Suica Platform Market Info Update

JRE Points

JR East released some more Mobile Suica / Apple Pay Suica market data via Payment Navi. Suica market basics as of February 28 2018:

  • Suica cards issued to date (plastic and Mobile Suica / Apple Pay Suica) : 68 million
  • Stores that accept Suica e-money payment: 450,190
  • Suica compatible NFC store terminals: 814,680
  • Highest recorded daily Suica transactions (August 25, 2017): 6.64 million

That might not sound impressive at first but considering that 7-Eleven has 2,600 stores in Tokyo, you begin to appreciate the scale that is the Suica Platform.

On the Mobile Suica side JR East recorded 140,000 new Mobile Suica users the first full month that Apple Pay Suica was online (November 2016) , a 700% YOY increase compared to November 2015. Longer term Mobile Suica growth was 20% the first year of Apple Pay Suica service @ 990,000. Total Mobile Suica membership as of December 31, 2017 was 5.2 million.

It’s not clear if the JR East numbers include Apple Pay Suica users who are not Mobile Suica members: users who just add a Suica card to Apple Pay but don’t use the Suica App. I suspect not as JR East reported slightly different Mobile Suica user growth numbers previously.

Even after more than 10 years of Mobile Suica service and 1 year of Apple Pay Suica service, less than 10% of the Suica install base use Suica on mobile devices. There’s plenty of growth potential but as I pointed out in Apple Pay Japan One Year Mark, the next stage of Mobile Suica growth depends on JR East’s ability to negotiate commuter pass agreements with other transit companies that allow Mobile Suica commuter passes in non-JR East regions such as Nagoya or Osaka. That would let Suica, especially Apple Pay Suica, break out of the Tokyo region box.

JR East is building up the Suica Platform in other ways: a streamlined loyalty point system and inexpensive easy to deploy thin client POS terminals.

Goodbye Suica Points, Hello JRE Points
The different JR East loyalty point systems were confusing. We had Suica Points and View Card Points that were not easily exchanged or converted. Starting in late 2017 JR East rolled out yet another point system, JRE Points, that will replace and merge everything into one thing. Suica Points have already been rolled into JRE Points, View Points will be rolled in starting in June 2018.

If you have ever used the JRE Point App you already know that JR East has a lot of work to do if they want JRE Points to be easy to use as Apple Pay Suica. JRE Point App is the kind of app that screams to be a NFC tag thing instead of forcing users to use a plastic card to get those JRE loyalty points. The current JRE Point App does let you convert JRE Points into a Suica Recharge but that’s about it. Also be careful to turn off JRE App background GPS use, it’s a real battery suck.

The JRE Point marketing rocket is just getting off the ground. Once View Points are rolled into the new system I think we’ll see some interesting JRE Point campaigns from JR East as summer gets into high gear. If they work out the NFC tag thing, it could all be great.

Android Thin Client Suica Payment Terminals
Up until now Suica Payment terminals have been ‘rich clients’ that processed payments locally. JR East feels confident enough with the robust Japanese Internet and 4G infrastructure to offer a low cost ‘thin client’ POS payment terminal, the same yet-to-be-named Android smartphone based POS terminals that JR East installed along the Joban line in February. JR East developed it with Nippon Restaurant Enterprise Co. Ltd. based on mobile Suica reader technology created for Shinkansen food service carts and vending machines.

This simple and easy to use device communicates with the Suica payment processing cloud service and works out of the box. It’s an easy choice for small shops who don’t want to bother with the complexity or cost of a CARDNET or Rakuten Pay.

Last but not least JR East said they are “considering” English language versions of Suica App (iOS) and Mobile Suica (Android) for inbound visitors to Japan in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

One more thing, last week Goldman Sachs rated JR East stock a buy.


iPhone X Suica Transit Gate Error Mapping #2

Reader comments on my error map proposal made it clear I mistakenly assumed that most people are familiar with the standard JR station layout.

Basic Station Layout
JR station gate layout has dedicated entrance and exit gates with 1 or 2 bidirectional gates in the middle to accommodate different rush hour flows. Look carefully at the bidirectional Asagaya #4 gate closeup and you can see the exit bound reader and display on the lefthand side. Slightly larger steel rimmed barriers separate the gate machines. Gates are numbered from south to north or east to west depending on the orientation.

Based on reader feedback I created two more iPhone X Suica error map proposals for Asagaya and Koenji stations but something doesn’t feel right. This approach doesn’t work: it’s too complex and also sets up the expectation that some gates are guaranteed trouble free which they are not. The iPhone X Suica problem is a iOS 11 software issue that can happen anytime, at any gate. That much is clear from reader experiences. The only thing to do is wait for Apple to fix it.

It’s a dead end so I’ll stop here. If you are interested in iPhone X Suica Problem coverage I created a page for that. New developments and information will be posted there.

The Aha Moment

Fellow blogger “Mono Suki Techo” (Notebook of Things I Like) has also been digging into the iPhone X Apple Pay Suica problem and hit gold. One of his readers reported that Apple Pay Suica worked fine with the iOS 11.0.1 his iPhone X shipped with, but he started experiencing the Suica error problem only after directly updating to iOS 11.3. This is the magic baseline that had been missing, the key that unlocks the mystery.

It’s a software issue after all.

I upgraded iPhone X to iOS 11.1 at the Docomo Shop right out of the box and missed the iOS 11.0.1 experience. That’s probably what most people did when setting up their new iPhone X and the reason why there were very few iOS 11.0.1 iPhone X Suica user experiences to compare with later. Unfortunately iOS 11.1 was the starting point for iPhone X Suica error problems which spiraled out of control with the Apple Cash iOS 11.2 Update. Apple Pay code changes for Apple Cash stomped on something in Suica and that hasn’t been fixed yet.

None of this changes anything or resolves the problem, but it’s nice to know.

Transit Gate Error Mapping for iPhone X

I though it might be a fun experiment to “map” error prone transit gates for iPhone X Apple Pay Suica users. My first idea was this:

Asagaya Gate Map
iPhone X Apple Pay Suica users avoid Asagaya station gate #4

Too much work. All that’s necessary is a list of iPhone X Apple Pay Suica error prone gates like this:

Asagaya JR Station / East Gate / Gate# 4
Ikebukuro JR Station / Chuo Gate / Gate# 1, 11
Koenji JR Station / Gate# 1, 8

For reference JR East transit gates are numbered at the bottom like this:Asagaya JR Station West Exit Gate 1

If you are a iPhone X Suica user and regularly experience transit gate errors, please send station/exit/gate # information to my Twitter address @Kanjo

I’ll compile and update new information to this post. This experiment may be a failure but who knows, some Apple NFC engineer might find the information useful.

Yeah, right.

iPhone X Apple Pay Suica一瞬エラー情報を募集しています。よく引っ掛る駅名・改札口・改札機械番号をツイッター@Kanjoまでお願いします。ここでリストアップします。

iOS 11.4 Beta Does Not Fix The iPhone X Apple Pay Suica Error Problem

That was quick.

One day after exchanging my iPhone X for a new one that did not fix the iPhone X Suica problem it was back to testing beta software. Again. I sprinted through my golden circuit of error prone JR East station gates and the new iPhone X Apple Pay Suica left a sweet trail of flickering red transit gate errors. It was bizarrely comforting.

iOS 11.4 is already beta 2. I doubt there will be any improvement in the official release but I will continue testing and post any developments.

iPhone X Apple Pay Suica performance has become an endless joke without a punchline. At this rate I doubt we will see any Suica performance tweaks in remaining iOS 11 releases. iOS 12 will probably be the best hope for that.