"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.

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.  ↩

One of the FBI’s Major Claims in the iPhone Case Is Fraudulent

The ACLU on the FBI vs Apple encryption backdoor:

If this generally useful security feature is actually no threat to the FBI, why is it painting it in such a scary light that some commentators have even called it a “doomsday mechanism”? The FBI wants us to think that this case is about a single phone, used by a terrorist. But it's a power grab: law enforcement has dozens of other cases where they would love to be able to compel software and hardware providers to build, provide, and vouch for deliberately weakened code. The FBI wants to weaken the ecosystem we all depend on for maintenance of our all-too-vulnerable devices. If they win, future software updates will present users with a troubling dilemma. When we're asked to install a software update, we won’t know whether it was compelled by a government agency (foreign or domestic), or whether it truly represents the best engineering our chosen platform has to offer.

In short, they're asking the public to grant them significant new powers that could put all of our communications infrastructure at risk, and to trust them to not misuse these powers. But they're deliberately misleading the public (and the judiciary) to try to gain these powers. This is not how a trustworthy agency operates. We should not be fooled.

Possibly the most worrying thing about this mess is how blatant the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have been about trying to set this precedent. They almost aren’t even bothering to pretend that it is, indeed, about all phones, not just this one.

And again, use my Worst Enemy Test: If you had to permit your worst enemy access to these powers, would you still support the legislation?

I suspect Director Comey wouldn’t be okay with his political opponents being able to compel Apple or Google to create their own backdoors to bypass the encryption on his phone. Would anyone be happy about President Trump having “sooper sekrit” access to anyone’s information?

Everything Old is New Again

No one seems to have learned anything from history, even recent history. Back in 1993 (a.k.a: The Dark Ages in internet years) the NSA’s baby, the Clipper chip, was meant to provide a back door to any system it was installed on. At the same time, the US government classified strong encryption as a munition, and investigated the creator of PGP, Phil Zimmermann, for violating the export ban.

The Clipper chip program died in just a couple of years, and restrictions on encryption were relaxed in a similarly short time span. Why? Back doors are inherently insecure and technically untenable. The restriction of a technology, like encryption, only works if you can actually keep it from being disseminated. The only reliable way to do that is to cut yourself off from the outside world and impose draconian central-authoritarian rules on your citizens.

Japan kept weapons under the exclusive control of the military by shutting its borders, confiscating weapons, and keeping those with the knowledge to create weapons under central authority. In the early days of firearms, the Japanese were actually more heavily armed than anywhere else, and with the improvements Japanese smiths wrought on the samples traded from the Dutch and Portuguese, their weapons were probably the most technically advanced as well.

In Europe, those measures wouldn’t work because any one nation that tried to hunker down and disarm its populace would place itself at a strategic disadvantage to its neighbors. The end result of isolation and technical control was that Japan was at a severe disadvantage when on the receiving end of some “friendly” gunboat diplomacy from the good ol’ US of A back in the 1800s.

In more modern times, North Korea has done pretty much the same thing over the last 60 years with regard to communications and commerce, with the result that much of its post-industrial technology, particularly its computer technology, is laughably outdated.

If FBI Director Comey gets his way, and Apple is forced to either create a tool for the government to use to unlock devices or compromise its security to provide a back door into the system software, Americans are facing not just the loss of privacy, but a loss of competitiveness in the world market. Communication and device encryption is the backbone of internet commerce.

While it may start with Apple, it won’t end there. Any technology created by American companies will be regarded with suspicion because of the precedent set. Other countries where multinational corporations do business, knowing that a US-based company will be compelled to create skeleton keys for its devices, will make providing them with the same tools a prerequisite for doing business there.

Congratulations, you’ve just given every repressive regime in the world tools to break into anyone’s phones, and not just their citizens’ either. It’s actually worse if the US tries to keep the key to itself because its very existence makes it much more likely that a foreign power or even criminal elements will find a way to steal or co-opt it and use it to break into the phones of US citizens exclusively if it is only installed American versions of the phones. If that happens, the responsible parties would have made the entire US into every nefarious agent’s online ass-bitch.

As we’ve seen with “secret” backdoor technology before, like the TSA keys, it will leak eventually. And when it does, someone will eventually exploit that security weakness to commit a serious crime or act of terrorism. The best way to protect people is to make security better to make it harder for anyone to break in — be it the FBI, terrorists, or criminals. Deliberately weakening security does not benefit either the public or, in the long run, the government.

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.

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.

"Reddit Users Band Together to Boycott Retailers who Disable NFC Readers"

Android and Apple users are joined in solidarity against a common enemy. In other news: mass hysteria in the streets, lions are cuddling with lambs, a tech site has started a print division, Jihadists are having an Ecstasy-and-alcohol-fueled love-in with fundamentalist Christians, and local coffee shops have called a détente with Starbucks.

Apple’s Game

Sean Haber:

Apple also announced that AirPlay will now support direct peer-to-peer connections. This means that latency will be much lower and connections should be more reliable. It also means that your iPhone (for example) will not need to be on the same wifi network as your AppleTV in order to use AirPlay …

Apple announced this week that their game controller API will now transparently forward controller events from one device to another. What this means is that if you already have a shell-style controller for your iPhone, you can now use your iPhone as a dedicated standalone controller to play games that are running on your iPad or Mac and the game itself doesn’t need to know any different. It just works …

Metal is an extremely thin layer of software that interfaces between apps and the underlying GPUs. It does the same job that OpenGL ES has been doing for us for years, but Metal is optimized for Apple’s own hardware and software needs while also cutting out a bunch of legacy cruft in the process. This means games that use Metal will use less CPU time communicating with the GPU, which leaves more CPU time left over for running the actual game itself.

As I wrote last year, the smoke around the Apple TV as a console has been getting pretty thick. iOS 8 betas show that some of the technical barriers I mentioned earlier, like latency, have been significantly reduced, and the introduction of a lower-level API like Metal makes programming for performance much better for developers.

I disagree with Haber on one point; I still think that the Apple TV will be primarily an extension of iPhone/iPad gaming rather than being a stand-alone system. If Apple actually makes a game controller, and if the new Apple TV runs “real” iOS instead of the fork that it’s currently on, then that might change. Given Apple’s secrecy, it’s possible that they’re preparing launch games in cooperation with gaming studios, but right now, with the information at hand, I think it’s unlikely.

DoCoMo Now Carries iPhone

The main reason I switched to Softbank just over 3 years ago was because DoCoMo didn’t offer the iPhone and seemingly had no real interest in offering one. I’d been with DoCoMo since I got my first keitai (携帯 mobile phone) in 2001. They had the best coverage — even out in the mountains of Gunma I’d often have a usable signal — and I had no real gripes about pricing or services relative to others.

Vodaphone (later acquired by Softbank) sometimes offered better handsets, and had more international-friendly services, but DoCoMo had better domestic service and much better coverage. Even now, most of my apartment is a dead zone for Softbank’s signal, while my wife’s au iPhone gets 4 dots when standing in the same exact spot, and her previous DoCoMo handset similarly had full signal strength.

Softbank has experienced incredible growth while they were the exclusive carrier for the iPhone, going from a bit player to a close-third in the carrier market, only about 5 million subscribers [1] behind KDDI’s au. DoCoMo remains the unquestionably dominant player, but they have lost millions of subscribers over the last few years, and much of that loss is attributed to people moving to Softbank so that they could get an iPhone.

Now that iPhones are offered on all three major carriers (KDDI started carrying the iPhone 5 at the end of last year) we’ll see how iPhones do compared to the other smartphones on offer, without any skewing of the market due to availability. I expect DoCoMo to reverse some of its losses, and iPhone prices and promotions for all the carriers to track closely as they jockey to acquire new subscribers and keep old ones.

I might move back to DoCoMo, when my current contract term is up at the end of this coming February, for coverage reasons. The only service-based gripe I have with Softbank is that they they refuse to unlock your iPhone even if you’ve paid it off and still have a service contract with them. I’ve heard DoCoMo is better about that, also, which would be a plus when I have to travel overseas.

  1. Currently: NTT DoCoMo 61.8 million; KDDI au 39.2 million; Softbank 34.3 million subscribers.  ↩