It took a while for this issue to register even though I’d been watching it happen personally. My partner was having issues topping up her Snapper Sprat from her phone. I had no issues topping it up, so she’d give it to me after having failed a few times. I assumed that it had something to do with her phone and left it at that. She eventually sent in a complaint, which basically starts this story.
It appears that topping up a Snapper from a mobile phone works in stages. Having read a balance from the Snapper card, the user can top-up the balance or add a bus pass. Payment is made via credit card and does not require the Snapper to still be in contact with the phone. The user will be prompted when the mobile app needs to communicate with the Snapper card. In the case of my partner, there would be a communication failure while writing the new balance to the Snapper and the credit card transaction would be reversed. Except that reversal wasn’t consistently happening. She’s currently waiting for a result from the Snapper’s financial people.
When she mentioned the reply she’d received, I started getting curious. This is what got me:
So that you are aware, your top up seems to have failed because the Snapper Sprats are not compatible with the Snapper Mobile application as these were made before the Snapper Mobile application was available. Hence, the Snapper Sprats have a higher rate of failure as far as top ups are concerned. This is why you were receiving the error message. We must recommend against using Snapper Mobile to top up your Sprat in future as the Snapper Mobile application is only compatible with Snapper ‘+’ cards as stated on our website (these have a ‘+’ in the top right hand corner on the front of the card). If you would like to exchange your Snapper Sprat for a Snapper Mobile compatible card, you were welcome to do so free of charge at one of our Service Centres. Please be aware however that, if you choose to have your card exchanged, the Snapper Sprat does cost more than the replacement card due to a difference in durability.
I wasn’t aware that the mobile app wasn’t compatible with the Snapper Sprat. I’d never heard of such an issue, so I started looking through documentation. The reply to my partner implied that this is common knowledge and well-documented.
Here’s a screenshot of the app. The note at the bottom isn’t overly clear as to which older Snappers might not be supported. I doubt many passengers would be aware of the relative age of the different types of Snapper devices.
There had been a shift between versions of Snapper cards when NFC started rolling out in mobile phones. The change was well-publicised and there was a free (I think it was free) exchange between card versions. Earlier cards were incompatible and unreadable by mobile phones, newer cards were fine. Since I’ve been using a Sprat with NFC for a few years, I was pretty sure this wasn’t the issue.
Checking on Snapper’s web page for the Sprat, I didn’t see any restrictions there about not using it with the mobile app.
The first indication that something might be device-specific is on the page for mobile top-ups. Even then, there’s no exclusion listed, just inclusion.
My understanding as to what’s happening here is that there’s a communications sensitivity associated with the form factor. I know that if a Snapper reader on a bus is starting to fail, people with cards will get better connectivity than I will with my Sprat. Despite not knowing much about antennas, I’m aware that larger loops will connect better than smaller loops (theory here). If you were to look inside a Snapper card, you’d see the wire around the outside edge of the card. The surface coverage of the antenna is much bigger than a Sprat, so it connects better to the reader, or to a phone.
The end result of this is that I think Snapper is being slightly disingenuous with their documentation. The Sprat is more expensive than a Snapper Red. According to the Snapper Store, it’s currently double the price. Having cracked a couple Snapper Red cards over the years, I’m happy to pay for the durability of the Sprat. If the mobile app doesn’t support the Sprat, it should say so clearly and Snapper should be willing to refund the difference between form factors, given that the Sprat isn’t suitable for mobile top-ups.
There’s still an issue with the app that I’d mentioned above that needs to be reiterated. If there’s a connection failure between the app and the Sprat (or card, for that matter), the credit card transaction needs to be successfully reversed every time. My partner was owed a significant amount of money accrued over several months that had gone unnoticed because some, but not all, of the transactions weren’t properly handled. This is a serious bug for the app and needs to be fixed immediately.