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.

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

NFC Passes and NFC Certificates for iOS 12 and watchOS 5

Apple revealed details of NFC improvements coming to iOS 12 and watchOS 5. Contactless Student ID Cards for Wallet were announced at the WWDC18 Keynote on June 4. Apple clearly wants to promote NFC Passes in Wallet over clunky QR Codes and showed a video of NFC Passes in action on Apple Watch at the Wembley Stadium contactless NFC ticket gate. In the same Apple Pay session Apple software engineers explained how to strip out QR Code references in Wallet Passes and replace them NFC. NFC Passes were previously shown at WWDC16 but uptake has been slow and Apple seems eager to push them more aggressively with iOS 12.

The recently updated iOS Security guide for iOS 12 has more details:

Contactless passes
Wallet supports the value added service (VAS) protocol for transmitting data from supported passes to compatible NFC terminals. The VAS protocol can be implemented on contactless terminals and uses NFC to communicate with supported Apple devices. The VAS protocol works over a short distance and can be used to present contactless passes independently or as part of an Apple Pay transaction.

It’s also clear that Apple wants to promote contactless passes on Apple Watch over iPhone: NFC passes were unveiled during the watchOS segment and are gorgeously displayed exclusively on the watchOS 5 page. Assa Abloy and Blackboard are working with Apple to make those happen. You might remember Assa Abloy from The Information rumor piece about door locks and ID Passes coming to Wallet but the actual ID card format and associated backend services are all Blackboard.

Temple University’s OWLCard and John Hopkins J-Card offer some clues how they will work in Wallet:

  1. Contactless Student ID cards are Stored Value (SV)
  2. Because they are SV cards, they can be recharged

Since they will reside in Apple Pay Wallet this means contactless student ID cards can be ‘recharged’ with an Apple Pay credit card instead of running to the nearest ‘refill/recharge’ station. Anytime, Anywhere Recharge.

Sound familiar? It’s just like Apple Pay Suica that you can recharge on the go and use for JR East Suica coin lockers. The only real difference is that Student ID Cards cannot be used for transit. At least not yet. The Apple Pay Developer page says, “discover how to create contactless passes for rewards cards, gift cards, tickets, and more.” Contactless passes for reward cards eh? Sounds like that JRE POINT card in Apple Pay Wallet will be possible after all.

An interesting aspect of implementing NFC Passes in Wallet is the “NFC Certificate” requirement that are issued by Apple to the developer and strictly controlled for security purposes. PassKit NFC Certificates were previously available, covered by NDA and extremely limited. Since door locks and ID passes are involved, the NDA is still central to the application process. However, if Apple is opening up NFC access to more developers wider NFC Certificate distribution could be the ticket for developers to gain NFC access that was not possible up to now. At least for mere mortals.

It will be fascinating to see what developers do with wider NFC Certificate distribution and what NFC passes/reward cards, and hopefully much more, that come out of it with iOS 12 and watchOS 5.

UPDATE
Apple is issuing NFC Wallet Passes at their September 12 Event announcing new iPhones, Apple Watch Series 4 and the official release of iOS 12

UPDATE 2
Welcome to the new era of A12 Bionic NFC and iOS 12

UPDATE 3
Contactless Student ID Cards are MIFARE Card Emulation via PASSKit

PassBook vs Wallet: the Unsolvable QR Code Problem

fullsizeoutput_6551Question #1: Do you remember Wallet before Apple Pay arrived?

Question #2 Did you use Wallet before Apple Pay arrived?

I thought so. Neither did I. My Wallet does have an iTunes Store Pass with QR code and an Apple Store Gift Card with QR code although I never use them. The only time I do anything optical is reading iTunes Card codes in iTunes app or reading a poster OR code with iOS 11 Camera app to get a web link. That’s it.

The problem with optical codes, QR, bar-codes, etc. is that it was, and still is, a royal pain getting any optical code thing (coupons, gift cards, one-time tickets, etc.) into Wallet. I would love an easy to use iPhone airline app that painlessly checks me in and quickly loads a boarding pass optical code into Wallet.

I have yet to have a user-friendly experience checking in with any airline app. Considering how creaky airline reservation systems are, and how reluctant airlines are to fix them, my chances of meeting a friendly easy to use airline app seems unlikely to happen. A piece of paper with a QR code printed on it will always be faster and more convenient than a smartphone, especially for international travel.

Getting coupon codes into Wallet is a pain as well. There are many Japanese food apps that list and categorize every restaurant: Tabelog, Hot Pepper, Gurunavi. But doing lots of searches on iPhone is a pain. iPad really shines here but iPad does not have a Wallet even though it has Apple Pay. It would be really nice to have an iCloud Wallet to store codes, coupons and things I collect on any of my devices.

Unfortunately Apple has not come up with that yet and smartphone optical codes are the forever unfulfilled promise, the ultimately underused technology because it is a pain in the ass. You will never be able to whip QR passes out of your pocket like Apple Pay Suica, ping, and you are on your way.

Think of it as going to the supermarket with mom. Mom’s wallet was always stuffed full of clipped coupons she could pull out at a moments notice as the cash register. It was like magic. When she sent me on a supermarket errand with coupons, I could never find them in time. The credit card won the race to cash register every time.

Until iPhone Wallet and optical codes become my super smart magic coupon mom, Apple Pay and NFC will win every time.