, only on Portland TriMet for now. The new Apple Express Transit support page explains payment card support. Reader feedback suggests payment card support is the usual mixed bag of bank card services, limited by region issuers and issues. EMV transit is always slower at the gate than native transit cards, both plastic and virtual, and only supports standard fares.

The low key nature of this service addition is rather unusual. Lots of under the hood changes have been made in iOS 12.3 Wallet in advance of the Apple Card launch: EMV Express Transit support, the removal of long term beta status for Beijing and Shanghai Transit Cards, the huge leap in Express Transit performance, and much more. I suspect that we’ll hear all about these developments along with new NFC features to be announced for iOS 13 Apple Pay Wallet at WWDC19.

Wallet UI Changes
Suica UI Wallet changes have been ongoing since iOS 12.2 and are still hit and miss. The UI has improved some from iOS 12.2: transaction detail running order has changed slightly to avoid long strings that are easy clipped in English. Unfortunately, important Suica settings are still too easy to miss. Users still have to dig around to find them. I hope Apple continues to improve the Wallet card UI in iOS 13. Here’s a look:

Other Stuff

Apple TV: the iTunes Japan Store does not offer TV content so the revamped TV App is just for playing downloaded movies and nothing more, at least until Apple TV+ service launches in Japan. Amazon Prime and Netflix are way ahead of Apple here and remain the top video streaming providers. It will be interesting to see what Apple comes up with.

iOS 12.3 beta Apple Pay Suica Performance (U)

Despite the wobbly state of Apple Pay Suica card UI design in iOS 12.2 and iOS 12.3, real world Express Transit performance continues to improve. NFC performance is a very subjective thing due of all the constantly changing conditions that come into play: device software and antenna design, NFC chip firmware, reader antenna design and firmware, etc. There are also the different ways that Suica calculates transit fare, stored fare (SF) vs. commute plans. No doubt weather conditions come into play too; I swear that Suica response times are slower on torrentially rainy hot days.

Nevertheless, iOS 12.3 beta (16F5148a) Apple Pay Suica Express Transit performance might be the best Apple Pay Suica ever, and extends the solid performance gains and bug fixes of iOS 12.2. I have only tested iOS 12.3 Commuter Suica but, the UI feels equally snappy on JR gates and PASMO gates now, grumpy old UT1-Neo readers are suddenly happy, the iPhone XS/XR dead Suica UI problem appears to be fixed.

We won’t know for sure until the final release, but I hope the iOS 12.3 performance improvements mean that Apple NFC engineers are hard at work going over Express Transit performance with a fine-tooth comb in advance of the Apple Pay Express Transit HOP and Ventra rollouts this summer. It also means that iOS 12.3 is the last major iOS 12 update. If the beta performance gains are delivered in the final release, iOS 12.3 will be a good curtain call for iOS 12.

UPDATE
iOS 12.3 is out and recommended for Apple Pay Suica users

Dear Apple Pay UI Team

Dear Apple Pay UI Team Members,

You seem to be having some trouble redesigning Apple Pay Suica transit cards in iOS 12.2 and iOS 12.3. As a daily Apple Pay Suica user since day 1, here’s some helpful criticism and feedback, just like Steve used to do back in the day. Here we go.

1) Basic Layout: why is the card art so large when it serves no real purpose other than identification? It can be smaller and still do a good job while freeing up lots of space for more important functions and actions, and less round trips to other card preference settings.

2) Latest Transactions: the basic UI for this section is OK, but icon sizes are too large and waste valuable screen space. Make them smaller so that more transactions fit in the same area. This allows the entire transaction list area to move down and make display room for more important information when needed. More on that in #2. Icon colors need to differentiate between the 3 basic Suica function types: transit, purchase and recharge. ‘Credit’ is not a good English term to use for recharge here, it’s too easy to confuse with credit card. And why is the transaction location so important that it needs to be listed first in bold? It’s secondary information taking up precious screen space. Primary information such as store names and transit routes make more sense here.

3) Commute Plan: The 2 most important UI functions of Suica card are recharging Suica balance and renewing commute plan. These 2 critical functions must be front and center in the Suica card UI. The regular Suica card UI gets this right while the commute plan Suica UI gets it wrong: the layout hides both recharge and renew functions down a level. People cannot find them. This is a design failure that needs to be fixed…like this:

This is what the Commute Plan Suica UI needs to look like, Latest Transactions need to move out of the way because they are secondary information.

4) Card Info is another mess. First of all why is a pull down refresh there? All Suica info is local to the card and Service Mode is the only way to force a refresh when necessary. Right? If it’s not serving any purpose, delete it. Important user settings are not prioritized or grouped intelligently, and hard to find. They need to be easy to find. And lose the duplicated recharge and renew functions. Putting those in 4 different places, each with a confusingly different UI design, isn’t helpful at all, it’s confusing the hell out of Suica users, young and old, newbies and old hands.

Condense all of the important items users need to find quickly onto the top half of a well organized screen…like this:

Remember that Suica is a prepaid transit card, not a credit card. It has very different functions, uses and feedback requirements. Focus on what Suica users need, anticipate what they want, eliminate everything else, and it will turn out well.

Love and Kisses,
Ata Distance