Suica Tops Contactless Use in Tokyo Area

Another market survey, another few data points. MoneyZine writers Hideyuki Kato and Isamu Saito report some interesting results of 2 different cashless use surveys. As I reported a year ago, Apple Pay has brought a lot of changes to the Japanese payments market but it’s hard to make sense of it due to highly regional preferences: Suica is king in the Kanto area, ICOCA in the Kansai, and so on.

The 1st data point is a survey from Yumenomachi that ranks the different cashless payment methods:

  • Credit cards: 88.4%
  • Transit cards: 49.7%
  • Apple Pay/Google Pay/Osaifu Keitai: 35.4%
  • Prepaid Reward Cards (nanaco, WAON, Edy): 31.7%
  • QR Codes (Line Pay, PayPay, etc): 25.6%

The 2nd data point is a survey from One Compath. This survey reports 56% of the respondents as using cashless more than a year ago, with slightly different ranking:

  • Credit cards: 71.4%
  • Transit cards: 31.7%
  • Prepaid Reward Cards (nanaco, WAON, Edy): 53.0%

The 3rd data point from the same One Compath survey is very interesting but not surprising. It ranks prepaid card use separately for transit and reward cards by prefecture. Transit card use for payments in the Kanto Area (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama) is 85%, while prepaid reward cards are the overall winner on a national basis. This is because of the reach of AEON supermarkets and convenience stores in rural areas where people don’t use transit cards or the local transit cards do not support purchases. The next generation Super Suica format is aimed specifically at incorporating these small rural area transit cards so they can be used anywhere as Suica.

One take away is that in the Kanto area Suica is easily the most used contactless card at checkout (Suica issuance is twice that of PASMO). Credit cards lead in cashless, but are still mostly swipe or Chip and PIN at checkout. When prepaid cards are totaled together, credit card and prepaid card use is almost equal. The surveys do not look at average purchase amounts for the different cashless methods. I suspect that Suica and other prepaid card use leads for smaller purchases while credit cards are used for larger purchase items.

We also know from a previous survey by IT journalist Sachiko Watanabe that most iPhone users do not use Apple Pay:

  • Only 27% of iPhone users who can use Apple Pay use it
  • 50% don’t use Apple Pay but are interested in using it
  • 22% don’t use Apple Pay and don’t care about using it

These numbers jive with the 35.4% digital wallet use figure in data point 1. The short summary here is that there is still plenty of opportunity for Apple Pay to grow in the Japanese market, and the Super Suica format in 2021 has the potential to break down the regionality and shake up the market.

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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.

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

Apple Pay Suica Notification and Reminder Settings

Apple Pay Suica has 3 different kinds of notifications: transaction notifications from transit, purchase and service mode activity, low balance reminders and commute plan renewal reminders. One problem of the iOS 12.2 Apple Pay Suica redesign is that Suica low balance and commute plan renewal reminders are not easy to find, especially if you have a Suica Commute Plan. Even Japanese users are confused. Here’s how to make sure you receive those reminders. Regular Suica is the easiest:

Suica Commute Plan reminders are much harder to find because the card design is different from regular Suica and hides reminder settings. It’s too easy for users to miss them. It’s a poor UI design that Apple needs to fix. Here’s how to set them:

Last but not least make sure you have Wallet Notifications turned on in Settings>Notification Center. If that is turned off you will not receive Suica notifications or reminders. I also turn on ‘Show Updates’ to receive updates from JR East. They are very good about only showing updates when absolutely necessary.