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.

More Apple Pay Suica Wallet UI Tweaks for iOS 12.3

I wrote in my iOS 12.2 review that the new Wallet changes felt unfinished, and I was right. The constant Wallet UI tweaking of iOS 12.2 continues unabated in iOS 12.3 beta 4 Apple Pay Suica. The biggest changes are the elimination of separate info and transaction screens. All transaction are now on the main screen, and good old blue highlights are back on the card itself, but Wallet still retains the black theme. It still feels unfinished with more tweaks to come. Here are comparison screenshots.

Transaction details now show location details again, as they did up until iOS 12.2 beta 3, but 3D Touch is missing for ‘pop-up’ transaction details, and transactions cannot be swipe deleted like they can in iOS 12.2 (though they can still be swipe deleted in the Suica transaction list in Settings> Wallet> Suica, what gives?). Icon colors are less garish but only come in 2 varieties: transit and everything else. It would make more sense, and be much more helpful, to have at least one more color to distinguish between transit, purchase and recharge.

This constant hit and miss tweaking is very weird for Apple, almost as if the iOS 13 beta process started with Wallet in iOS 12.2. But I think it has more to do with the unfinished state of Apple Card and the new Wallet UI card design that Apple will probably announce for iOS 13. If nothing else it certainly suggests that the Apple Card UI is a rush job for a product that was pre-announced too soon.

iOS 13 Apple Card Wallet

Using the Apple Card flavored Suica UI and redesigned Wallet of iOS 12.2 these past few weeks has been weird but instructive. The UI still feels like it dropped into iOS 12 from somewhere else, Samsung One perhaps? But since the Apple Card announcement, I think we are seeing a preview of what’s coming in iOS 13, and Apple Pay Suica Transit Card in iOS 12.2 is the first iteration of a fuller design and feature set for Apple Pay Wallet cards of all types in iOS 13.

Even in the official iOS 12.2 release, Suica Card has an unfinished feel. Early iOS 12.2 beta builds had a 3D Touch feature for transactions that disappeared before the final release but is shown in the Apple Card video. There is also a strange Suica Card info refresh action that does absolutely nothing because in it’s current state, there is no information to pull down from Mobile Suica. Suica Service Mode remains the only way to force refresh Suica balance and transaction information, which is local to the device, if they fail to update automatically. The empty refresh action seems like a placeholder for something coming later: highly detailed transaction and summary updates pulled from the card provider cloud.

Suica Express Card Refresh Action

So what can we expect for iOS 13 Apple Pay cards and Wallet? A quick look at the Apple Card design shows detailed location aware transaction information, balance due, payment options and information summaries and more. Jennifer Bailey has expressly said that Apple Pay is not about disrupting the credit card industry so I don’t think Apple wants to keep these things exclusive to Apple Card. I expect the WWDC iOS 13 announcement and sessions will unveil new Wallet controls for developers to add those features to Apple Pay Wallet cards.

The more features and information that reside on the Wallet card itself instead of launching an app, the better. It’s a trend I hope Apple will encourage by offering more NFC access and control to 3rd party developers. If NFC is getting major improvements in iOS 13 as Guilherme Rambo says, I think the Apple Pay sessions at WWDC19 will be a good show.

UPDATE: More WWDC19 Wallet analysis