Wednesday, June 18, 2014

GURUNAVI and ÆON Custanet shut down / replace their FeliCa apps

The mark/logo for Japanese FeliCa
Japanese "Galápagos Smartphones" (abbreviated and called ガラスマ {garasuma} in Japanese), which are Android smartphones with hardware/software features that only apply to the Japanese market. One of the more popular features on these phones is its おサイフケータイ {osaifu kētai} (portable [phone] wallet), which allows apps on the phone to communicate with and store apps on the phones near-field communication chip (which can actually keep working even if the phone is off, the battery is dead, or the device has crashed). Japan's own standard for near-field communication, which pre-dates the rest of the world's technology and is almost just as good but with more support, is FeliCa. Recently, the rest of the world — which is about 10 years behind Japan in adoption of near-field contact technology for consumer use — has adopted NFC as the standard for this, so newer Japanese phones and devices are dual-mode and support both FeliCa and NFC applications and protocols. Unlike the rest of the world in 2014, near-field contact terminals are almost ubiquitous in Japan and can be found in all convenience stores and train stations, many restaurants and stores, and even vending machines and ATMs. Many of the ATMs, such as those provided/owned by 7-Eleven and ÆON, can interact with and charge IC Cards and/or FeliCa phones — charging and checking the balance of nanaco & WAON electronic money respectively

The mobile FeliCa mark
FeliCa and NFC applications are special in that they're not selected or downloaded from the Google Play app store or another sort of traditional Android app install service. You use either search for them and install them using the special app provided with your phone, called appropriately the おサイフケータイ アプリ {o-saifu kētai apuri}, or you interact with them using a web-plug in for the default browser. The newest versions of both of these software support not just FeliCa/NFC on internally in the phone/tablet's back, but NFC applications & data stored in the Type-A and Type-B NFC systems. To download & use the application, your hardware has to support FeliCa or hybrid FeliCa+NFC. To use NFC, you need to have a "pink UIM" (docomo). You can upgrade/exchange your UIM (and keep your existing phone number) for free at an authorized mobile retailer.
the new NFC compatible "pink" (version 5) miniUIM
Chrome's logo
No FeliCa plugin support (yet).
Because the Mobile Chrome for Android browser does not (yet) support plugins, all Galápagos Android 4.0+ (currently "Ice Cream Sandwich", "Jellybean", and "Kit Kat") phones with FeliCa support will have two browsers internally in the firmware, as the legacy browser (which actually uses the same mobile WebKit as the modern mobile Chrome browser: the internal Chromium WebView is based off of Chrome 30); the older browser is kept for compatibility with the FeliCa plugin.

Quite a busy logo
ぐるなび {gurunabi} (derived from 『グルメ』 {"gurume"} meaning "gourmet" and 『ナビ』 {"nabi"} meaning "navigator") is a Yelp!-like portal service used to navigate and find restaurants and bars all over Japan. Tokyo alone has over 80,000 restaurants: almost quadruple that of New York City (19,000), and well over ten times that of London (6,000). GURUNAVI receives its information regarding menus directly from the restaurants, but users do provide reviews.

The restaurants and bars have a separate special portal site, called 『ぐるなび PRO for 飲食店』 {"Gurunabi puro foā inshokuten"} which allows them to manage the content, coupons, menus, and ads for their GURUNAVI presence. And yes, there's a mobile app version.

GURUNAVI has been very successful (they went public in 2008 and are listed on the TSE) and has branched out into reserving all sorts of services in Japan now, from Weddings to Ski Lodges.

They even have a beautiful English site giving advice on restaurants in Japan!

Their mobile FeliCa application, called ぐるなびタッチ {Gurunabi tatchi} (Gurunabi Touch), allowed you to collect points easier swiping ("checking in") via a dedicated FeliCa terminal at participating restaurants. As an additional motivation for checking in, you would receive coupons for the restaurant. GURUNAVI Touch can work as a pure FeliCa on-chip IC Card application, meaning it will work even if your phone is off, but it's designed to work best with its Android restaurant search application.

The legacy GURUNAVI Touch ends service at 11:59pm on June 30th.

A legacy GURUNAVI Touch terminal at a restaurant
GURUNAVI is replacing their "Touch" application with a new system, called "SMART CHECK IN": it will be deployed and available for download into the FeliCa chip on your phone starting June 23rd, and restaurants will start supporting it on July 1st at 10am.

Custanet is a coupon collection service that worked in tandem with phone carrier based email systems and was offered exclusively at ÆON (イオン {Ion}), which is a Japan-based supermarket conglomerate similar to K-Mart, Target, Walmart, and other American big chains. Custanet was run by ÆON's marketing division — its web information and marketing portal being branded "ÆON Square" (イオンスクエア {Ion Sukuea}).

Custanet will stop operations inside the stores on July 31st, and its accompanying "stamp" (スタンプ {sutampu}) service (which allowed you to win things when you checked in at the terminals) will end on September 1st.

ÆON hasn't given up on FeliCa based technology though; in fact, it developed the e-cash — called "electronic money" or 『電子マネー』 {"denshi manē"} in Japanese — system WAON in 2007, which competes with Rakuten's Edy. WAON is preferred by ÆON (even though their Toshiba TEC POS FeliCa terminals accept many other FeliCa payment systems such as QUICPay, iD, as well as Suica & ICOCA) and is used by JAL. Competing Edy is used by ANA.

The Waon mascot and a manual cash charging/conversion machine.
Waon's mascot's name is "Happy Waon" (ハッピーワオン {Happī Waon}), or just "Waon" (ワオン {Waon}
Many mascots in Japan has female companions/partner/sidekick. Waon's is 『エリンちゃん』 {"Erin-chan"}.


  1. Oli ”オリバー” HoJune 18, 2014 at 1:18 PM

    Smartphone felica chip still needs a bit of battery power to be able to work. Which is a shame, cause at the end of the evening with a dead battery it would suck if you can miss the last train when your mobile suica refuses to work.

  2. powered from chipset battery.

  3. It depends on the hardware (some NFC/FeliCa will refuse to run if the device is off... This is rare) as to whether it can be powered passively, actively, or both.

    NFC/FeliCa can run on an extremely drained battery; I've used my phones' (plural, many different models) Mobile FeliCa with a dead battery and/or off condition many many times with no problem. Most modern Mobile FeliCa chips, as they can function as hosts and peer-to-peer as well as passive clients, require a trickle charge that even a "dead" battery can easily provide.

    The FeliCa website warns that if your battery dies AND you don't charge it for a very long time, your mobile FeliCa might not work.

    Kind of like letting your battery drain so low that your phone, upon booting, forgets the time/date.

    Very few people let their battery drain that low (because doing so will ruin a modern Li-IOn battery), and the OS/phone will shutdown the phone long before the battery reaches REAL 0% charge state. (When your phone says "0% charge", it doesn't REALLY mean 0%; it means no battery left to power the screen, main memory and CPU.

  4. Joost van SteenderenJune 18, 2014 at 7:33 PM

    Same goes for my SC-06D (Galaxy S3) on docomo... no power no payment. Also when I ran custom roms the builds we're unable to communicate with this part of the hardware resulting in not being able to pay with it (even though it was charged the day before on the original docomo rom). I don't like DoCoMo's rom (which is loaded with bloatware and lacks regular updates), but this osaifu-keitai thing together with the simply better keyboard and camera made me go back to their release...

    I hope the two rivals will make one system in the future though. Most konbini have rakuten and the others available, but many places don't want to spend the money on running both systems..

  5. Most of the newer models are hybrid NFC/FeliCa, and the PasoRi host terminals they now sell are also hybrid units.

    I'll be posting about Japanese used for NFC later on. (for example, linking your Japanese iD to PayPass for overseas NFC payments).