As this is a trial there are limitations and the one for Apple Pay transit users is huge: no Express Transit. Hopefully this will be fixed before the official launch as Opal digital is a very awkward service without it: users have to authenticate Apple Pay at each transit gate, a real drag for Face ID users with face masks, users also have to be careful of EMV card clash.
Other limitations will not be fixed because of system design. This means there is no ‘add money’ button in Wallet and all card house keeping tasks from recharge to checking the balance can only be done in Opal digital app. This is a pain for iPhone users but a huge pain for Apple Watch users. For some it will mean digital Opal is unusable: Apple Pay Suica • PASMO work without an iPhone app and can be recharged on the go, not so for digital Opal.
That didn’t take long. The announcement Walmart was selling majority control of SEIYU over to KKR and Rakuten was made November 16. And what was the first new management move? Adding Suica and Transit IC payment support which means Apple Pay Suica • PASMO and Google Pay Suica can finally, finally be used for paying at checkout. QR Code PayPay has been in place for awhile already. SEIYU also rolled out a new system recently for self checkout and EMV IC chip payments for SEIYU brand Saison cards (other cards have to be signed…yuck). NFC anything has been entirely missing from the SEIYU payments lineup despite the COVID crisis and a huge push for all things cashless, but Walmart has a long antagonistic history with NFC digital wallet payments.
I only noticed the change this evening when I heard the store announcement over the PA. Sure enough Suica signs were plastered at every checkout. It’s weird but somehow fitting that SEIYU is soft launching long overdue NFC contactless payments with Suica. More will come. I’m sure Walmart leaving town had nothing to do with it. Yeah, nothing at all. SEIYU stores were much better under the pre-Walmart Seibu management. Hopefully this marks a return to better service and clean modern stores.
Another day, another Suica related announcement. JR East ticketless Touch and Go Shinkansen service for Suica and other compatible Transit IC cards will be expanding in March 2021. It will basically cover all Shinkansen lines directly managed by JR East. Previously it only covered the Kanto region. Touch and Go differs from Eki-Net Shinkansen eTickets in that Touch and Go uses the Suica balance for Shinkansen fare, eTickets do not.
The service is very simple: register Suica, PASMO, etc. at any JR East station pink recharge kiosk for Touch and Go. Then waltz through the Shinkansen gate and get on a non-reserved Shinkansen seat. A typical use case looks like the diagram below.
Of course the new service area comes with a campaign: 10% JRE POINT fare reward for Touch and Go travel in the new area for the first 3 months. As I have said before, JR East is busy ramping up for Super Suica. Now that we have expanded Touch and Go Shinkansen, a larger Super Suica stored value purse is a given. Do I hear ¥30,000? ¥40,000? The latter would put Suica on par with WAON.
The off-peak commute campaign starts March 1 and runs for an entire year. JR East wants to encourage commuting without COVID risky crowding with off-peak commuting rewards. On my own daily commute I have noticed a sharp increase of people with the colder weather in the morning peak commute hours.
Peak-hours are 7:00~8:30 am, off-peak is defined as ‘early commute’ 6:00 am~7:00 am that earns 15 JRE POINT and ‘easy commute’ 8:30 am~9:30 am which earns 20 JRE POINT. In my case the ‘easy commute’ reward works out to about 500 JRE POINT a month. This is in addition to the regular monthly JRE POINT transit rewards. I wish I could be in the top earning ‘easy commute’ bracket but ‘early commuter’ will be my only choice. Such is life.
A second reward for non-commute plan Suica fare regardless of time or route offers a free fare in JRE POINT with 10 transits with an additional 10% of fare rewards for each additional transit. Mobile Suica earns more than plastic Suica, so think of this as a kind of ‘welcome to Suica Suica’ run up campaign.
The My Number Card linking scheme, via NFC tags, is designed to drive local MaaS services for local residents by linking age and local residence confirmation to Suica. Local transit discounts for elderly and children are the start point, the press announcement also highlights shopping discounts and local government services. It’s proof of age and local residency just by using a linked Suica. The MaaS service area is scheduled to start from December in Maebashi.
It’s an intriguing service that finally promises to deliver some of the features that My Number Card was designed to do. But in this case I think the service needs some kind of on the spot hook, like a instant cash-back PayPay kind of gimmick to get people to really use it. People like instant gratification. Looking at a monthly Suica or JRE POINT transaction list to find the rebate just isn’t sexy enough for most people to try something new.
FeliCa Dude points out that Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5 devices use the latest Mobile FeliCa 4.1 but are not yet qualified for Mobile PASMO even though they run Suica just fine. PASMO support lists them as in the works.
Worse than that however is that OEMs are still releasing Osaifu Keitai devices with older Mobile FeliCa 3.x/4.0 factory fixed firmware that either forces the user to choose between installing Mobile PASMO or Mobile Suica, or doesn’t work with Mobile PASMO at all. It’s a real snapshot of the Android hardware dilemma.
Apple Pay PASMO is supported in iPhone 8/Apple Watch Series 3 and later. iPhone 7 JP model users are not happy about that but the writing was on the wall with the Apple Pay Octopus ‘iPhone 8 and later’ configuration. Going forward, iPhone 8 and two-factor authentication Apple ID will be the base configuration for using Mobile ICOCA, Super Suica and other mobile transit IC cards.