HELLO Apple Pay PASMO

UPDATE: Apple Pay PASMO launched October 6, download PASMO App for extra features.

The cute pink PASMO robot joined the cute Suica penguin in Wallet today, October 6. It’s the end of a journey that started in October 2017 with registration of the Mobile PASMO name just one year after Apple Pay Suica stomped into the Japanese market like Godzilla, changing everything.

The Mobile PASMO for Android announcement in January was unexpected and caught many by surprise. The service launched in March 2020 and it was soon clear that Mobile PASMO was JR East Mobile Suica IT code dressed up in pink. Meanwhile Apple dropped hints that PASMO was on the way, Apple Pay PASMO was finally announced August 6th.

Apple Pay PASMO Express Transit and differences with Suica
Apple Pay PASMO is just like Suica with similar device profiles: iPhone 8 • Apple Watch Series 3 and later with iOS 14 • watchOS 7 or later. The advantages of Apple Pay Suica also apply to PASMO: Apple Pay credit/debit cards work for recharge, and thanks to global NFC any iPhone 8/Apple Watch 3 from anywhere can add PASMO. An English language PASMO page covers the basics for adding and using cards.

You can have both PASMO and Suica in Wallet but only one card can be set for Express Transit at a time though it is easy to change Express Transit cards. The PASMO App can be downloaded for additional features like commuter passes. You can also setup auto-charge if you have the right PASMO related credit card.

PASMO App

Suica and PASMO are the French vanilla and vanilla ice cream flavors of IC transit cards that do the same thing, does using Apple Pay PASMO have any advantage over Apple Pay Suica? It comes down to one thing: PASMO train commuter passes, and especially bus commuter passes which JR East or Suica App do not offer.

PASMO can be added and used in Wallet without PASMO App, but the app offers deeply useful commuter pass options if you download and register a Mobile PASMO account. Successful registration unlocks all menu options, basically it’s a slightly streamlined Suica App without the Green Seat and and EX Reserve options. The commuter pass purchase screen offers a huge variety of PASMO rail and bus line choices and your PASMO can hold a rail + bus combo commuter pass, a feature that Suica does not have.

Transit companies only cooperate for commuter passes that transverse both company rail networks. A Suica commuter pass has to have a JR East line, PASMO has to have a PASMO Rail or bus line. From a card architecture point Suica could do it all, but as FeliCa Dude points out, Mobile PASMO is the result of JR East and PASMO Association failing to cooperate and mutually host commuter passes.

Behind the scenes
What took PASMO so long to go mobile? Part of the delay was that many members of the PASMO association don’t have deep pockets and couldn’t agree to mutually fund Mobile PASMO infrastructure. According to IT journalist Junya Suzuki, one rich member took the initiative to fund the entire effort. The PASMO member who runs the mobile operation has not been publicly announced but evidence points to Odakyu.

Another part of the delay was JR East laying a mobile service foundation for the major Japanese IC transit cards in connection with next generation ‘Super’ Suica. JR East bought a piece of FeliCa Networks stock from NTT Docomo effectively changing it from a Sony + NTT Docomo company to a Sony (FeliCa) + NTT Docomo (Mobile FeliCa) + JR East (Suica/Mobile Suica) company. The result of this is the Mobile FeliCa Platform for supporting all kinds of Mobile FeliCa services worldwide. One fruit of this effort is Garmin Pay Suica, Apple Pay PASMO is another.

I suspect JR East Mobile Suica IT assets are part of the Mobile FeliCa Platform and one reason why so much Mobile Suica code was found in every corner of Mobile PASMO. When Super Suica arrives in early 2021, Mobile FeliCa Cloud is sure play a big role, both for Super Suica partners and for getting the remaining major Transit IC cards on mobile: ICOCA, TOICA, manaca, SUGOCA, Kitaca, Hayaken, nimoca.

Other tidbits

  • Apple Pay PASMO does not support iPhone 7 and Apple Watch 2 Japanese models which Suica does. This suggests only iPhone 8/Apple Watch 3 and later embedded secure element (eSE) devices can up upgraded to support multiple IC card configurations like PASMO/Suica/ICOCA etc.
  • To add a PASMO card in the Wallet app, you need to set up two-factor authentication for your Apple ID.
  • Apple Pay PASMO is a plus for China Union Pay card holders over Suica: PASMO can be recharged with Apple Pay in Wallet, a game changer for those card holders.
  • Apple Pay Wallet has a ‘experiencing heavy load please try later’ notification setting that alerts the user, via banner and email, when the card can be added. This ‘virtual queuing’ helped avoid a repeat of the Apple Pay Suica launch meltdown situation for the PASMO launch
  • Apple Pay PASMO cards can be created in PASMO App without a balance or using a credit card. Handy for inbound visitors from countries without Apple Pay support who want to use PASMO.