JR West launched Apple Pay ICOCA today, June 27, three months after launching Mobile ICOCA for Android Osaifu Keitai devices, two months after announcing Apple Pay support, one week later than my estimate.
Apple Pay ICOCA works on iPhone 8 and later with iOS 16 or Apple Watch 3 and later running watchOS 8.7.1, similar but slightly different support specs than Suica and PASMO as detailed in Apple’s updated support page. Unlike the Android version, Apple Pay has a few, for now, exclusives:
- Directly add new ICOCA cards to Wallet without ICOCA App
- Directly transfer of plastic ICOCA and SMART ICOCA cards to Wallet
- Directly add money with Apple Pay in Wallet without ICOCA App
Direct Wallet add is an important difference from Mobile ICOCA on Android as any user can add and use the card without the WESTER ID requirement. Apple Pay ICOCA is also the first ICOCA for wearables thanks to Apple Watch. All regular JR West issue plastic ICOCA cards: unregistered, registered, commuter passes are supported in Wallet.
Launch day demand was beyond expectations and Apple Pay servers were down for 2 hours in the evening hours, bringing down all Apple Wallet add card and recharge services in Japan, a repeat of the Apple Pay Suica 2016 launch meltdown. As always Apple underestimated demand from a user base with 19 years of mobile payments experience.
As previously discussed, the addition of Apple Pay ICOCA means that along with Apple Pay Suica and Apple Pay PASMO, over 90% of the transit IC card market is now on mobile. The advantage for Apple Pay ICOCA users is that they can now use JR West commuter passes and also get the benefit of WESTER POINT rewards with recharge and using Apple Pay ICOCA on JR West lines. Another nice Apple Pay ICOCA touch is that card details display the entire card number which is very helpful to copy/paste the ICOCA number with linked services such as Shinkansen eTicket EX and Eki-Net.
ICOCA App for iOS also launched on June 27. The functionality is limited compared to Suica App. A WESTER ID is required and can be registered in the app. Registered WESTER users can add new commuter passes, earn and use WESTER POINT for recharge, app recharge is limited to J-West issue credit cards. Apple Pay ICOCA commuter passes are limited to JR West issue and have to be added to Wallet separately: unlike Suica, users cannot purchase a ICOCA commute pass for a regular ICOCA card already in Wallet.
Unfortunately foreign issue VISA card use with Apple Pay ICOCA is blocked by VISA as it has been for Apple Pay Suica • PASMO In-App use since August 2022 with no explanation or resolution in sight., a pain point for international travelers without Mastercard or AMEX card options. As always cash recharge is always available when credit card recharge doesn’t work.