My Not Smart Shinkansen Trip with smartEX

I followed all the smartEX registration instructions, honest engine I did. I logged into EX with my smartEX generated ID and password and purchased my Shinkansen ticket to Nagoya without a hitch. All looked good. At the appointed day and time I went to the Tokyo station Tokaido Shinkansen gate. Everything went to hell.​

​The station attendant placed my iPhone on the reader to diagnose the problem. Despite doing all the right steps my smartEX e-ticket purchase was not linking to my Apple Pay Suica. He then took me to a ticket machine and said, “Enter your smartEX password.” I use Touch ID with EX App and did not know the password, The poor attendant waited while I dug around in Safari passwords to find it. With the password entered he printed out a paper ticket.

The attendant told me that I needed to call smartEX system support to solve the problem. I asked if there was one. He grabbed a smartEX pamphlet but there was no number. He said, “There’s a number listed in the app.” There was not but I said thank you anyway and offered some advice, “I feel sorry for the station attendants if JR Central doesn’t improve smartEX. When the English language version of this drops on October 30, it will be a mess.”

smartEX System Weak Points
I used my travel time to dig around in EX App preferences. It was time well spent. smartEX registration can only be done in the browser, but once completed you can edit account information in EX App. The app has a Touch ID log in option but there is a separate mandatory security layer for editing smartEX account information:

Generate a onetime password and receive it by email. After entering the onetime password you can edit all your registered information: name, email, credit card, Apple Pay Suica ID:

I re-entered my Apple Pay Suica ID and asked the Nagoya station attendant to confirm if my smartEX was correct. She placed my iPhone on the reader and confirmed that I was all set now. My return trip was a breeze, smartEX worked fine.

Apple Pay Suica ID Formatting Differnces and Errors
As I said previously smartEX registration is a work in progress and will certainly be a friction point for many inbound Apple Pay Suica users. The reasons are simple:

  1. Suica App only copies the entire 17 character Suica ID (screen shot below)
  2. smartEX only accepts a 15 character ID and automatically formats the pasted ID from Suica App deleting the final 2 characters
  3.  smartEX cannot automatically verify your Suica ID with Mobile Suica or Apple Pay. This can only happen if smartEX is linked with Mobile Suica, or better yet if JR East Mobile Suica hosts all the other IC transit cards on their cloud service like one big happy family.

Suggestion for Smooth smartEX
Here is a suggestion for a smooth maiden smartEX voyage. The system by itself cannot verify if everything is in working order but JR Central station attendants at Tokaido Shinkansen ticket gates can verify it for you. Verification requires the following:

  • Successful smartEX registration
  • Successful smartEX login and e-ticket purchase

Tell the Shinkansen gate attendant that you want to verify your smartEX ticket purchase and hand them your iPhone. A quick check on the reader is all that is needed. If all is in order you are assured of a smooth process every time. Have your smartEX ID and password on hand in case something goes wrong. The attendant will need it to print out paper tickets.

 

 

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smartEX Beats Suica to the App Store with English

There is a small chance that Suica App could release an English language version  before smartEX App arrives on October 30 but I doubt it.

The reasons are varied but boil down to one single difference: smartEX is a simple streamlined app that pulls information off a simple streamlined ticket reservation system while Suica App is the front window of an entire ecosystem.

smartEx App does one thing: Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen e-ticket reservations/purchases. This includes timetable searches, seat availability/reservations and refunds. It uses your registered account information (name, credit card and IC transit card) but does not allow you to manage any of it. smartEX e-tickets are not downloaded or directly attached/stored on the IC transit card and do not interact with Apple Pay Suica.

Suica App does many things:

  • Mobile Suica account management (name, credit card, Suica card, etc.)
  • Suica card creation and registration (Apple Pay)
  • JR East Shinkansen e-ticket reservations/purchases
  • Green Seat purchases on regular trains
  • Suica Commuter Pass purchase, renewal and changes
  • Refunds
  • Suica Recharge
  • Suica Auto Recharge setup
  • Suica App e-tickets download directly and are stored on Apple Pay Suica

On top of all that Suica App is adding JR Central Tokaido and JR West Sanyo Shinkansen e-ticket purchase options starting October 23. That is a lot of services packed in a single app with many moving database parts on the backend. All of these parts have to be in English before Suica App can make its English language debut.

Suica App is like the tiny tip of a huge iceberg. There is a huge mass of Japanese information dating back to the i-mode era lurking underneath the surface that has to be localized and vetted. That alone takes time and resources. But if JR East doesn’t take the time to do it right, their limited support resources would be quickly overwhelmed: imagine if an English language users taps on an option in Suica App and is suddenly faced with a screen full of Japanese. English language support would be flooded with questions.

The easy thing to do would be pruning option menus down to a manageable quick delivery turn around for English localization but I don’t think JR East will take that path. I prefer to have the whole of Suica App in English, even if it takes time.

smartEX English Language Service and App Coming on October 30

JR Central announced that an English language version of the smartEX Shinkansen e-ticket service will launch October 30 along with the smartEX app. This comes exactly one month after the launch of the Japanese service.

The app looks like a localized version of the current Japanese EX App. This is a welcome development but I sincerely hope the smartEX registration rough spots have been smoothed over and simplified (note that the app preview does not show the registration). Otherwise there will be some very frustrated foreigners.

The great thing is that iPhone 8 and iPhone X users from abroad can easily add Suica to Apple Pay and use it with smartEX for paperless e-ticket travel on the Tokaido Shinkansen. All on your iPhone. Have fun.

ICOCA Getting Ready for Apple Pay #2

JR West announced additional stations that will gain ICOCA IC transit card support in the summer of 2018 completing the JR West IC transit network.

Japanese users are speculating on Twitter if this means Apple Pay ICOCA is coming at the same time. If JR West can get a Mobile cloud service in place by then, it is definitely possible.

Mobile PASMO Intriguing Pieces

It’s very odd when you consider that global FeliCa iPhone 8 is the only smartphone in the world that you can use out of the box to add a Suica card and use SmartEX to ride the Shinkansen with just iPhone 8 and Apple Pay Suica. You do not need a Mobile Suica account like any other smartphone because Apple built Suica functions and connectivity into Apple Pay.

That is unique and interesting but why did JR Central go out of its way and devote resources to support JR East and Apple Pay Suica when their own TOICA transit card only exists as a plastic one? It doesn’t make sense: all the elite EX-PRESS business travelers who use the JR Central Shinkansen regularly will dump TOICA and go all in with Apple Pay Suica. Companies invest resources for a reason, something is going on.

It is also very odd that PASMO registered the Mobile PASMO trademark on Apple Keynote day as the first step before anything else including, it seems, creating a plan. Clearly a branding trademark is on PASMO’s mind. Let’s look at these intriguing pieces from a branding perspective.

The Apple Pay Suica diagram looks like this:Apple Pay Suica Diagram

Apple has invested a lot of time and effort to add global FeliCa and emulate all the Suica FeliCa functions in Apple Pay and on iPhone hardware. As Japanese IT journalist Junya Suzuki pointed out in his Mobile PASMO piece, all the Japanese transit cards are compatible on the outside but on the inside there are differences in how they use the FeliCa chip and add service extras.

Implementing all those differences and service extras in Apple Pay and on iPhone hardware is a lot of work for Apple. There is also the problem of a PASMO building their own mobile service with limited financial resources. Last but not least there is very little time until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

PASMO’s trademark move suggests the solution is simply going to be a branding one:

Apple Pay PASMO Diagram
PASMO would have to host commuter pass and credit card accounts on the JR East Mobile Suica cloud. Apple and JR East would simply brand the PASMO information.
Start with a basic service that offers the 2 big things Japanese users want most:

  • Commuter passes
  • Credit card loyalty points

JR East started simple by dropping EX-PRESS Shinkansen options from the Suica App until JR Central had iPhone Apple Pay Suica interoperability in place. JR Central is doing the same with the browser only simplistic SmartEX registration process.

This model can work for iOS apps too. JR East could host a PASMO app in addition to their Suica app:Apple Pay Apps Diagram

The evidence so far suggests this is how Mobile PASMO will play out. It provides an easy model for PASMO and the other transit cards to get on board Apple Pay quickly then add back service extras over time. JR Central cooperation with JR East and Apple Pay Suica is another sign that things are warming up on several fronts.

Suzuki san will be talking with companies later this month. It will be interesting to see if his reports confirm this scenario. I think they will.