Apple Pay Suica iOS 12.2 beta 3

The iOS 12.2 beta 3 developer release has some UI tweaks for Apple Pay Suica. It is a little less rough than previous beta versions but still has a curiously un-Apple and inelegant UI design feel. From what I have seen so far, iOS 12.2 is a step backwards from the iOS 12.1 design. Other observations: Suica notification shortcuts are still useless and the new notification font design is simply hideous. As usual I do not recommend using beta software, stick with the official releases.

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MerPay on Apple Pay

If you were hoping for a streamlined cashless payment roadmap for Japan, forget it. Things are just going to get more complex as various reward point ecosystems (Rakuten point, d-Point, Ponta point, etc.) slug it out for dominance across smartphone apps (QR Codes) and digital wallet platforms (NFC). Mercari joined the fray with MerPay on Apple Pay, a virtual prepaid Mastercard provided via the Sumitomo Mitsui bank group and hosted on the iD contactless payment network.

Mercari was founded by a former Rakuten employee and follows their basic business model of hosting a virtual marketplace for buyers and sellers. The idea behind MerPay is that sellers can use money earned from sales or points via the virtual prepaid card for store purchases, Suica recharge, etc. Users can also recharge MerPay from a linked bank account.

Hachimaki san of Kanmu Ltd. has dug into MerPay details with a helpful flowchart.

Welcome Suica

JR East announced a special plastic Suica card for inbound tourists called “Welcome Suica” that will be available from September 1, 2019 at major Tokyo area stations and JR East Travel Service Centers. The main attraction according to the press release is that the Welcome Suica card does away with the ¥500 deposit, and the hassle of getting it back when leaving the country, but the card is only valid for 28 days from the issue date and JR East also says that unused Welcome Suica balances are not refundable… but the unique card design makes a nice souvenir. Welcome Suica cannot be added to Apple Pay or Google Pay and is plastic issue only.

The whole thing sounds like it would have been a nice idea before Apple Pay Suica and Google Pay Suica, both of which let users to add virtual Suica cards without a deposit, and can be safely removed from Wallet and left on the cloud until needed again.

UPDATE
PASMO PASSPORT is a similar but slightly less attractive deal than Welcome Suica: a limited 28 day validity PASMO, a 500 JP¥ deposit fee with no deposit fee or balance refunds. It does have a cute Hello Kitty design however. A user asked if I had any opinions about Welcome Suica and PASMO PASSPORT. I thought about it and can only assume Welcome Suica/PASMO PASSPORT plastic cards are aimed at inbound visitors…

  • Who don’t plan on visiting Japan again
  • Who don’t have iPhone 8/Apple Watch Series 3 and later for Apple Pay Suica, or a Osaifu Keitai Android device for Google Pay Suica
  • Who don’t have an Apple Pay compatible bank card or come from a country where Apple Pay isn’t available yet (Indonesia, Malaysia, most of Latin America, Africa etc.)

The Welcome Suica and PASMO PASSPORT 28 day validity is also a great deal for transit operator hotlist management. From FeliCa Dude’s epic Apple Pay Octopus on iPhone 7 Reddit post:

Hotlist management is also a reason to reject a card that hasn’t been used for a while. Most lost cards are found by people who know they are lost, and honest people are unlikely to tap cards that don’t belong to them on card readers. If these lost cards are hotlisted but never disabled by a reader that encounters them, then the hotlist can grow to a size that can’t fit in the memory of a reader.

One way to manage this problem is to have the reader reject cards that have no recent transaction record (say, six months), and refer the cardholder to an operator. The operator then ‘unlocks’ the card using a terminal that has access over the network to the master hotlist. The latency of the unlock operation isn’t critical, so this kind of online referral is fine, and it allows for the hotlists in each reader to be pruned after a certain amount of time has elapsed since the card was hotlisted. This is likely to be the reason that Suica cards that aren’t used for six months need to be processed by a gate attendant (it could also be because of key rollover).

Plastic card management costs money and the growing number of inbound visitors asking for deposit refunds and balance refunds at airport train stations is a cost headache for transit companies to babysit all those tiny cash refund transactions. Hence we have Welcome Suica and PASMO PASSPORT with 28 day validity limits and no refunds.

To be sure, there are lots of inbound visitors who will probably be perfectly happy using a Welcome Suica or PASMO PASSPORT. But for iPhone and Apple Watch inbound visitors the new direct Suica card creation in iOS 13 Wallet (no more apps) is a better way to go.

Suica Simplified

You might think that JR East has installed Suica gates in every station but this is not the case: as of 2018 Suica is installed in roughly half of JR East’s 1667 stations. The reason is cost. Unmanned stations have simple Suica gate readers but apparently the cost of these is an obstacle. Fast local processing is one of the advantages of Suica but I suspect the dedicated network backbone costs for linking and syncing with JR East servers doesn’t come cheap.

JR East is fixing the cost problem by developing a new cloud based Suica gate reader that can easily be installed anywhere. The trade off is slightly slower speeds, perhaps, with the benefit of lower installation and maintenance costs. JR East said they expect to reach 100% Suica deployment with the new model and hope to sell it internationally.

It’s Baaaack

Now that PayPay has supposedly fixed all the security problems, and set some spending limits, they have have kicked off another 10 billion yen giveaway campaign that hopefully won’t melt down like the previous one. This time Reddit users are taking notice and have posted details in English. Happy shopping!