"Japan's antitrust watchdog considers action against Apple, carriers"

Reuters: “Exclusive: Japan’s antitrust watchdog considers action against Apple, carriers - sources

Both the headline and the lede are greatly misleading. The second and third paragraphs contradict the promised premise:

In a report published last month, Japan’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC) said that NTT Docomo, KDDI Corp and Softbank Group were refusing to sell older surplus iPhone models to third party retailers, thereby hobbling smaller competitors.

Apple was not named in that report, but two senior government sources told Reuters that regulators were also focusing on Apple’s supply agreements with all three carriers.

The carriers are almost certainly responsible for any shadiness in the deals because this only benefits them, not Apple. We’ll probably never actually find out, but I’m pretty sure the reason iPhones are not still exclusive to SoftBank is probably because Apple finally gave in to carrier demands for special concessions.

KDDI and DoCoMo are late-comers to the party. In 2008, SoftBank was the exclusive carrier for the iPhone, and it benefitted greatly. Three years later, SoftBank was still experiencing incredible growth, which was credited in large part to its still-exclusive deal with Apple. KDDI started offering iPhones in 2012, with DoCoMo finally deigning in 2013 to offer iPhones after years of steadily bleeding away customers, primarily to SoftBank.

SoftBank went from a distant third-place player in the market with about 18% share, to near-parity with second-place major carrier KDDI between 2008 and 2013, when all major players, including DoCoMo, finally offered iPhones on their networks. Without SoftBank’s runaway success, KDDI and DoCoMo might still be resisting Apple’s entry into the Japanese market even now.

The existence of business practices that shut out secondary players are an open secret. There is a very limited secondary market for unlocked phones because the vast majority are sold SIM-locked to a carrier. There are only three major players in the market, all of whom lock their handsets and in practice never unlock iPhones even after the handset is paid for and the typical 2-year contract is up. Discount carriers never even have a chance due both to carrier collusion and Japanese market rules.

The carrier that set the lock is the only entity legally allowed to unlock handsets. SoftBank has never offered SIM-unlocking. There have been persistent rumors of the other carriers offering SIM-free (i.e. unlocked handsets) for years, but reportedly neither KDDI nor DoCoMo will unlock iPhones still. Despite being required as of May 1, 2015 to offer SIM-unlocking, the carriers have been allowed to set their own timeline, and apparently their estimate on when they’ll do that for iPhones is somewhere between “#^¢* you!” and “We’ll get around to it … someday”.

Blaming Apple for customer-hostile business practices on the part of the carriers, and laggardly-enacted toothless laws that do virtually nothing to open the Japanese market is absurd. That the present situation favors Japanese incumbents is no coincidence, and past protectionistic behavior is the only element that lends credence to this report that Apple might be investigated in the future. The chance of Apple being found of wrongdoing in anything resembling a fair hearing is extremely slim, in my opinion.

Cartography Comparison

Justin O’Beirne did a great in-depth comparison of the different ways Google and Apple approach mapping.

From the summary of Part 1:

We looked at 54 pairs of maps across three cities (New York, San Francisco, and London) and found several significant differences:

  • Apple Maps, on average, labels more cities than Google at every zoom.

  • Google Maps, on average, labels more roads than Apple on nearly every zoom.

  • For two-thirds of zooms, both maps generally show the same number of roads. For the remaining third, Apple almost always shows more roads.

  • Both maps, on average, label a similar number of POIs [Points Of Interest] —but have only 10% of their POIs in common on an average zoom.

  • Both maps also prioritize different kinds of POIs: Google Maps heavily prioritizes transit, while Apple prioritizes landmarks. Apple also generally shows a greater number of POI categories on a given zoom—and shows twice as many restaurants and shops as Google.

When Apple Maps launched in iOS 6, I wrote a short post comparing it to Google Maps in Japan. I found that — for my location at least — Apple’s implementation was actually better in some ways at launch than Google’s was after several years.

The main reason I don’t use Apple Maps preferentially is the continuing lack of support for transit. Train scheduling and transfer information is hugely useful in Japan, so I end up using Google Maps much more often for station to station directions, while I usually default to Apple Maps for local guidance when I reach a location. It’s interesting to see that my purely intuition-based switching between them for different roles apparently has some empirical support as well.

Apple Pay in Japan

A month with Apple Watch as my wallet

Tom Warren for the Verge:

It all started when I left my house without my wallet. I had ventured out to grab some lunch with no cash or cards to pay for it, only my iPhone or Apple Watch. I’ve used Apple Pay on my iPhone and Watch before, but this was the first time it was actually useful. I paid for a sandwich at my local store with my Watch, and thought nothing more of it.

via: The Loop

Meanwhile, in Japan:

Apple (日本) - Apple Press Info - Apple Pay、モバイルペイメントの変革に向けて10月20日より運用開始

The line at the top 「米国報道発表資料抄訳※—2014年10月17日」 translates as “Selected translation of report released in the US on Oct. 17, 2014”. Like it says on the tin, it’s basically the same text as the original English-language Apple Pay press release. That’s the first and last official news from Apple about Apple Pay that has been released in Japan.

Despite the lack of stated support for Apple Pay in Japan, Touch Lab, an Apple enthusiast site, tested out Apple Pay in February of 2015 to see if it would work with existing NFC terminals and payment systems. Sometimes features aren’t officially supported in other countries, but work anyway. This wasn’t one of those times.

今回試した中では3件中1件で使用できましたが、そもそもEMVコンタクトレスの端末を置いているところがほとんどなく、結局「現状Apple Payは国内でほぼ使えない」ということを再確認しただけでした。

国内では既にFeliCaが普及していることもあり、国際規格であるEMVコンタクトレスの普及が他国より遅れ、日本だけApple Payが使えない状況にならないか心配になります。


My translation:

At one of the three sites tested at this time it was able to be used, but there are almost no EMV Contactless terminals, so in the end the statement, “Apple Pay can’t be used inside Japan”, has to be reaffirmed.

In Japan, FeliCa has already penetrated. The international standard EMV Contactless is penetrating much more slowly than in other countries, so it is worrying that possibly only in Japan, Apple Pay may not be able to be used.

At the Olympics to be held in five years, it is expected that there will be an increase in visitors from overseas. In order to prepare, hopefully terminals [that can process foreign payments] will be increased.

In other words, while elsewhere Apple Pay has been hailed as possibly the best thing about the Apple Watch, a game-changing implementation that might actually bring NFC payments into the mainstream, in Japan it’s a nearly-useless non-feature. Apple has not been able to either work out deals with market incumbents, or push the adoption of systems that integrate with Apple Pay in the year and a half since its US launch and worldwide announcement.

This is not surprising. Despite Japan’s image overseas as a country that is at the forefront of technological progress, it is an often hostile market for foreign products, particularly those that compete with any incumbent technology, and is bewilderingly behind the times in some ways. There are still many places even in Tokyo where you must pay cash; no credit or debit cards are accepted.

The apparent head start Japan had by implementing contactless payment systems, starting with train passes over a decade ago, has stultified, as all too many products developed for the Japanese market do. Japan has a tendency to be first and best with a technology that is quickly superseded, and then are unable to change course due to massive investment, or create an overspecialized version suited only for the peculiarities of the domestic market.

Desiging for the the Japanese market first and foremost has even led to the coining of a phrase, gara-kei (ガラケー) or Galapagos handset, which I mentioned in Why Apple isn’t Japanese nearly four years ago, and explained in more detail in Mobile Internet in Japan a couple of years before that.

While the phrase was first applied to Japan’s overloaded “feature” phones that quickly seemed inferior to “smart” phones, the idea has been applied to other technology. FeliCa is, in my opinion, one of these technological cul-de-sacs that is well-suited to the domestic market, but unlikely to be adopted overseas, and actively interferes with any adoption of international standards. Technology Nazi[1] says, NO APPLE PAY FOR YOU!

  1. Soup Nazi reference provided because I’m old and can’t trust that whippersnappers will get an allusion to a comedy that went off the air around the time they were being conceived.  ↩

NSA could crack the San Bernadino shooter’s phone

Clarke added that if he was still at the White House, he would have told FBI Director James Comey to "call Ft. Meade, and the NSA would have solved this problem…Every expert I know believes that NSA can crack this phone." But the FBI wasn't seeking that help, he said, because "they just want the precedent."

Yep, it's pretty obvious that what FBI Director Comey is really going for is the legal precedent, not the information.

Tech giants don’t want Obama to give police access to encrypted phone data

In a Washington Post article from last year:

Tech behemoths including Apple and Google and leading cryptologists are urging President Obama to reject any government proposal that alters the security of smartphones and other communications devices so that law enforcement can view decrypted data…

The letter is signed by three of the five members of a presidential review group appointed by Obama in 2013 to assess technology policies in the wake of leaks by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. The signatories urge Obama to follow the group’s unanimous recommendation that the government should “fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards” and not “in any way subvert, undermine, weaken or make vulnerable” commercial software.

I've said before that it's a bad idea to weaken encryption for the sake of law enforcement. This current confrontation between the FBI and Apple has been years in the making.

Multilingual Keyboard Switching

Federico Viticci of MacStories commented on Wang Ling’s proposal for a redesign of the keyboard switching experience in iOS.

Once you throw in a couple of additional keyboards in the mix … the only sensible way to switch keyboards is tapping & holding the globe button then sliding over to the keyboard you want to use again – which takes about 1 second in my experience … That doesn’t sound like a lot, but the annoyance adds up; plus, imagine doing that for years.

I have five keyboards enabled: English, Japanese romaji, traditional Chinese (for writing recognition of hand-drawn characters), emoji, and TextExpander. My wife primarily uses Japanese on her iPhone, and has three keyboards: English, kana, and emoji.

To add a couple of gripes I didn’t see Viticci make, the emoji keyboard moves the keyboard switch one slot to the left and removes the visual indicator of the globe, making switching from that keyboard back to other keyboards especially annoying. And, third-party keyboards don’t (or can’t) honor the tap-and-hold multi-keyboard switch, which has been the case since they were first allowed in iOS 8.

Wangling’s design proposal has my support and duplicate radar report.

  1. Enabled keyboards can be put in one of the two groups: frequently-used keyboards and occasionally-used keyboards.
  2. Considering most uses are monolingual, in order to avoid unnecessary recognition burdens on them, only the frequently-used keyboard group is shown by default. Only after a user enables more than 2 keyboards should the occasionally-used keyboard group be shown and an explanation be given.
  3. Single tap on the globe button only switches among frequently-used keyboards.
  4. Long press the globe button to present the keyboard picker which includes all enabled keyboards so users can switch to their occasionally-used keyboards.Single tap on the globe button while using a occasionally-used keyboard switches back to the previously selected frequently-used keyboard.

Fast Contact Creation with Interact

Last year, I wrote Sending Group Emails in iOS, where I showed how to use TextExpander and Drafts to efficiently send emails to a list of recipients on iOS. Apple’s Contacts app doesn’t let you do that at all, unless by “group mail” you mean, “manually add every single recipient from a group with a two-to-three tap interaction” and “you better hope you’ve already created a group on your Mac, because you can’t do it in iOS”.

Earlier this month, Interact, by the maker of Drafts, was released. Dr. Drang tweeted about it, which is what got my attention. Since Drafts is one of my most-used apps, I bought Interact about 15 seconds after reading the description.

Interact is a contacts manager for iOS. The selling point for me was actually not the group management features, but the scratchpad. Dr. Drang’s post about Interact explains the details, but similar to Fantastical, Interact uses language parsing to figure out what bits of information should be entered into what fields in the contacts database. It works directly with your contacts on your phone, so changes should be instant locally, and sync to your other devices through iCloud via Apple’s native Contacts app.

One limitation I found on the first day I used Interact was that it didn’t support the full complement of fields available. I often use Phonetic First Name and Phonetic Last Name for Japanese names because even native speakers often need pronunciation cues,[1] particularly for given names. You’ll be forgiven a first mistaken reading, but you really need a pronunciation guide to prevent future problems. Japanese businesses have fields in contact forms for phonetic transcriptions of both names and addresses, and people with uncommon readings for their names usually include furigana on their business cards.

I wrote a support email to Agile Tortoise (i.e.: Greg Pierce) basically saying that he’d made something great, but hoping that he’d implement support for those fields[2] in a future update. It makes sense for a developer to address the majority use case before looking at fringe ones like my bilingual operating environment, but lo and behold the change notes for Interact 1.0.1:

  • Change: Scratchpad tag helpers now insert tag at beginning of current line if no text is selected.
  • New: phoneticFirst and phoneticLast scratchpad tags.

(Bolding mine.)

The change I was hoping for someday, maybe: it’s on the second line of the first point-update. I wrote that email only about four days ago. This is a developer who absolutely responds to user requests. Buy some of his apps!

Even without TextExpander snippets for tagging fields, I’d be able to add a contact much, much more quickly and easily than I could with the built-in Contacts app. With TextExpander, I can add a contact in seconds. I have a few times a year where I need to add several contacts in quick succession, sometimes in the person’s presence, so this isn’t just a nice convenience for me, it’s a huge productivity booster. Especially impressive; Interact correctly identified the elements of a Japanese address, even though English is the only language claimed to be supported. It needs help with the names, but that’s a very quick select-and-tap tagging process.

Interact’s implementation of groups makes it possible to actually use groups on iOS. Previously, through the Contacts app, a group was useful only to give you a shorter list to choose from, but was basically useless otherwise. I will almost certainly be using groups more in the future, whereas I almost completely ignored them before.

  1. I’ve had reception duties where we’re dealing with literally hundreds of people. Many family names are quite common, but you can easily guess the wrong reading even for simple kanji. For example, 長田 is usually read Nagata, but could be Osada. It is literally impossible to guess the right reading 100% of the time when there might be several possible name readings for a particular set of characters.  ↩

  2. The Phonetic First / Last fields are actually in the spec for the address book, but are not in the standard set of entry fields displayed when the language environment is English — they are shown by default in Japanese. You can go to the “add field” section of the Contacts app in Edit mode when adding or editing a contact in English to activate them, but you can’t change settings to have them on by default, which is a bit of a pain in the ass if you’re adding more than one contact at a time.  ↩

Three takeaways for web developers after two weeks of painfully slow internet access

This writeup on Medium is a great article for app and website developers. Like designing for accessibility, considering and designing for slow data access can vastly improve user experience.

I had to use tethering to get work done over the last month due to a very flaky wi-fi access point at a work location. Because of that, I managed to hit my data cap before the end of the month, and spent over a week with horribly throttled access that rendered anything without an offline mode or a robust low-data mode basically useless. Most syncing worked — slowly; most browsing or even non-text Twitter didn’t.

Third-party apps fared the worst. I could get pages to load in Safari on my iPhone that Tweetbot was unable to display. This experience, not long after the announcement of Safari View Controller across apps in iOS 9, made me fully appreciate just how big of a change more open developer access to Safari will be. Developers won’t have to write their own browsers, and users will get access to all of the caching and performance tweaks implemented in the system browser. When you’re running at 0.12 Mb/s up and down, you really, really appreciate optimizations and performance fallback modes.

Facebook Instant Articles

From a NY Times article published in May:

Facebook’s long-rumored plan to directly host articles from news organizations will start on Wednesday, concluding months of delicate negotiations between the Internet giant and publishers that covet its huge audience but fear its growing power …

… Most important for impatient smartphone users, the company says, the so-called instant articles will load up to 10 times faster than they normally would since readers stay on Facebook rather than follow a link to another site.

The last thing I wanted in my Facebook feed was more news articles, so the technical improvement of faster load times does not benefit me in the slightest. The only reason I ever go to Facebook is to see what’s going on with family members. I already have to sort through the listicles, quizzes, and “surveys” that are shared on Facebook to get to their posts. Anything that makes it harder for me to see actual activity from the people I know is just more clutter.

Granted, given the quality of what is usually shared, it will probably be more interesting, higher-brow clutter, but still clutter. I had already started skipping over the regular timeline to exclusively check messages and alerts on the infrequent occasions I visited Facebook. Increasing clutter will make me less likely to bother looking through my timeline since I know it will be about as rewarding as looking though an email inbox with spam filtering disabled.

I can see the appeal for publishers, since most of the public is not as discerning jaded and cantankerous as me, and there are 1.25 billion active users on Facebook.

Let that sink in; that’s active users, as in people who actually log in and use Facebook on a monthly or more frequent basis. There must be many more registered users than 1.25 billion, since active use is typically much, much lower than registration.

That’s a metric asstonne[1] of people. The active users alone represent 17% of the current world population of 7.3 billion, so by the numbers, theoretically nearly 1 in 5 of people on the entire planet use Facebook right now. And it’s still growing.

The problem for publishers is that joining any social network is hazardous in the long term. Letting someone else publish your content means that you both relinquish control and eventually become a commodity on that platform. When you are one of several sources for a similar service, it becomes simple and easy to replace you if you decide not to participate anymore. Should Facebook later decide to play hardball, and The Times opt-out of publishing on Facebook’s platform, even they — with their strong reputation and mind-share in news — probably wouldn’t be particularly missed.

News publishing is in flux, and it’s increasingly clear that the older publishers are facing very difficult circumstances. Ironically, this consolidation approach was already tried on the internet in the past, and was generally resisted by the public.

Remember the buzz around web portals in the early days of the public internet? It’s one of the reasons AOL became infamous online, when their membership campaigns[2] resulted in floods of clueless “newbies” who knew naught of online etiquette honed on usenet in countless flamewars.

Becoming the latest implementation of a webportal is probably a good long-term strategy for Facebook, but it places it about a half-step in stodginess from “You’ve got mail!” territory. Hell, the only reason I got a Facebook account was due to social pressure from older family members. It was already losing enough social cachet a few years ago, when I finally caved, that a dude in his mid–30s didn’t think it was the cool new tech thing.

  1. Equal to 1.102 Imperial asstons, but substantially smaller than a Goatse.  ↩

  2. Kids: ask your parents to tell about the “free” frisbees and drink coasters AOL used to send to to everyone’s houses.  ↩

Accessibility and iOS

I’m way late in linking and sharing these:

Global Accessibility Awareness Day and why it matters

Why making your apps accessible is just the right thing to do

If you want to find out what it’s like for a blind or partially-sighted person to use an iPhone, set it to Accessibility Mode: Settings -> General -> Accessibility -> VoiceOver On. There are options in that menu for Braille output devices and other assistive settings. You can set VoiceOver to toggle on and off with a triple click on the home button in Settings -> General -> Accessibility -> Accessibility Shortcut; which can be found at the bottom of the Accessibility page.

It’s interesting to experiment with alternative UI (User Interfaces) like this. Those settings are semi-hidden since most people will never need them, but they are essential for some. Since iOS 3 introduced VoiceOver APIs, Apple has steadily added all kinds of features for disabled users.

In addition to literally making the difference between independence and dependence for the people who use their software, some programmers have said that designing an app with usability in mind makes them concentrate on the details. That focus may actually result in better apps for people with unimpaired sight and mobility as well.