Just 7 Clicks for Free Wifi in Tokyo Metro

Tokyo offers fast and free wifi in the subway stations, but . .

The Tokyo Metro offers public wifi that is high speed and free. This is a wonderful service for foreign tourists as well as locals with limited or no data plans. Given the wide usage of the metro and rail system, including 3 million daily visitors to Shinjuku station, this free and ubiquitous access is transformative.

I find myself signing in to free wifi in Tokyo’s stations four or even ten times per day. There are two obstacles when using this public service. Unlike all Japanese carriers’ data plans, the free service works only in the stations, not in moving trains. Most trains arrive every 5 minutes so there is little time to linger online.

Most frustrating is the time and effort required to sign in. There are four screens, including two screens that require scrolling, seven clicks, one mandatory email entry, two confirm buttons, and 36 lines of explanatory text.

It is hard to identify the least useful text. Perhaps these lines 6 and 7 on the first welcome screen: “The user registration method was changed on July 28th, 2016.” What should I do with this information?

I’ve annotated each of the screens below.

The Metro’s free wifi and the obstacle course to gain access illustrate the best and worst parts of Japanese technology. On one hand, the service is free and high quality. On the other hand, using it makes you wonder every day whether Tokyo Metro prefers that you not use it.

I am sure there are many “reasons” for this dreadful user experience. Some cautious corporate managers probably believe that all this maximalist information is useful or necessary. Or the seven click method is what other public transit and shopping mall free wifi services use? Better to make users record that they have read terms, conditions, warnings, and more, and then confirm two times, than to risk liability for anything that could go wrong? And what other free service will riders use, anyway?

Imagine a simpler alternative. One screen and two clicks. One click to “agree” to terms and conditions, with a link to full text, and another click to “enter.” Easy access would better reflect on the brands behind the service, in this case Tokyo Metro and NTT Broadband Platform Inc.

Focusing on customers is a simple way to make this useful service more welcoming and loved. Unfortunately, this is not an outlier in Japanese online user experience. Since at least the dawn of the smartphone ten years ago, Japanese companies have ceded mind and wallet share to global internet competitors, including Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and Amazon, that relentlessly focus on design and customer delight.

Public interfaces can elevate expectations about good and great services. Who is going to tell the managers of Tokyo Metro that they can do much better?