iOS 11 and Apple Pay Japan Transit Cards

pc_pic_mv_teaserGlobal FeliCa made a very sneaky debut in iPhone X, iPhone 8 and Apple Watch Series 3 but it did make it. What about other Japanese transit cards joining Apple Pay? Nothing was mentioned in the Apple keynote of course and there was no sign of anything in Japan.

We still have the iOS 11 rollout set for September 19 with the expected flood of iOS 11 related app upgrades. This is a long shot but I think there is still a chance we might see something related to the smartEX September 30 service debut. A smartEX iOS app from JR Central is pretty much a given. The real question is will any other transit cards join Suica on Apple Pay at the same time?

Apple Pay Japan Transit cards
If the other major transit cards of smartEX join Suica on Apple Pay we get: PASMO, Kitaca, TOICA, ICOCASUGOCA, manaca, PiTaPa, Hayakaken, Nimoca. Since all the transit cards are already compatible with each other and Suica works nationwide what is the big deal? Two simple points. commuter passes and Shinkansen ticketless boarding.

  1. Commuter passes
    Suica works everywhere but commuter passes are tied to local transit companies: Suica for the JR East network, PASMO for Tokyo area private railways (Seibu, Keio, Tokyu, etc.) and so on. Commuter passes are a big deal and Apple Pay compatibility is not only a win for Apple but a win for the transit operators too. The ability to charge a transit card anywhere on the go with Apple Pay really changes how customers use the card, and the freedom to mix and match transit cards with Apple Pay credit cards means customers can choose exactly the loyalty points they want to earn, not the points dictated by transit card company. This is not insignificant: 10 months of charging my Apple Pay Suica with my Apple Pay View credit card earned me over 20,000 JPY worth of Bic Camera store points.
  2. Shinkansen Ticketless Boarding
    Apple Pay Suica and Mobile Suica let smartphone users board JR East Shinkansen trains with e-tickets downloaded to a smartphone instead of paper ticketing. smartEX is a similar ticketless boarding system for JR Central/JR West Shinkansen trains running between Tokyo-Nagoya-Kyoto-Osaka-Hiroshima-Fukuoka that starts September 30. Customers can use any of the 10 major transit cards, as well as any that are supported on Apple Pay, to ride the Shinkansen. E-tickets are purchased in the smartEX app and automatically linked to the Apple Pay transit card for ticketless boarding.

Cloud Infrastructure Bottlenecks
The sticking point for the other transit card operators is that they do not have cloud infrastructure, no Mobile PASMO or Mobile ICOCA exists. JR group companies certainly have the money to build a JR East Mobile Suica-like service, but that is impossible for smaller transit operators who face static or slowly declining ridership rates with no new income to build fancy cloud services.

The Japanese government has long said it is eager to promote universal contactless payment for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Getting transit operators together and the Japanese government brokering a mobile infrastructure sharing agreement with JR East to share costs and co-fund cloud infrastructure improvements would be a great thing to do. If it could be done.

There isn’t much time until 2020. With Suica as the only transit card that matters because it is the only one with mobile service, there has to be a lot of pressure on the other transit operators to do something.

Transit cards are the easiest entry point into Apple Pay for Japanese customers. With the other major cards joining Suica on Apple Pay, Japanese iPhone customers outside of Tokyo would appreciate having the opportunity to join the fun. Who knows, maybe next week with the iOS 11 release we’ll get lucky.

Here is the full list of the major transit cards that can be used with smartEX

Transit Card Operator/Rail Network
Suica Suica JR East. Mobile Suica since 2006
Apple Pay Support since October 2016
Ioica ICOCA  JR West
No mobile services
 taica TOICA  JR Central
No mobile services
 Sugoica SUGOICA  JR Kyushu
No mobile services
 kitaca Kitaca  JR Hokkaido
No mobile services
 Pasmo PASMO Tokyo area private rail companies (Seibu, Keio, Tokyu, etc.)
No mobile services
 Manaca manaca  Nagoya area private rail companies
No mobile services
 PiTasPa PiTaPa Osaka-Kyoto area private rail companies
No mobile services
 nimoca nimoca  Fukuoka area private rail companies
No mobile services
 hayaken Hayaken  Fukuoka City Bus
No mobile services