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.


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.

Dear Apple and JR East, we need Apple Pay Family Suica

watchOS 7 Family Setup is a bigger deal than many people might think at first glance. Apple Cash Family is just one part of the service with transfers from a parent’s iPhone to a child’s Apple Watch. It’s the most compelling Apple Cash use case I can think of, and Apple Watch for children without iPhone is appealing to parents in a way that iPhone by itself is not.

I’ve always said that if Apple Watch ever gained direct Suica loading with parental controls, Apple could make a killing selling it into the Japanese education market. watchOS 7 Family Setup is almost there for the JP market but needs one more thing: Family Suica.

Next generation ‘Super’ Suica is coming early 2021 and next generation FeliCa is shipping in November. We already have digital car keys in Wallet that can be shared and Mobile Suica will be doing a lot more on the cloud with Super Suica. Apple and JR East have all the necessary new features they need to create an insanely great Apple Pay Family Suica.

The service outline is simple and combines what car keys do in Wallet with digital key sharing and Apple Cash Family does with transfers and limits. A master Apple Pay Suica ID is setup on an iPhone and manages family member Apple Pay Suica on other devices. The master ‘organizer’ would transfer stored fare (SF) via Messages and set spending limits just like Apple Cash Family does. Simple intuitive convenience.

Apple Pay Family Suica also needs transferable commuter passes. That way a parent can set one up for a child, transfer it to Apple Watch and renew it remotely. Transferable commuter passes would also be handy in our COVID teleworking era as working parents might not need a pass every working day. A “hey honey can I borrow your pass today,” thing that plastic transit card users do all the time.

So far nobody has managed to to produce a smartwatch that matches the super convenience of Apple Watch and Apple Pay Suica. If JR East and Apple produce Family Suica, they would effectively future-proof both next generation Suica and Apple Watch in the Japan market.

Smells like Super Suica: Sony unveils next generation FeliCa

Sony announced the next generation FeliCa chip on September 8. Next generation FeliCa was mentioned in the September 2018 next generation Suica, aka Super Suica, press release. This is the first glimpse into some of the new FeliCa features that Super Suica will use. The Japanese and English press released highlight different feature sets. A basic rundown:

  • Extended Overlap Service: different service providers can share additional services, while making the most of existing systems.
  • Value-Limited Purse Service: purse data can be set as a negative numerical value, and enables “Upper Limit Value” and “Lower Limit Value” to be specified.
  • FeliCa Secure ID: on the surface this cloud based service sounds exactly like the digital car key feature Sony and NTT Docomo demoed at the Docomo Open House back in January and exactly like Apple Pay Car Key sharing. Dare I say there seems to be more web service functionality that might relate to the NFC Tag Maas Suica hinted at by AquaBit Spirals CEO Tomohiro Hagiwara.
  • Additional Security Options: state of the art encryption, integrity protection option for ‘cost-balanced system solution use cases where higher priority is given to high-speed transactions while meeting the required security needs’. The new chip also complies with Public Transportation IC Card Protection Profile (PTPP).

The new hardware chip is NFC Forum Type 3 Tag compliant and works with NFC Forum certified devices.

As I explained previously, one big aim of Super Suica is sharing resources and services to reduce costs. Right off the bat Extended Overlap Service looks exactly what Super Suica wants to do: host other transit company commuter passes and reward points. The new FeliCa Japanese press release graph illustrates this, it almost looks like dual mode services in a single mode card. I think Super Suica is going to leverage the shit out of it.

Another interesting feature is the Value-Limited Purse Service. Super Suica will certainly get a stored value purse upgrade from the current ¥20,000 limit. I’m curious to find out if next generation Suica uses the new feature for additional stored value services.

One big question is when does FeliCa Networks upgrade Mobile FeliCa with all these new features and when do licensed developers get the goods. Sony and NTT Docomo already demoed Android Osaifu Keitai smartphones using FeliCa Secure ID and digital car keys with Ultra Wideband ‘Touchless’ in January. I think it’s safe to assume licensees get new FeliCa chips and upgraded Mobile FeliCa at the same time.

This is just a cursory overview. I have fingers crossed that FeliCa Dude will post something to Reddit that will delight and enlighten us when he has the time. In the meantime we have Apple Pay PASMO coming down the pike very soon in what I hope is a preview of more to come in 2021.

FeliCa Dude has posted an excellent overview on Reddit covering the new features and what they mean for operators. More than ever I am convinced that the big new marquee features, Extended Overlap Service and Value-Limited Purse Service will be playing major roles in Super Suica.

Suica UI tweaks in iOS 14/watchOS 7

As with every major iOS update the Apple Pay Suica UI gets a minor tweak or two. Sometimes they pan out, sometimes they don’t. The dynamic commute plan ‘Renew’ button was a little more descriptive in b4 and b5. At best it’s was of questionable value when the language was Japanese but downright embarrassing to look at when the language was English.

Since Wallet card UI elements can be dynamic why not highlight the expiration date in red instead? Apple engineers fortunately had the better sense to change the button label back to the sensible iOS 13 design in iOS 14 b6, the final design.

watchOS 7 Suica is getting some useful tweaks: card transaction history, low balance and commute plan renewal reminders, and Suica card information can now be viewed and/or set directly on Apple Watch. In watchOS 6 these can only be viewed or set in iOS Watch App.

Apple Pay PASMO and the coming transit IC card rush to mobile

Mobile PASMO was announced in January 2020, launched on Android Osaifu Keitai in March and will land on Apple Pay with the iOS 14 update this fall. As early as April Apple was already dropping hints that Apple Pay PASMO was on the way.

9 months is a quick turnaround for announcing and launching an entirely new mobile transit service across 2 digital wallet platforms: Android (Osaifu Keitai) and Apple Pay. It sure beats Cubic Transportation Systems who have yet to get Apple Pay Ventra out the door more than a year after it was first announced in March 2019 on the far less complex Chicago transit area.

While many Apple Pay users in Japan are happy to have PASMO, there is always that nagging question: if I already have Apple Pay Suica that works nationwide, what’s the point of Apple Pay PASMO? All the major transit cards are cross compatible, the only difference is commuter passes…and reward points. As FeliCa Dude so astutely explained in his excellent Reddit post, Mobile PASMO is a boondoggle, the result of JR East and PASMO Association failing to cooperate and mutually host commute plans…and points.

All Japanese transit cards are slightly different versions of Suica. There could easily be one national transit card and Japanese users absolutely would love having it, but ICOCA, TOICA, manaca, SUGOCA, Kitaca, nimoca and Hayaken want to hang on to commuter passes…and points. The good news is that (1) Mobile PASMO got off the ground in a very short time, (2) JR East is providing Mobile Suica cloud assets. I suspect Mobile Suica is likely hosting Mobile PASMO as well but whatever deal they cut is hush-hush.

Suica growth, the CASHLESS tax rebate effect, COVID and all that
Junya Suzuki beat me to the punch today with an excellent piece that covers the Apple Pay PASMO announcement and several recent Suica trends including the recent addition of Suica to Square. The most important one to me is the July 2020 edition JR East factsheet Suica section: “Number of e-money available shops”. The number of Suica ready stores increased 50% YOY by 324,000 in the March 2019~March 2020 fiscal year with store growth outside of station areas increasing the most.

This is a direct result of the CASHLESS Tax Rebate program which provided merchant subsidies for cashless infrastructure. That program ended June 30 but there is talk in government circles of implementing a similar program to boost the economy and drive cashless use in the COVID era.

JR East factsheet Suica Section

Suzuki san points out what I have said in other posts, Mobile Suica growth from the October 2016 Apple Pay Suica start point is remarkable: 9.3 million users as of March 2020. And the growth rate is accelerating. Smaller and less expensive mobile devices like Apple Watch with Apple Pay Suica and Garmin Suica make the mobile transition attractive for a wider number of users.

JR East factsheet Suica Section

With restricted travel in the COVID era every single transit company in Japan is facing tremendous pressure to reduce costs. Moving away from high cost plastic transit cards with cut and past Mobile Suica IT assets and next generation Suica card architecture will be the easiest way to do that.

The rush to mobile
It starts now. Apple Pay PASMO marks the start point of a transit IC card rush to mobile digital wallets. Mobile PASMO is rebranded Mobile Suica. With next generation aka Super Suica coming in 2021, at the very least I think we’ll see similar arrangements from JR West ICOCA, JR Central TOICA and other major transit IC cards. With the addition of MaaS NFC Tag Suica, we’ll see a faster, wider uptake of Mobile Suica and sister services for payments everywhere.

And for those Open Loop advocates out there Junya Suzuki has some surprising analysis regarding the Japanese transit scene: despite some limited installation such as Okinawa Monorail, he does’t see transit companies going in for Open Loop in any big way. Mag strip paper ticketing will gradually be eliminated as next generation transit gates go into service over the next few years but mobile transit cards and paper QR Codes will be the replacement, not Open Loop.

As I have said before, the whole ‘Open Loop vs Closed Loop aka EMV contactless bank cards vs Native IC transit cards’ debate is pre-mobile plastic era out of date thinking. Mobile wallets and apps have tossed that whole game out the window for good. Why do you think QR Code payments and UWB Touchless are coming to Apple Pay in iOS 14? It’s a whole new crazy game. Better get used to it.