Friday, November 7, 2014

Translation and explanation of revised Japanese SIM lock guidelines

Edit: I forgot to mention the best part. Not only will it be free, it will also be automated, meaning no more painful, time consuming experiences dealing with untrained shop staff. And, that of course means you will be provided with the unlock code.

I've now read the updated SIM unlocking guidelines from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Communications (MIC). I've also translated them below.

In short, I'm very pleased with the new guidelines. They are short, concise, specific, and (most importantly) thorough. I was worried that the MIC would focus narrowly just on SIM locks, leaving carriers free to cripple phones by a myriad of other means, such as locking out the APN settings menu on the phone (like Apple typically does).

The guidelines specifically state that any other restrictions added by carriers should be removed. Hopefully this means the end of the Docomo's automatically changing of APN when tethering, which breaks tethering with MVNOs, other SIM cards, and the ISP.

The guidelines also specifically state that carriers can no longer unlock a phone then refuse to provide service using non sequiturs like "because your phone is unlocked we are no longer able to service it." That is as logical as saying the train was a minute late because I put ham in the refrigerator.

Carriers will also be required to specifically disclose which frequency bands a phone supports,  as well as what services will cease to work. Currently, getting this information from docomo is tedious and uncertain.

Phones will still be sold in a locked state, and the guidelines allows for an a short period of time that the phone cannot be unlocked.

It would seem that Juggly was right (as usual). There is no room at all that I can see for carriers to take an opposite approach and cripple unlocked phones.

The guidelines do not go in effect until May 2015. Though there is a clause stating that these guidelines should apply to phones announced before that date, I do not at all expect that to happen. In that sentence, there was a line break that caused me to read over a very important character, 前. The old guidelines will apply to existing phones. Purchase phones that initially go on sale after May 5.

(なお、それ以前に発売された端末については、平成 26 年●月改正 前のガイドラインの趣旨に沿って適切に対応することが適当である。)

For the iPhone, this would mean the next iteration that would presumably become available around October/November 2015.

(Anything in [brackets] is added by me.)

May 2010 (Revised: 2014)


Currently in Japan, handsets provided by MNOs are "SIM Locked," preventing usage on other mobile networks.

Users of these devices have expressed the desire to both use their domestic devices while overseas with locally-obtained SIM cards and to continue using the same phone after porting their number to a different MNO.

Due to problems arising from large differences in specifications [i.e., WCDMA v CDMA-2000], frequencies, and platforms [i.e., carrier mail, etc.], individual MNOs were requested to voluntary abide by the "Guidelines Concerning SIM Locks" in 2010.

However, unlocking by MNOs remains limited at present. In addition, SIM locks have not only hindered users, but have also increased the cost to other MNOs of acquiring new customers, partially leading to the [unreasonably] large cash back offers.

Now, the spread of LTE and smartphones has changed the mobile marketplace, increasing interoperability of specifications and frequencies between MNOs. Therefore, both the basic and specific points of these guidelines should be adjusted accordingly.

Note: The guidelines defined 役務 (service) as electronic communication services concerning mobile phones, including mobile phone access service, 3.9G [LTE] access service, and virtual mobile electronic communication services associated with mobile phones.

Ministry Opinion

Article 29, Paragraph 1, Item 12 of the Telecommunications Business Act of 1984 allows for the invoking of measures to reform telecommunication practices that are unreasonable or unjust and may or do result in unsound industry development or are not in the best interest of the populace.

SIM locks constitute an inconvenience that prevents receiving service with existing handsets upon switching MNOs, as well as usage of a locally-obtained SIM card while overseas. SIM Locks further increase the cost incurred by MNOs in recruiting new customers and are the cause of differentiation in service fees and content [between new and existing customers], hindering competition. SIM locks are also the root of the large cash back offers used to acquire new customers that are promoting an unfair situation between longterm users and those who frequently change MNO.

However, MNOs have expressed the following concerns regarding not implementing SIM locking. 1) Lack of full support by other MNOs for unlocked handsets may cause confusion for users. 2) Compared to a market with locked handsets, promotional costs will increase, likely resulting in retail prices above current. 3) Loss of incentive to develop original brands and services.

Regarding 1), it is appropriate to leave the decision to users after sufficient explanation. Regarding 2), it is not likely to cause a large problem considering the typical user situation in which an amount equivalent to the handset cost is discounted monthly from the service cost. Furthermore, the cash back amounts at the time of purchase have become excessive, creating an unfair situation between longterm customers and frequent switchers and becoming a problem for fair competition. The removal of SIM locks is expected to result in restraint regarding these promotions. Regarding strategies for original branding (3), rather than using SIM locks to forcibly retain customers, it is preferable to develop and provide services that take maximum advantage of a handset's appeal.

Thus, the above concerns do not constitute proper and reasonable grounds to continue SIM locking. Finally, the traditional problem for unlocking (incompatible frequencies, standards, and specifications) continues to be lesser and lesser of a problem.

Considering the above, MNO's users (including those who have already cancelled service) have called for unlocking handsets, and in the lack of valid justification to the contrary from MNOs, it is necessary to invoke measures to reform current practices under Article 29, Paragraph 1, Item 12 of the Telecommunications Business Act to protect the interest of users and foster sound industry development.

Specifics for SIM unlocking

  1. Eligible handsets
    1. Carriers should in principle remove SIM locks from all handsets.
    2. Refusal to remove SIM locks is limited to cases that would result in unfair competition or excessive hinderance to usage with other carriers. (This applies to specialized devices that pose technical issues, i.e., nonstandard mobile specifications or frequencies and does not include general usage devices such as those commonly known as feature phones, smartphones, tablets, mobile routers, and USB modems)
  2. Unlocking process
    1. Carriers should whenever possible quickly and simply conduct unlocking through the internet or over the phone at no additional cost. (Alternate means for unlocking at no cost does not preclude the levying of a service charge if in-store unlocking is performed at the customer's request. A service charge may also be levied against customers with no active service contract for in-store unlocking.)
    2. Carriers may make exceptions and add a limited no-unlock period to prevent improper use of unlocked phone and mitigate the risk of loss of subsidized phones
  3. Unlocking process should be set in advance and publicly disclosed

Points to note during SIM unlocking

  1. Explanation to Users
    At the time of handset sale, SIM unlocking, or conclusion of a service contract, MNOs should make reasonable effort through means such as in-store explanation, pamphlets, or websites to ensure that the user understand the following points in particular.
    1. At time of purchase
      1. Whether the handset is eligible for unlocking
      2. The conditions and process of unlocking
      3. Which mobile services, applications, etc. will be partially or fully inoperable with another MNO SIM card
      4. The frequency bands supported by the handset
    2. At time of unlocking
      1. The conditions and process of unlocking
      2. Which mobile services, applications, etc. will be partially or fully inoperable with another MNO SIM card
      3. How to obtain service or repair for the unlocked handset
    3. At time of contract conclusion
      Which mobile services, applications, etc. will be partially or fully inoperable with another MNO SIM card
  2. Clarification of means for inquiry by users of unlocked handsets
    MNOs should consult with handset makers to prepare and clarify a means to perform service on unlocked handsets.
  3. Confirmation of proper technical certification
    MNOs should make efforts to confirm that uncertified phones are not used on their network.


Because it is desirable that unlocked handsets are as fully functional as possible, appropriate effort should be made to remove together with the SIM lock any additional restrictions on functionality that were set by the MNO.

Implementation of these guidelines

  1. These guidelines will be applied to new devices brought to market after May 5, 2015. It is further appropriate to suitably apply the pre-2014 guidelines to previously announced handsets.
  2. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications will reevaluate these guidelines as necessary following based on the situation following implementation.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How to get a new iPhone with an old data plan

(Short answer: Don't switch to or stay with Docomo.)

All of the Japanese carriers have followed Docomo's lead and introduced new plans with unlimited calling and shared data. A comment on a previous post pointed out that this adds more complexity to the typical Japanese carrier strategy of throwing cash and discounts at people to induce them to switch because of increased minimum monthly costs. To be honest, this year's iPhone release was really boring. I was hoping to see some whacky promotions, but they just never happened, perhaps because the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications asked the carriers show a bit of restraint.
“But excessive cash-back promotions and extreme sales competition that create a sense of unfairness for other long-term users aren’t desirable.”

Cost of old and new plans

Comparison of old and new data plans
Old data plan New data plan
Basic voice plan
¥934 (¥743)
ISP charge
Data plan
¥5,200 (7GB)
¥5,000 (5 GB)
¥6,434 (¥6,243)

The above prices are without tax. I haven't bothered to separate by carrier because they all charge the exact same price. The only difference is in Docomo's old voice plan (shown in parenthesis), but that's only a minor point because it doesn't exist anymore.

The difference in price between the old and new plans is ¥1,566, which equates to about 40 minutes of outgoing calls (at ¥20/30 seconds). Note that the old plan as shown doesn't include any free outgoing calls, even to users of the same network. For someone who makes zero outgoing calls, that's an increase in price of ¥37,584 over a 24-month contract. However this is only the case if you are getting your shiny new iPhone from Docomo.

Docomo forced "upgrade" to new data plan

Not only had docomo discontinued the old data plan as of September 1st of this year, existing customers MUST upgrade to the new data plans to be eligible for a monthly handset subsidy (月々サポート). There is no mention of the voice plan, but (as you may have guessed), getting the new data plan also requires getting the new voice plan. Yay.

The monthly subsidies are what allow you to walk out of a store with a new phone for somewhere between nothing and ¥20,000. The actual cost of the phone is often upwards of ¥100,000, split over your monthly bill for 12 to 24 months. Then the subsidy (typically an equal amount) is subtracted. Remove that subsidy and you will be charged ¥99,792 for a Docomo iPhone 6 Plus.

Softbank and KDDI still offer old plans – for now

You may have been told differently by random Softbank shop staff, but it IS still possible to get a brand new subsidized (and shiny) iPhone with the old, less expensive data plans. (See here for example.)
Unlike docomo where the only reasonable choice is a new data plan, both AU and Softbank offer the old plans, even for new new users who port over a phone number.
The Softbank white plan is available for new contracts until November 30, 2014. The AU LTE Plan was previously shown to be available until the end of February next year, but there is currently no restriction displayed.

When porting in a new new number (MNP) to either KDDI or Softbank, the old plan base fee (¥934) is waived for two years. These two carriers will also buy back your old docomo iPhone 5S or 5C for about ¥30,000 or so.

Trade in a Docomo iPhone 5S

I'll consider a 1 year old 16GB Docomo iPhone 5S that was bought by an existing customer (no MNP discount). In that case, you probably owe about ¥40,000 on the phone, which is the amount you will be billed for if you cancel you contract and port out your number. Add to that about ¥10,000 for early termination, and the cost to leave Docomo becomes ¥50,000.

KDDI will buy that phone for up to ¥31,000, and the waived base fee (old plan) totals about ¥22,000 over 24 months, offsetting the cost of leaving Docomo assuming you don't then jump to Softbank when the new (and probably shiny) iPhone 6S Plus XL is released next year.

If you stay with Docomo, while they will buy back your iPhone 5S, they won't give you a discount for being a loyal customer, and they will force you to upgrade to the unlimited calling plan, a roughly ¥2,000 monthly increase over the current least expensive voice plan (an additional ¥37,584 over a 24-month contract).

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Softbank iPhone 6 America Unlimited plan to provide inexpensive roaming

Updated with a correction on application requirements and some images.
Free calls to both Japan and the United States using Sprint's network.

No service application or service fee for plans over 5 GB.

I was planning on writing up a post comparing each of the Japanese carrier's iPhone 6 plans but that really gets tiring. They are all basically the same. As soon as one carrier outdoes the rest with some promotion, campaign, discount, offer, or other gimmick, the others quickly devising a similar scheme.

Thus, the answer to the question of which carrier is best for you shiny new iPhone is always the same: not you current carrier because
  1. The discounts and cash back offered to people who port their number to a new carrier offset the early termination fee for leaving.
  2. The new plans allow unlimited calling to all mobiles/land lines, so it no longer matters which carrier your friends and family use.
  3. All carriers now have similar coverage across multiple high and low frequency bands.
  4. All carriers now have similar issues with congestions and network slow downs.
However, this year is different. For American expats or people who frequently travel to the United States, SoftBank appears to be the clear winner in the iPhone 6 competition. After purchasing a majority stake in US carrier Sprint, SoftBank is now able to offer deals that Docomo and KDDI simply cannot match.

SoftBank "All You Can America" Plan

The full details are still scarce, but unless there is something profound that is being held back, the new US roaming plan from Softbank looks pretty nice.
  • Roaming on Sprint's CDMA-2000 (3G) and TD-LTE ("4G") network (the latter will come sometime this (fiscal?) year)
  • ¥980 per month only during months the service is used (free during the initial promotion period and).
  • While in the US, voice, SMS, and data are available just as if you were in Japan
  • Apparently unlimited calling in the US (according to tech blogs but there in no mention on SoftBank's press release)
  • No need to apply for the service and no fee for people with data plans over 5 GB 

iPhone A1586 (iPhone 6) and A1524 (iPhone 6 Plus) frequency bands (SoftBank and Sprint bands)
CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz)
UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz)
TD-SCDMA 1900 (F), 2000 (A)
GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
FDD-LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29)
TD-LTE (Bands 38, 39, 40, 41)

Only for the iPhone 6, for now

To do this requires the usage four separate technologies across multiple spectrum bands. SoftBank is a WCDMA carrier, but Sprint (like KDDI) is a CDMA-2000 carrier. While in Japan, the iPhone 6 would use SoftBank's WCDMA (1), FDD-LTE (2), and TD-LTE (3) networks. While in the US, it will use Sprint's CDMA-2000 (4) network, and (eventually), also their TD-LTE network. While some earlier iPhone models are technically compatible with Sprint, these will be excluded (presumably) because they are locked to the technology of the activation carrier. That is, an iPhone 5 activated on a WCDMA carrier can only ever be used with other WCDMA carriers. I guess that could be patched, but then that would remove the inducement to buy a new phone.

There are currently no other phones except for the iPhone 6 that support this combination of bands and technologies. SoftBank is considering releasing an Android phone that would also be compatible. An unlocked iPhone 6 will be ineligible for the all-you-can-america plan. It is also possible to expand usage to FDD-LTE bands 25 and 26 that Sprint is building out.

Coincidence or Planning?

The TD-LTE network that will provide the 4G data connection in the US was originally built out by Clearwire. Sprint at one point owned just over a 50% stake in Clearwire before scaling back to just under 50% in around 2011. Then after SoftBank CEO Son took control of Sprint and injected lots of cash, Sprint bought all the remaining Clearwire shares, obtaining a lot of spectrum and, by chance, a TD-LTE network, using the exact same frequency band (TD-LTE band 41, 2500 MHz) as SoftBank.

Makes me wonder how much that network figured into the decision.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

iPhone 6 "Apple Pay" unavailable in Japan

As discussed many times on this blog, Japan uses Sony's FeliCa standard for mobile payments, such as Suica, Waon, Edy, etc. Quoting Eido Inoue:

FeliCa is Sony developed "Japanese NFC" and is much older than the international NFC system that was inspired by it. Early Japanese phones (smartphone and feature phones) were FeliCa only; newer (all 2014 models and most 2013 models) Japanese market Android docomo phones with NFC are hybrid NFC+FeliCa. Non-Japanese phones are NFC only.
The tech specs so far only list NFC as included on the iPhone 6. Perhaps you recall the debacle surrounding the advertising for the LTE iPad, which misled many non-US consumers to think it was compatible with their local 4G networks. This time around, the marketing department at Apple has done a much better job. There is simply no mention of "Apple Pay" at all on the Japanese website.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Electronic devices now allowed on Japanese flights

Well, I wrote a nice post with the crappy blogger android app, but all the text disappeared, so I'll just leave you with this photo.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Reasonably priced voice and data rental SIMs finally come to Japan: B-Mobile PAYG

SIM card rental in Japan is exorbitantly expensive because law prohibits non-residents from obtaining cellular voice contracts, blocking them out of the (relatively) reasonably priced market. The only options are rental services.

The rental market predates 3G, and Japan never used GSM. In the past, visitors had no choice but to rent hardware, which created an environment that (somewhat) justified premium pricing. There was no significant decrease in price following the start of SIM card rental after introduction of 3G networks, and once smartphones proliferated, mobile data options were added data but at laughable prices.

Not anymore.

Inexpensive data with a voice rental SIM

The B-Mobile line of SIM cards from Japan Communications, Inc. (JCI) got a new product today, the prepaid PAYG rental SIM, which provides 60 minutes of outgoing voice calls (incoming is free) and 3GB of 3G/LTE data for ¥9,980. The SIM is active for 7 days, after which any remaining data and minutes become invalid. The specifics are:

B-Mobile PAYG Rental Voice and Data SIM
  • ¥9,980 for 7 days
  • 60 outgoing domestic/international minutes
  • 3 GB 3G/LTE data
  • 5/75 seconds deducted for domestic/international SMS
  • Free tethering
  • incoming calls and SMS free
  • Prepaid (no worry of unexpected, additional charges)
  • Nano, micro, standard SIM card sizes
The SIM card can be purchased in stores (Yodobashi Camera) or preordered. Unfortunately, complying with Japanese law complicates the activation process. If you preorder, you will first set an activation date and upload a scan or image of the passport page with your photo. Then, following activation but within 24 hours of arrival in Japan, you will have to also upload pictures of 1) your entry stamps and 2) the image of the same passport page originally uploaded. If you buy in a store, then you will need to upload all this together as soon as possible and wait for activation.

In a press release, JCI indicated they are working with the government to try and smooth the activation process. By the way, if Tokyo police have their way, this will be required for ALL SIMs sold to non-residents, even data-only SIMs, which means that most MVNOs won't bother to go through the effort and just start requiring residency for data-only SIMs, just like for voice SIMs.

Traditional data costs with a rental voice SIM

At ¥110/day and ¥110 per minute (with a ¥315 service fee), the current SoftBank rental SIM would cost ¥7,685 over a 7 day period if a comparable 60 minutes were used – a better value for just voice. However, if you want to have minimal background data usage for mail, maps, etc., the SoftBank rental costs increase quickly.

Softbank rental data fees are ¥0.32/packet (128 bytes). Doing the math yields the following:
  • 1 KB: ¥3
  • 1 MB: ¥2,621
  • 2 MB: ¥5,243
  • 250 MB: ¥655,360 ($6,500US)
  • 1 GB: ¥2,684,355 ($27,000US)
  • 3 GB: ¥8,053,064 ($80,500US)
Yes, current Japanese rental SIMs value 3 GB of mobile data at 80,000 US dollars. As I said, laughable. Of course no one would ever use this much, and the daily maximums are capped I believe, so it wouldn't be possible anyway. However, because the traditional rentals are postpaid with a credit card, there will always be the concern of incurring additional charges.

A more realistic comparison

Long time readers will recall that I once did an experiment over about 8 months with a b-mobile FAIR data-only SIM. (There is an interactive chart showing how I consumed data during those 240 days at the bottom of this post.) The FAIR is wide open with no proxy or speed restrictions (and accordingly priced). 1 GB of data costs about ¥8,000 and is good for four months. This translates to 250 MB for ¥2,000.

All the other MVNO SIMs, especially the other b-mobile products, are speed restricted and relatively high latency. Because of this, I think it would be near impossible to use 3 GB with the PAYG SIM in 7 days (or even in an entire month). So comparing prices based on high data consumption is completely unrealistic.

Rather, I will compare prices based on my experience with the FAIR SIM because I think my behavior regarding data usage with a 250 MB monthly quota is a good analog for the way people use traditional Japanese rental SIMs. That is, I thought about the cost of everything I did with the phone. On light-usage days, I would consume around 2 MB, which is the equivalent of uploading one or two photos.

Let's compare costs by taking about a quarter of my light-day usage, 500 KB. Seven days with a Softbank rental SIM, using 500 KB per day and 60 minutes total, would cost ¥16,645. To bring the cost down to the PAYG SIM price over 7 days, total data usage over the entire week must be limited to just under 1 MB. One. Megabyte.

Good luck with that.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thin bezels are thin. Heavy bulkware is heavy.

An article by Ishikawa Tsutsumu discussing the effects of Docomo releasing the iPhone late last year made brief mention of a Sharp Android phone for both Softbank and Sprint.
Softbank is hoping that Sharp’s expertise in LCD technology will help Sprint to differentiate itself from its competitors in the US market. The company plans to develop a single Android device for both countries.
Based on that, we knew this phone's defining characteristic would be it's screen.

While Mr. Son knows first hand what an exclusive, must-have phone can do for a carrier, he also knows that phones with just as thin or thinner bezels will be released by every maker soon. In a country with the population spread thinly over a large area, network coverage and quality (as opposed to phones) become much more important factors when choosing a carrier. Unlike Japan, where network coverage – and congestion – is pretty much equal in all major metropolitan areas, there are absolutely stunning differences between the four major US carriers across even highly populated areas. (I used Sprint for a week in San Francisco, and it was the most frustrating mobile experience in recent memory.)

It seems the US-based tech sphere is enamored with this phone, but I wonder how they'll feel after experiencing the quirks of a galasuma. In particular, domestic makers have been pretty bad at removing expected functionality. Some American consumers could be in for a shock with their first Japanese smartphone.

Having said that, however, Sharp is one of the domestic makers to survive the initial release of Android, which means that their firmware didn't suck as bad as NEC and Panasonic et al's. That one of our contributors loves Sharp phones also shows that Sharp is doing something right.


Preorders started today for the Aquos Crystal, and it goes on sale at the end of this month. Really, the only thing this phone has going for it is the screen. No one seg, no osaifu-keitai, and NO WATER RESISTANCE. Wut?! I thought the whole "aquos" brand was marketed around waterproofing. Silly me, I forget that brand predates mobile.

The Crystal X is the much better phone, but it still LACKS WATER RESISTANCE. It does have one-seg, osaifu-keitai, and VoLTE, though, so if I were to opt for one, it would be the Crystal X. However, it won't be available until the end of the year, perhaps even next year (12月以降), at which point I bet we'll already see similar thin bezels from other makers.

Monday, August 4, 2014

SwiftKey Japanese beta (updated)

UPDATE2: I like it.

Though all in all, I find the stock Android keyboard and the Google Japanese keyboard better. However, I am very impressed with SwiftKey so far, and it does a very good job to combine a full-featured English keyboard with a proper Japanese keyboard.

There are some things it does much better than Google's Japanese keyboard, such as correction suggestions and prediction for words with "n". Google's keyboard won't always offer suggestions after you enter an "n" until you press the key a second time to convert it to ん or hit a vowel convert it to a な etc. I find this annoying to no end. SwiftKey on the other hand never enters a romaji "n" at all; ん comes out after one press, and then な after hitting an a. This means one less tap to enter a word like わかんない. Tapping "n" twice still inputs ん, keeping with existing conventions. Nicely done.

Now, if they implement godan, it will be just about perfect.

Actually, most of my gripes are with the English input. I find Flow input to be much less good at prediction than either Swype or the stock Android keyboard. Often times I'll end up with some totally random word and am forced to explicitly type out the exact word that I want. I rarely have to do that with other keyboards that support swiping to input English. Another annoyance is with long pressing the period (.) key bring up an alternate punctuation mark. Swype is also guilty of this, which is default to inserting... a period. Why would I want to do that? The stock Android keyboard does the correct thing and suggests punctuation that is not a period (like a comma) after a long press.

UPDATE: As pointed out in the comments, the SwiftKey Japanese beta does in fact have a QWERTY option for Japanese input. I'm not sure how I missed it – probably because I was attempting to change the input layout in the section called "layout". So I'll give this keyboard a second look and update this post in a week or so.

Even after finding the setting, it's still not immediately obvious that the layout can be changed because the they are oddly named ひらがな and ローマ字, which are not appropriate ways to describe keyboard layouts. For comparison, Google's Japanese keyboard uses the terms ケイタイ配列 and QWERTY. (With system language set to English, the keypad layout becomes "12 key".)

In my never ending search for an android keyboard that doesn't suck, I finally got around to trying the SwiftKey Japanese beta. I've grown to like google's "godan" input, and I never tire of the reactions I get from the uninitiated when they borrow my phone. I do however tire of the (albeit more streamlined than in the past) three step method of switching languages which is: long press the space bar, scan a list of keyboard names, tap desired keyboard.

Joining the SwiftKey open beta was a hassle. I first tried on my phone but kept getting redirected to everywhere I didn't want to be, including the play store to download tapatalk. The process starts out completely in Japanese before switching over to 100% English. Here's how I got the keyboard.

Create a SwiftKey account

From the SwiftKey Japanese page click アカウントを作成 (Create account), which will take you to a page that is completely in English. After finally getting all the math questions and captchas correct, I waited for a confirmation email that never came.

I tried again with a different email address and finally got a confirmation email after looking up the name of their iOS note taking app. (Seriously? WTF? If any Japanese person continued after hitting a wall of English, I'm pretty sure that they wouldn't get past that.) Success. Account created.

Download the Japanese beta

For the next step, I went back to do it on my phone. If you don't log in first, you'll just get dumped onto the "you don't have permission to view this page" area after tapping ベータ版ダウンロード (download beta version). The beta is kept in the discussion forums.

Honestly, after all the work to get this keyboard installed, I feel let down. First, I find the stock Android keyboard superior for typing English. I don't often use prediction because it actually slows me down on average – I find it faster to just keep tying the word rather than scan the list of suggestions for it. Granted, prediction would become better with time, though.

More importantly, I'm also not really all that impressed with the Japanese keyboard because it only has one layout, keypad. We are no longer bound by a physical alphanumeric keypad for entering Japanese. Yes, flick-style input is a significant evolution of the number pad, but why must we keep this legacy layout? Why not reinvent the layout in a completely new way now that there are no physical design restrains, which is what google did with the godan keyboard.

So after about a week of using the SwiftKey Japanese beta, I went back to doing my long-press-spacebar tango with Google's Japanese IME and the stock Android keyboard.

This is still much better for Japanese input than the crap offered up by Swype because the SwiftKey Japanese beta has a dedicated enter button and a reasonably good dictionary. If I loved this input style, I would use this as my only keyboard. If SwiftKey implemented QWERTY (or even better) godan, then I would use this as my only keyboard.

Whither the tablet?

Ars Technica had an interesting op-ed today. They look at the stagnating sales of tablets and conclude they are already much like PCs: fast enough and good enough that they only get replaced when broken. They've got to the point where the only differentiator from previous models is the price, and where people see little need to upgrade their hardware.

I'm not surprised; my Tablet Z feels as fresh and as fast as it did when I bought it over a year ago. Android and IOS are both mature so new OS updates don't feel that urgent any longer. Mobile apps are written with slower phones in mind, so there's nothing out there that even begins to tax the CPU or graphics. I doubt I'll get a new tablet until this one breaks. My wife’s iPad Mini will also likely be in use for years to come.

This spells trouble for makers that counted on tablets to replace their stalled computer sales. I'd go out on a limb and say this is especially troublesome for a company like Microsoft; they generated a lot of ill-will trying to push their customers onto the tablet/hybrid train, only to find out there was never any market growth to be had. And as Windows Phone is not exactly taking the world by storm they have few other growth segments left.

But even having a thriving phone business may only help for so long. My guess is that in another couple of years phones will be in much the same situation as tablets today. The OS and software ecosystems are pretty mature, and we've already reached the point where more speed or RAM just doesn't add meaningfully to the experience. Makers are piling on more or less useless gimmicks (curved screens! face tracking! 3D!) to entice people to buy. Some recently popular features such as water resistance, rugged design and materials, and remote disabling and locating will actually reduce the need to replace broken or lost phones over time.

So what will replace these devices as consumer growth markets? Perhaps, in the short term, nothing. These almost magical things have replaced piles of special-purpose devices. They let us do so much more with so much less. And they keep getting cheaper, better and longer lasting. Just like the agricultural revolution let us spend much less on food than we ever used to, we consumers can now spend much less money on gadgets overall, and I suspect that's where we're heading.

In the long run we could see real robotics become new must-have devices for instance, but viable, useful "home robots" are still many years away (it's a problem of hardware cost and complexity as much as software). "Internet of Things" has some serious privacy implications and still doesn't have compelling reasons why you would want any of it. Until people come up with completely new market categories (no, "wearables" is not it), life as a consumer electronics company is going to be rough.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An alternate view on the effects of compulsory SIM unlocking

Well, It’s official. Sōmusho, The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), will oblige domestic carriers to remove the restrictions preventing the devices they sell from operating with another carrier’s SIM card. The requirement will go into effect sometime during the next fiscal year, which starts from April 2015.

I’ve already made clear what I think will happen, and I can sum it up with one word: NOTHING. I don't fully understand what the MIC realistically can and (more importantly) will do to carriers that fail to comply, and everything that I have seen so far indicates that the MIC is narrowly focusing on the just the SIM card.

The MIC is trying to change the status quo of an entire industry, and I'm not convinced that industry will just happily comply. There are a ton of alternate ways to cripple devices to prevent reasonable exchange between carriers, while still abiding by obligatory SIM unlocking guidelines. This should not be news to the MIC – Docomo does it right now (device-side locked tethering APNs, network-side IMEI filters on data connections, carrier mail that only works with docomo phones).

And let's also not forget that, when forced through arbitration with the MIC to create transparent MVNO guidelines, NTT docomo began employing allegedly fuzzy math, putting MVNOs that use the open route at a financial disadvantage to MVNOs who strike closed-door, old fashioned deals with docomo. (Is it really a coincidence that MVNOs with closed-door contracts appear to have have lower latency and faster speeds?)

An Alternate View

This morning I read this post by Juggly (that's the name of his site but also what I call him), in which he describes what he thinks will be the result. In summary, his opinion is the exact opposite of mine. Juggly has consistently been a good source of information, which has (apparently) caused him some trouble.

I value Juggly's opinion, so below I'll layout the gist of Juggly's post. I am interested to hear your thoughts on where this is going. Basically, this sounds good if you're the type of person likely to buy a phone at a reasonable retail price with no subsidy. If you rely on carrier subsidies, this is probably bad news for you.
  • Rather than focus on locking their stuff down in an attempt to keep customers tied to their networks, carriers will open things up in an attempt to lure customers away from rival carriers.
  • This would be done revamping current services like carrier mail to work on any phone, not just on carrier-branded devices, which is basically the case now.
  • A lot of handset sales will eventually come to be through separate retailers. These will be unlocked and ready to go on any domestic carrier (i.e., the original Nexus sales model).
  • International makers will eventually come to sell phones officially in Japan, reducing costs of handsets traditionally only available in the gray market.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pepsi × Google × 7-Eleven: ¥100 redeem code for Play Store

pepsi NEX Zero & pepsi special
¥100 code present with purchase at 7-11
Google is currently running a promotion at 7-Eleven (in Japan only) and Pepsi (both the Pepsi NEX Zero and Pepsi Special):

Their 7-Spot Wi-Fi is good too.
From July 7th to October 31st, PET bottles at 7-Eleven Japan will include a redemption code for ¥100 on their caps. Peel off the sticker on the cap and you're get a code that you can redeem either from within the Play store app(s) on by redeeming at the Play Store at Google's web site.

If you're not a big fan of credit cards, you can also purchase redeem codes denominated in yen at 7-Eleven and most other Japanese convenience stores.

iOS Metro icon
Apple users are not left out
You can use the ¥100 to purchase anything that you would normally purchase from the Play Store. Obviously iOS / Apple iPhone and iPad users won't be able to use Android apps, but Apple users can purchase music, books, and video from the Google Play store.

A warning about currency and credits in app stores

Google Play does not allow you to mix currencies or the "locale" of an account from one country to another country (for example, from Japan to U.S.) until almost everything (not just the billing address and the credit cards) associated with a certain country is unassociated with the account.

Google wallet logo
A fancy name for storing your Play Store balance & cards
Because there's no way to "throw away" money credit associated with your Google Play account, you have to spend MOST of the money accumulated by your account before you can switch your "Google Wallet" to another country by changing your Home Address. Your balance needs to be below these amounts:
  • USD - $10 
  • AUD - A$10 
  • CAD - C$10 
  • GBP - £10 
  • EUR - €10 
  • JPY - ¥1000 
  • KRW - ₩10000 
  • HKD - HK$100 
  • MXN - Mex$100 
  • CHF - CHF10 

What exactly are these "special" soft drinks anyway?

厚生労働省許可 特定保健用食品
"Approved by the MHLW
as a Designated Health Use Food/Drink"
Both of these versions of Pepsi are zero calorie versions. If you don't know what the "Special" is, it is one of the series of drinks in Japan marked as トクホ {tokuho}, which is shorthand for 特定保健用食品 {tokutei hoken-yō shokuhin} (food and drink specially recognized for health care use) because it has デキストリン {dekisutorin} (dextrin), which is recognized by the 消費者庁 {shōhisha-chō} (CAA; Consumer Affairs Agency of Japan) as being scientifically proven to decrease blood glucose levels and reduce the absorption of fat; in other words, reducing digestion (「脂肪の吸収を抑える」 {"shibō no kyūshū o osaeru"}). There are a bunch of drinks in Japan advertising this and it's mark. Pepsi NEX's biggest competitor is probably Kirin Mets Cola.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Paying for things in Korean Won cash using a Japanese Galapágos NFC phone

Android mobile cashbee app icon
mobile cashBee for Android; not just an app for Korean carriers and phones
In the previous posts, I covered how to use your Japanese phone in lieu of traditional "plastic" when traveling overseas outside of Japan. Using credit cards are convenient, especially for overseas travel where a lot of credit cards have mechanisms for after-the-fact disputes and fraud protection. However, depending on your card, you can also be charged fees for non-domestic transactions, and the just-in-time exchange rate between the card's currency and the local currency may not always be in your favor.

This begs the question: are there any countries like Japan where one can pay for things using pre-loaded cash (other than Japanese Yen) stored inside the Japanese phone's NFC?

As a matter of fact, yes: the Republic of Korea.

Il-76, Il-62 & Tu-204
No, not this Korea.
As any tourist or resident in Japan knows, having a NFC card or phone to get around the city by subway is super convenient, sparing you the details of having to understand fare charts for complicated transportation systems. The card enables you to slip in and out of the stations without worrying about whether you've underpaid or overpaid for your fare; you can focus on catching the correct train at the correct time. Additionally, the touch-and-go payment allows you to quickly grab a quick snack at a nearby kiosk without having to fumble with currency you're not familiar with.

The best part is: the technology is free with no fees or a required signup *. If you bought a card in Korea, you'd have to pay a deposit fee for the card (which is refunded when you return the card).

As South Korea is one of the closest countries to Japan, it is one of the easiest (and cheapest) international destinations to visit. Before you visit, it'd probably be wise to set this app up if your phone specifications qualify.

* Of course, using the app (rather than a charging station) to reload your NFC with more ROK won causes packets to be sent, and if you're overseas, depending on your broadband or Wi-Fi access (the app, unlike iD, works with either), might be significant. Additionally, your credit card company or bank, not the app, might card you a transaction fee for moving money into the NFC chip.

Competing Technologies in South Korea

Like Japan's pre-loaded cash options (Edy, nanaco, WAON, Suica), South Korea also has a variety of NFC solutions for paying via cash:

many cards are branded
t-money card (티머니 카드 {timeoni kadeu})
In the past, t-money was one of the first major NFC payment cards (introduced around the year 2000) and it is the biggest and still the most popular: primarily used in Seoul. If you were outside of Seoul, you used cashBee. Similar to Kantō (East Japan)'s Suica/Pasmo card vs the cards in Kansai (Western Japan). Nowadays, there's not as much difference geographically as to whether a card is better or more accepted. A big drawback for t-money, from a foreign user's point-of-view, is the proprietary solutions for mobile use: In order for a South Korean resident to use t-money with his phone, they must apply for a non-standard (not a NFC Type A/B) SIM to insert into their phone.
mobile cashBee (모바일 캐시비 {mobail kaesibi})
In the past, cashBee was more predominant outside of Seoul, but this is no longer the case. cashBee is rapidly catching up in popularity and places where it is accepted thanks to its major corporate backing; cashBee is issued my the big Korean corporation Lotte, so much like how anything associated with JR East (such as atre malls) will accept Suica, anything associated with Lotte in Korea will probably accept cashBee. Relatively new, cashBee is an evolution of the Korean NFC system "Mybi", which began in 2000, and all the systems that were compatible with it such as KB Free Pass and KTX Family Cards. The old eB cards (the "B" is where the "Bee" in cashBee came from), UPass, and Mybi were acquired and evolved into cashBee in 2010. The Mybi family of cards is still accepted in places, but the technology has been deprecated.

These are the two major payment systems in use today. Much like Japan, bigger companies are acquiring and re-branding other companies and technology all the time, so there are lots of other minor cards and special limited edition cards which are compatible with the two major ones listed here. And there are other, older systems which have fallen into disuse. Talking about all of them here, though, is outside of the scope of this blog and article. As a tourist, all you need to know is that the above two comprise most of the major offerings in 2014.

How to set up your phone to use it

cashBee, although very similar to Japanese preloaded cash systems used on FeliCa only, is a NFC Type A/B system. This means the same hardware/software requirements are needed that you would need for paying for things overseas with Visa/MasterCard payWave/PayPass:

Desired requirements for maximum usefulness:
  • A Japanese phone with hybrid FeliCa/NFC hardware.
  • A USIM that supports NFC Type A/B
Note that you can still install and use the cashBee app even if you do not meet the above requirements. However, the app will only work in "coupon mode", in that it will show you coupons you can use in Korea at participating cashBee stores, but you will not be able to purchase anything using your phone.

And even if you don't have a credit card, you can still "charge" your cashBee (provided you've launched the app and it has installed itself in the NFC area of your USIM) at vending machine like "charging stations" (or at convenience stores) throughout major cities in South Korea.

Both the NTT version and the KDDI version allow charging of the phone with Korean Won via credit card. The credit card will be billed in Japanese Yen.

Softbank's dog mascot urinating at a press conference
Softbank's mascot, otōsan, can't wait.


There is a version of cashBee for both docomo and KDDI/au. The software is identical except that currently the au version is the only one that supports loading the cashBee via Japanese bank 振り込み {furikomi} (domestic wire transfer).

A Softbank version of the app was scheduled to be released on June 30, 2014, but it has been delayed. As of July 10, 2014, it has not yet been released yet.

iPhone and other unsupported app platforms

pink iPhone 5c with a NFC sticker on the back
The speed of Steve Jobs,
spinning in his grave
25cm² NFC adhesive sticker
You have a choice of designs to foul your phone
In addition to key chains and other non-traditional (meaning non-rectangular plastic credit card) shapes, cashBee and other forms of e-Money in Korea are available in adhesive sticker form, which you can attach to the back of your phone and pretend you have NFC capability.

You may have seen Japanese iPhone users do something similar to this by buying a case for their iPhone (so you can't really tell it's an iPhone anymore) and inserting their Japan mass transit IC card in between the back of the phone and the case that covers and protects the back. In fact, many iPhone "bumper" cases are sold which feature special slots where you can insert this card and pretend you have an Android phone.

Don't put one of these stickers on a phone that already has NFC and/or FeliCa: by design, NFC and FeliCa won't work in combination with other cards or stickers at the same time. They cancel each other out.

Where is cashBee accepted?

cashBee logo
Newer but heavily backed
T-Money logo
Older but more established
T-Money is the older, and thus more widely accepted, form of e-Money in Korea. However, cashBee is catching up extremely rapidly. While it's unlikely you'll be able to use cashBee at old fashioned mom & pop restaurants or shops or very high end places, most of the places in major urban areas that offer common consumer day-to-day goods and services offer support for at least one -- and often more than one -- form of electronic cash payment.

Public transportation (subway and buses)

The NTT/docomo version of the cashBee application got the ability to touch & go with the subway and bus systems this summer (2014).

The KDDI/au version of the cashBee will get the ability to tough & go with the subway and bus systems this Autumn (2014).

Like most subway and train systems in Japan, most of the subways in Korea charge based on the the distance you travel, and buses charge a flat fee.


Gangnam Style
Probably has a cashBee in his pocket.
Taxis in the following areas of Korea currently take NFC payments:
  • All of 서울 {Seoul}, including:
    • 明洞/명동 {Myeong-dong}
    • 江南/강남 {Gang-nam}
  • 釜山/부산 {Busan}
  • 済州/제주 {Jeju}

Additionally, the taxi companies in these smaller areas also currently accept cashBee:

Korean Taxis
"Deluxe" taxis are black with a yellow sign on top.
  • 京畿/경기 {Gyeong-gi}
  • 仁川/인천 {In-cheon}
  • 江原/강원 {Gang-won}
  • 忠南/충남 {Chung-nam}
  • 蔚山/울산 {Ul-san}
  • 慶北/경북 {Gyeong-buk}
  • 慶南/경남 {Gyeong-nam}
  • 光州/광주 {Gwang-ju}

However, just like in Japan there is an occasional cab that does not accept credit cards or FeliCa payments, there are hired drivers in Korea that do not take anything other than physical cash. So be sure to check before you start the fare.

Convenience Stores

7-Eleven vs. MINISTOP
Residents of Japan are probably familiar with
  • 7-Eleven
which are ubiquitous in Japan. They are also all over Japan. In addition to making purchases, you can also charge (add money) to your NFC card or phone with cash via the register without using a unmanned charging station.

In addition to the two above convenience stores, cashBee is accepted in at least the following "combini":
  • Buy the Way (a Lotte 7-Eleven franchise)
  • CU
  • GS25
  • StoryWay

Fast Food & Family Restaurants

The Lotteria Japan promotional {}-level cheeseburger
Residents of Japan are probably familiar with:

  • Lotteria: a fast food burger joint by Korean über conglomerate Lotte)
  • Baskin Robbins: better known by its official name in Japan as 『サーティワン』 {"sāti wan"} (31)
  • Krispy Kreme Doughnuts: seems to do better in Asia than its native North Carolina
  • Dunkin' Donuts: the smaller Massachusetts based rival to the more popular (in Japan) known affectionately by its Japanese nickname of ミスド {misudo} (Mister Donut).
and Americans are probably familiar with:
In addition to the above, cashBee is also accepted at:

Lotte affiliated Shopping (Department Stores, etc.)

Lotte Department Store (Myeongdong)

Entertainment (movie theaters, etc)

Sajik Baseball Stadium

Other (Vending Machines, Universities, Toll Bridges & Tunnels)

Lotte "Seven Star" Vending Machine
Chilsung Cider tastes like Sprite/7-Up.

"Recharging" your cashBee

MasterCard and Visa logos
No JCB or AMEX yet.
The convenient part of the Japanese app is it's ability to load money in by billing your credit card. Currently, only MasterCard and Visa are accepted.

No fees are assessed on the cashBee side; whether your card charges you a fee or not depends on your card.

You will be billed in Japanese yen based on standard exchange rates for the day between Korean Won and Japanese Yen.

South Korean Won bills and coins.
Money used on the other side of the Sea of Japan ("East Sea")
The amounts you can choose to load on the NFC UIM Card are:

  • ₩10,000
  • ₩20,000
  • ₩30,000
  • ₩40,000
  • ₩50,000
  • ₩100,000
  • ₩300,000
  • ₩500,000
The credit card credentials are not saved, so your will need to enter the card number, cardholder name, expiration date, and CVC number every time.

If you don't want to charge your NFC UIM by using the internet (perhaps because you are already overseas your international roaming or Wi-Fi is too expensive or limited), you can find a convenience store or charging station machine and charge it with (Korean Won) cash.

Direct Bank Transfer with KDDI/au

au by KDDI
Something au does that DCM can't
Transferring money into your UIM Card via a bank transfer is only slightly more complicated than transferring via credit card; both transactions are instantaneous. Depending on the terms of your credit card or bank, one method may be more advantageous than the other (depending on limits, fees, etc.)

Currently, only three "net banks" (banks without physical branch locations and tellers and vaults) are supported:

Changing phones and limitations

From the application, the minimum amount you can charge (with Korean cash) your NFC UIM with is ₩10,000. The maximum is ₩500,000.

Similar to how most 電子マネー {denshi manē} (e-Money) systems in Japan limit you to a maximum of ¥50,000 per system (for sanity and safety and fraud concerns), cashBee limits you to a maximum charge of ₩500,000.

Money in the UIM card has an expiration date of 5 years from the last use or charge. If not used or charged after five years, the loaded money is voided and lost.

One point Korean/Japanese/English language lesson

『영어완전정복』 "Yeongeo wanjeonjeongbok"
A great 2003 romcom about
South Korea's English complex
In Japanese, the foreign loanword 『チャージ』 {"chāji"} ("charge") is usually used with the nuance of loading money onto a contact-less card or FeliCa/NFC phone; a fancy more specific loanword for the proper/generic Japanese word 入金 {nyūkin} (insert/receive funds/payment).

However, in Korean, the same imported English loanword has the nuance/meaning of "charging [the battery of a phone etc]".

This may lead to a misunderstanding if you ask to "top up/off" (British English) or "load your prepaid card" (American English) your cashBee at a convenience store in South Korea, as charging the batteries of mobile devices actually is a service they provide at many convenience stores in Korea.

It shouldn't be too hard to get your point across by saying "cashBee" and pointing to cash that you want put on your device, though.

Here's how to say

"Please reload 5000 won onto my mobile cashBee."
모바일{mo-ba-il} 캐시비에 {kae-si-bi-e} 5000원 {o-cheo-nwon} 충전해 {chung-jeon-hae} 주세요 {ju-se-yo}

Monday, July 7, 2014

Part 2: How to pay for things overseas using your Galapágos Android NFC and PayWave

This Verifone terminal does them all
In the previous article I talked about how to pay for things outside of Japan using a Japanese phone and a NFC terminal. In particular, using iD required at least two things:
  1. a docomo phone (since the iD service, while available for a variety of plastic credit cards, is only currently offered on docomo as of July 2014)
  2. a Japanese MasterCard that supports PayPass
But what if you have a Visa card? What if you have your phone/carrier isn't docomo? There are options.

Minimum Requirements for any overseas NFC Use

First of all, you will still need the bare hw/sw requirements that were mentioned in more detail in the previous post:
  • A docomo/au/Softbank phone that supports NFC types A/B/F (NFC Type F is the same thing as "FeliCa")
  • A USIM that supports NFC Type A/B. If you bought your phone recently your phone probably already has one of these and you don't need to talk to your carrier for an upgrade.
  • Your NFC R/W P2P needs to be "off" when using payment systems, which expect the NFC to be in client/master mode (the phone is the "client," the Point-of-Sale terminal is the "master")

Bank Provided Apps for Japanese Galapágos Phones

Finally, you will need a bank that supports NFC credit cards through its own app (or one that it partners with). Currently, there are two credit card companies that offer overseas credit card ability: Sumitomo-Mitsui Visa (PayWave) and Orico Visa (PayWave) & MasterCard (PayPass). Orico was the first in Japan to offer Visa's payWave.

三井住友VISAカード VISA payWave
Sumitomo-Mitsui's Visa PayWave
Orico VISA payWave / MasterCard PayPass
Orico's payWave/PayPass

These applications can be installed on compatible docomo, au, and Softbank phones. If you have a Orico MasterCard, you can choose to use the Orico app to set it up, or choose the iD app.

Just like the instructions in the previous post, simply possessing the correct card and a working app/phone is not enough; you need to contact your credit card company (either at application or afterwards) and tell them to you wish to use this functionality, and they will send you a one-time use "access code" and password to activate it.

As PayPass and PayWave services are still very new in Japan, it is likely that additional banks and cards will offer this service in the future.

VISA payWave accepted mark
Visa payWave (& most probably MasterCard payPass;
maybe American Express expresspay/Discover zip OK

Card Compatibility at the POS Terminal

VISA payWave can be used almost anywhere MasterCard PayPass is accepted, especially in the United States. If you see the payWave mark, you can almost always use PayPass/MasterCard as well, the same way how almosty all stores that accept Visa also accept MasterCard. There are some rare exceptions.

American Express' NFC service is called "expresspay". It too can be used where the "wave" mark is present and the merchant accepts it.

Currently no American Express cards issued by Japanese banks support expresspay (that will probably change in the future).

Discover Card's NFC system is called "zip". While Discover Card is not issued in Japan, Japanese Diner's Club and JCB cards can be used wherever Discover is accepted and vice-versa (normally there will be a small Discover logo on the back of these Japanese cards).

NFC Credit Card Android Apps: set it up then forget/delete it

One does not simply "Set It And Forget It"
A dissenting opinion
A note about all the Android apps: The iD App, Orico NFC Service, and Sumitomo-Mitsui Card Visa payWave apps do not have to be on your phone at all time to use NFC. These apps are used to "set up and program" the data block(s) on the UIM card, as well as query it (find out the card number, name, expiration date, etc) stored on it.

Deleting the Android app that initialized the NFC type A/B/F record does not delete the corresponding NFC data.

However, for some FeliCa/NFC apps, deleting the app — or doing a full reset of the phone, wiping user data — then re-installing may cause the new instance(s) of the app to not recognize or locate the old data. This depends on how the app is designed. Poor software design, yes. But caveat emptor.

Don't forget to assess your personal balance between convenience and risk and set your phone's security (and your NFC's security) appropriately.

Non NFC Credit Card Android apps: useful for balance, transaction history, etc.

One app to set it (NFC), another app to check it (cloud).
On the other hand, keeping the app around, especially for NFC apps that have a balance on them (pre-loaded cash or points), is handy so you can check to see how much money (often through custom Android widgets on your home screen) you have left and to top off the balance with more money. You can do this at specialized terminals and ATMs throughout the country too. As a credit card has no "balance" on the chip, these apps don't have as much value. There may be a side function (or a completely separate app for your credit card, or a mobile web site) that checks how much credit you have remaining. For example, Sumitomo-Mitsui has the Vpass app to check its credit card status and transaction details, American Express Japan has an app to check its Japan based AMEX cards, and Rakuten Card has an app to check its cards' balances and activity.