The iPhone 8 Keynote and the Apple Pay Japan Expansion

スクリーンショット 2017-08-26 13.48.10

The full set of major Japanese transit cards coming to smartEX and Apple Pay

The August 25 smartEx press announcement from JR Central was classic Japanese style, the things it left out and hinted at were more important and interesting than the meager details it listed.

smartEX and the Quest for Paperless Shinkansen Ticketing
smartEx is a “paperless” e-ticket system that will let you reserve and purchase Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen tickets on a smartphone app or browser and ride the Tokyo~Hakata Shinkansen lines with any one of the 10 major transit cards:  PASMO, Kitaca, TOICA, ICOCASUGOCA, manaca, PiTaPa, Hayakaken, Nimoca, and of course Suica.

Thanks to those transit cards and their compatibility with each other, the regular Japanese transportation network (local trains and buses) is already paperless e-ticket and very convenient. The cards can also be used to buy things. The more complex Shinkansen ticketing that combines regular train fare and Shinkansen express fare for point to point travel has largely remained in the paper era. The one exception is JR East’s Mobile Suica.

JR East Shinkansen lines are in green and brown, JR Central and JR West are in blue. See for more details.

Suica Apple Pay and Mobile Suica are the only smartphone transit card system that exists, and it covers both regular transportation and JR East Shinkansen routes. Shinkansen e-tickets have to be purchased in the Suica app but iPhone 7 users have the choice of paying with Apple Pay or the Mobile Suica account credit card. Download the Suica e-ticket and board the JR East Shinkansen.

Will smartEX be the same as Suica Apple Pay for Shinkansen?
This is where it gets interesting. Here is what we know:

  • smartEx service starts September 30
  • There will be a smartEX app for smartphones in addition to desktop browser access
  • There will be a way to add/link a credit card in a browser
  • There will be a way to add/link one of the 10 major transit cards in a browser
  • You use the app or browser to reserve and purchase Shinkansen tickets
  • You can board the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen with your registered transit card
  • JR East has confirmed that Suica Apple Pay will work with smartEX

I suspect JR East Shinkansen interoperability with other transit cards likely starts at the same time. What we don’t know:

  • What smartphone platforms the smartEX app will support
  • How credit cards are added and linked in the app
  • How transit cards are added and linked in the app

And there is the September 12 iPhone 8 announcement:

  • The final day of special Suica Apple Pay system maintenance is September 11
  • In late February JR Central moved the smartEX start window from July to September
Every Suica card has a unique number. Apple Pay reads this automatically when adding Suica along with the card account balance.

Here is the thing, there are only two ways for customers to get transit card and credit card information into the smartEx app: the slick Apple Pay way, or the manual way.

The smartEX site does indeed show screen shots of a manual way but I am convinced this is only the browser version. The app will be different. If it was only the manual way JR Central would have released smartEX app details on August 25. But they did not.

The SmartEx site says, “More Details Coming.” The reason is simply that JR Central cannot release details because Apple has embargoed Apple Pay Japan transit card extension information until after the iPhone 8 keynote.

said it before: Phil Schiller will announce that all the major transit cards are coming to Apple Pay Japan at the September 12 Apple event. The special Mobile Suica system maintenance that ends on September 11 suggests Apple could roll out the transit card extension right after the keynote. If they do, the iPhone 8 announcement will be huge news in Japan.

It would also be just before in the start of the Japanese morning rush hour. Remember what happened last time Apple did something like that. Play it safe and charge your Suica Apple Pay before the iPhone 8 keynote begins.