With the successful launch of Mobile ICOCA (2023-03-22) on Osaifu Keitai Android, it’s time to think about Apple Pay ICOCA coming later this year, most likely in October to align with iOS 17. And believe me, Apple Pay ICOCA will launch sooner than later because JR West will never achieve their stated goal of 5 million Mobile ICOCA users without Apple Pay. However the ICOCA service menu on Apple Pay will be different than Suica or PASMO. Apple Pay Suica works out of the box without Suica App or registering an account. Apple Pay ICOCA however, will require ICOCA App and a registered WESTER ID. Let’s take a look.
Apple Pay ICOCA but only with a WESTER ID and ICOCA app
The Mobile ICOCA app for Osaifu Keitai Android allows registered WESTER users to add a new ICOCA, transfer a Mobile ICOCA card (from another device), reissue a Mobile ICOCA (from a lost or damaged device). The key point is that: only registered WESTER users can create and add a Mobile ICOCA card. No plastic card transfers to mobile are allowed because they are unregistered cards. And this means ICOCA will not have native Apple Wallet add card support like Suica and PASMO because transit cards added natively in Wallet are technically ‘unregistered’ cards.
When you take a look at the transit card list in Wallet for the United States you’ll notice that Chicago Ventra and Portland HOP are not listed even though they appear on the Apple support page: Where you can ride transit using Apple Pay. This is because even though these cards can be added to Wallet, they have the same limits Mobile ICOCA does: only registered cards can only be added from an app, plastic card transfers to Wallet not supported.
JR West is doing this because they are positioning Mobile ICOCA as part of the JR West WESTER portal service for points, eTickets, and more. You have to have a WESTER ID to add and use Mobile ICOCA. Why? I suspect it has to do with the end of paper ticket coupons, the old reliable buy 10 get one free. These were incredibly popular in the JR West Kansai area and said to be one of the reasons why it took so long for ICOCA to go mobile. Having WESTER and Mobile ICOCA as one package deal means JR West has the mobile equivalent of paper ticket coupons in place using WESTER point rewards.
JR East’s focus on the other hand, is all about growing the Mobile Suica user base with JRE POINT as an option that adds value to being a Mobile Suica user. Yes JRE POINT and Suica offer the mobile equivalent of paper ticket coupons too, but the JR East service ecosystem is messy. Users have to register and juggle separate accounts for Mobile Suica, JRE POINT, Eki-Net, VIEW CARD and so on. JR West is shoehorning all of their services into one WESTER ID to streamline everything and make it easier for users.
Will Apple Pay ICOCA have a recharge button?
One of the very nice things about Suica is that anybody can add it to Wallet and recharge it with Apple Pay credit cards. Apple Pay Suica Commuter Pass users can also renew passes in Wallet directly. Will ICOCA have the same? I sure hope so because if JR West wants to keep Apple Pay at arms length, they may very well restrict all recharge and commuter pass renewal to ICOCA app. No add money button in Wallet, no recharge with Apple Pay.
Again this is what we already see with Apple Pay Ventra and Apple Pay HOP: card issue, recharge, commute plan renewal is all restricted to registered account users in the app. Is JR West shooting themselves in the foot by restricting everything to WESTER ID and ICOCA App? We’ll have the answer if Mobile ICOCA doesn’t make the 5 million membership target number that JR West hopes to achieve by 2027.
JR East achieved 20 million Mobile Suica users because of their full embrace of Apple Pay and unregistered Mobile Suica cards. Users can add and use Suica on iPhone and Apple Watch right out of the box without a Mobile Suica account or an app. It just works. It’s the deal same for Mobile Suica on Garmin, Fitbit and Pixel Watch. The Mobile Suica service ecosystem may be messy, but it works on a huge variety of mobile devices.
The JR West approach is streamlined but does risk reducing the potential Mobile ICOCA user base by restricting it to WESTER ID users, the potential could shrink even more if they restrict Wallet recharge functions to their iPhone ICOCA app. Because there will be no way in hell that Apple Watch users can recharge Apple Pay ICOCA without an iPhone the way you can with Suica or PASMO. Little details make all the difference. It all comes down to business choices: JR West wants WESTER ecosystem users, JR East wants Suica users.
With JR West having closed the door to unregistered Mobile ICOCA, Kansai users who don’t need commuter passes or WESTER points will use Mobile Suica. Actually, they already are.
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