Why iPhone 7 Missed the Global FeliCa iPhone Party

Apple Pay Global FeliCa iPhone Chart

Many iPhone 7 users outside of Japan hoped that iOS 11 would enable NFC-F hardware functionality which all iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 have, so that overseas iPhone 7 models could join the iPhone 8/iPhone X global FeliCa party. iOS 11 arrived but iPhone 7 FeliCa remains a Japan model only feature. Why?

The silly reason is that overseas iPhone 7 models do not have the Japanese MIC certification mark engraved on the case like the Japanese models. The real reasons are that Apple probably does not want to spend resources obtaining new global certification just for NFC-F in an older iPhone model. And of course Apple wants to give iPhone 7 users an excuse to upgrade.

In retrospect iPhone 7 was a transition to global NFC (A-B-F) model. The hardware was in place but iOS 10 Apple Pay did not have NFC switching ready. The iOS 10 Region setting assigned the NFC mode when adding cards to Wallet: NFC-F for Japan, NFC-A/B for other countries.

If you have your heart set on using Apple Pay Suica when you visit Japan but don’t want to upgrade to a global FeliCa iPhone, Apple Watch Series 3 is the less expensive option.

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My Not Smart Shinkansen Trip with smartEX

I followed all the smartEX registration instructions, honest engine I did. I logged into EX with my smartEX generated ID and password and purchased my Shinkansen ticket to Nagoya without a hitch. All looked good. At the appointed day and time I went to the Tokyo station Tokaido Shinkansen gate. Everything went to hell.​

​The station attendant placed my iPhone on the reader to diagnose the problem. Despite doing all the right steps my smartEX e-ticket purchase was not linking to my Apple Pay Suica. He then took me to a ticket machine and said, “Enter your smartEX password.” I use Touch ID with EX App and did not know the password, The poor attendant waited while I dug around in Safari passwords to find it. With the password entered he printed out a paper ticket.

The attendant told me that I needed to call smartEX system support to solve the problem. I asked if there was one. He grabbed a smartEX pamphlet but there was no number. He said, “There’s a number listed in the app.” There was not but I said thank you anyway and offered some advice, “I feel sorry for the station attendants if JR Central doesn’t improve smartEX. When the English language version of this drops on October 30, it will be a mess.”

smartEX System Weak Points
I used my travel time to dig around in EX App preferences. It was time well spent. smartEX registration can only be done in the browser, but once completed you can edit account information in EX App. The app has a Touch ID log in option but there is a separate mandatory security layer for editing smartEX account information:

Generate a onetime password and receive it by email. After entering the onetime password you can edit all your registered information: name, email, credit card, Apple Pay Suica ID:

I re-entered my Apple Pay Suica ID and asked the Nagoya station attendant to confirm if my smartEX was correct. She placed my iPhone on the reader and confirmed that I was all set now. My return trip was a breeze, smartEX worked fine.

Apple Pay Suica ID Formatting Differnces and Errors
As I said previously smartEX registration is a work in progress and will certainly be a friction point for many inbound Apple Pay Suica users. The reasons are simple:

  1. Suica App only copies the entire 17 character Suica ID (screen shot below)
  2. smartEX only accepts a 15 character ID and automatically formats the pasted ID from Suica App deleting the final 2 characters
  3.  smartEX cannot automatically verify your Suica ID with Mobile Suica or Apple Pay. This can only happen if smartEX is linked with Mobile Suica, or better yet if JR East Mobile Suica hosts all the other IC transit cards on their cloud service like one big happy family.

Suggestion for Smooth smartEX
Here is a suggestion for a smooth maiden smartEX voyage. The system by itself cannot verify if everything is in working order but JR Central station attendants at Tokaido Shinkansen ticket gates can verify it for you. Verification requires the following:

  • Successful smartEX registration
  • Successful smartEX login and e-ticket purchase

Tell the Shinkansen gate attendant that you want to verify your smartEX ticket purchase and hand them your iPhone. A quick check on the reader is all that is needed. If all is in order you are assured of a smooth process every time. Have your smartEX ID and password on hand in case something goes wrong. The attendant will need it to print out paper tickets.

 

 

smartEX Beats Suica to the App Store with English

There is a small chance that Suica App could release an English language version  before smartEX App arrives on October 30 but I doubt it.

The reasons are varied but boil down to one single difference: smartEX is a simple streamlined app that pulls information off a simple streamlined ticket reservation system while Suica App is the front window of an entire ecosystem.

smartEx App does one thing: Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen e-ticket reservations/purchases. This includes timetable searches, seat availability/reservations and refunds. It uses your registered account information (name, credit card and IC transit card) but does not allow you to manage any of it. smartEX e-tickets are not downloaded or directly attached/stored on the IC transit card and do not interact with Apple Pay Suica.

Suica App does many things:

  • Mobile Suica account management (name, credit card, Suica card, etc.)
  • Suica card creation and registration (Apple Pay)
  • JR East Shinkansen e-ticket reservations/purchases
  • Green Seat purchases on regular trains
  • Suica Commuter Pass purchase, renewal and changes
  • Refunds
  • Suica Recharge
  • Suica Auto Recharge setup
  • Suica App e-tickets download directly and are stored on Apple Pay Suica

On top of all that Suica App is adding JR Central Tokaido and JR West Sanyo Shinkansen e-ticket purchase options starting October 23. That is a lot of services packed in a single app with many moving database parts on the backend. All of these parts have to be in English before Suica App can make its English language debut.

Suica App is like the tiny tip of a huge iceberg. There is a huge mass of Japanese information dating back to the i-mode era lurking underneath the surface that has to be localized and vetted. That alone takes time and resources. But if JR East doesn’t take the time to do it right, their limited support resources would be quickly overwhelmed: imagine if an English language users taps on an option in Suica App and is suddenly faced with a screen full of Japanese. English language support would be flooded with questions.

The easy thing to do would be pruning option menus down to a manageable quick delivery turn around for English localization but I don’t think JR East will take that path. I prefer to have the whole of Suica App in English, even if it takes time.

smartEX English Language Service and App Coming on October 30

JR Central announced that an English language version of the smartEX Shinkansen e-ticket service will launch October 30 along with the smartEX app. This comes exactly one month after the launch of the Japanese service.

The app looks like a localized version of the current Japanese EX App. This is a welcome development but I sincerely hope the smartEX registration rough spots have been smoothed over and simplified (note that the app preview does not show the registration). Otherwise there will be some very frustrated foreigners.

The great thing is that iPhone 8 and iPhone X users from abroad can easily add Suica to Apple Pay and use it with smartEX for paperless e-ticket travel on the Tokaido Shinkansen. All on your iPhone. Have fun.

ICOCA Getting Ready for Apple Pay #2

JR West announced additional stations that will gain ICOCA IC transit card support in the summer of 2018 completing the JR West IC transit network.

Japanese users are speculating on Twitter if this means Apple Pay ICOCA is coming at the same time. If JR West can get a Mobile cloud service in place by then, it is definitely possible.