JR East is pushing out an update to Suica App at 4 am December 18 local time. The notice from JR East states that updating will be a requirement as the app will display a pop-up instructing users to update from the App Store. JR East also warns users to download any purchased Shinkansen e-tickets by December 17.
Sounds like a serious update. The notice lists a revamped easier to use UI, Suica support for online purchases and longer Suica passwords are in the works. Will we also get iPhone X compatibility? Face ID support? English language support? Tune in at 4 am December 18 local Tokyo time and find out.
The first full day of Apple Pay Suica with iOS 11.2.5 beta 1 and restored Suica notifications on iPhone X has been good. Actually it is the best Suica performance on iOS 11 so far, on par with iOS 10.3.x in terms of speed and stability: no gate error flicker, solid store transactions even with those pesky Ueshima Coffee shop readers. JR East can kiss that Apple Pay Suica notice goodbye.
The best part is that iPhone X Suica performance finally achieves iPhone 7 on iOS 10.3.x levels: it just works. I really hope iOS 11.2.5 beta Suica performance improvements make it into the final release intact.
JR is steadily adding more smart charge machines in Tokyo area stations. Apple Pay Suica users can recharge with cash which some people prefer when traveling abroad.
As JR continues the rollout they are much easier to find in smaller stations such as JR Koenji which joined the list recently. Smart charge machines will undoubtedly become standard in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics.
The latest iOS 11.2.1 update did not fix the Suica notification bug for me. I installed iOS 11.2.5 developer beta 1 and am happy to report that Suica notifications are working again in that beta. 11.2.5 will be mostly performance tweaks, Apple Pay Suica performance seems to be getting attention in this round.
As a rule I do not install beta software on my iPhone but the 11.2 Suica notification bug was irritating, iPhone X Suica performance ragged enough and the iOS 11.2.5 update number jump low enough to give it a go.
I do not suggest that others do the same. Let me deal with the messy Apple Pay Suica testing and keep you up to date on beta progress in this blog.
One of the current limitations of Japanese IC transit cards like Suica is they have a storage limit of ¥20,000. Suica will not accept more than that. Transit cards were conceived long before the arrival of smart connected devices and designed for local area transit.
This is part of the reason why systems like Mobile Suica and smartEX have a separate Shinkansen e-ticket that piggybacks on Apple Pay Suica and Mobile Suica. Wouldn’t it be nice to just touch and go Apple Pay Suica for Shinkansen travel like regular trains with no special ticket purchase?
This is exactly what JR East is doing with their new “Touch and Go Shinkansen” service starting April 1, 2018. Touch and Go Shinkansen for Japanese transit IC cards still has to deal with the ¥20,000 balance limit and only offers certain routes and destinations from Tokyo that fit within that limit, and is only good for non-reserve seats.
This is convenient but the real test will be how much of a discount stingy JR East will offer. Pricing is still being cooked but the example Touch and Go fare discount from Tokyo to Utsunomiya was a measly ¥200. If JR East wants people to use Touch and Go on a regular basis they’ll have to do better than that.
On the plus side, JR East said they are working with the other transit card partners to remove the ¥20,000 limit by April 1, 2019 when JR East plans to unveil their own smartEX like service. It would be very nice to have real Touch and Go Shinkansen with Apple Pay Suica without limits, and better discounts.