going through some of my old photos, i noticed how SUICA system, initially rolled out as a public transportation card replacing paper tickets using nfc (near field communication) technology has been gradually introduced in japan.
the copy on the ad above is translated something in the line of “fun transformation of your mobile phone” (photo taken in april 2008).
around march 2006 when this picture was taken, i saw lots of advertisements and posters featuring this penguin character representing suica. all focused on the concept of how suica can be used to pay for the tickets, make small payments at shops instead of cash, and touch interface. for instance, this little penguin character would appear in the tv commercials accompanying a lady traveling alone passing through ticket gates with her, and drinking beer with her at a bar. it was going everywhere with the owner. the penguin also enjoyed the stardom through lots of character goods produced around it – flush toys, key chains, hats, whatever you can imagine.
suica is one of the brand names in japan that does more or less the same thing or using the same technology (like UK’s Oyster card)- which is essentially a cash top-up card. with japan rail behind it, suica had the power to educate the mass about the new interaction method as the benefits were quite clear: no need for queuing to get tickets, less hassle in passing through the crowded ticket gates, fewer reasons to carry coins. the clear benefit primarily as transportation tickets supported the mass adoption as well – though we are still talking about several years. the maturity of adoption brought a few variants as well: registration is now possible so that you can get your money back even though the card is lost; you can link it to your credit card so that it can be automatically charged once the balance goes below a certain point; commuter-pass registration is possible, as most japanese employers reimburse the commuting transportation cost based on the price of the monthly pass.
of course suica and its sister systems have become available on mobile phone for some time (under the name ‘mobile suica’). it seems about 60% of mobile phones in the market supports the function already. my tokyo colleague, Fumiko Ichikawa has a brief report on the current state of adoption in her blog. what is pleasing to observe is the gradual expansion of its use for other purposes than micro cash payments.
ana (all nippon airways) supports several methods for check-in. obviously mobile phone enabled with nfc like mobile suica is one of them.
suipo (suica poster) is launched last summer – it is an advertising platform using mobile suica as interface. people can touch the indicated spot on the advertisement to get the ad on the mobile. or you can use the normal suica card to get the 2-d bar code displayed, a technology that has been around longer in the market. if the boss canned coffee ad does not tempt you as a smart usage of nfc, you can also read about navita, the public maps using the same information distribution system as suipo. as with 2-d bar code, i am not sure how widely this is used at the moment.
from penguins to mobile micro payment to touch-based information distribution: it is a nice example of how a new technology is disseminated in incremental steps, which was a long journey.
i had a chance to probe how chinese people think about touch or near-touch interface a couple of weeks ago. while the metro ticket system in shanghai is same as oyster or suica, most people could not think of any other use of a similar system beyond that. on the other hand, their understanding of bluetooth wireless technology seemed to confuse many people about possibilities and benefits of near field interaction. a remote indication to think about the adoption curve and mass-market education of new technology – with or without a cute penguin’s involvement.