Google Pixel Watch Suica…with limits

Now that Google Pixel Watch Suica is here, the obvious questions are: is it global NFC or is it limited to JP models, is Suica the only JP payment service? EMV is there of course, PASMO joined Google Pay recently with clear signs that Wear OS support is also in the works. At the very least we can expect PASMO in a future Pixel Watch update, but so far there is no mention of iD, QUICPay and other Google Pay FeliCa payment services on Wear OS.

On the global NFC side, things turned out exactly as predicted (copied below from May 2022). Pixel 7 Mobile FeliCa support is the same old ‘cheap instead of deep‘ story: all models have the same NFC hardware with Mobile FeliCa loaded, but Google only fully activates it for JP models, in other words they continue to kneecap NFC on non-JP Pixel phones.

Pixel Watch lists FeliCa on the spec page for all models and regions, it is global NFC…but is kneecapped in the initial Wear OS version. The Mobile FeliCa Cloud (aka Mobile FeliCa Lite) powered backend is the same used by Garmin and Fitbit that delivers a geolocation locked subset of Mobile Suica services; you get the stored fare balance (SF) functions and little else. All worldwide models support Suica but it can only be added on registered devices physically located in Japan, that is to say FeliCa support is limited by location not the device model. While not ideal, it does provide some highly useful digital payment functionality for inbound visitors with those devices.

Instead of limiting Suica by geolocation that Garmin and (Google owned) Fitbit do, Google kneecapped Pixel Watch Suica for some unknown reason, limiting Suica to JP models as Pixel Watch help documentation makes clear. It looks like a major fuckup for an expensive smart device from a leading tech company that can and should work the same everywhere.

Fortunately Google promises a Wear OS update that removes the NFC kneecap allowing all Pixel Watch users to add Suica when in Japan, just like Garmin and Fitbit. We shall see if Google keeps their promise. Pixel Watch Suica has other limitations similar to Garmin and Fitbit: no Suica commuter plans, no Suica plastic card transfers, no Suica Green Car Seats, no Suica Day Passes, etc, but you can register Pixel Watch Suica for extra services: JRE POINT, Eki-Net, Touch and Go Shinkansen.

In short, that state of Google Pay on Pixel 7•Pixel Watch is not the Apple Pay-like overhaul for robust native global NFC across the entire Pixel family many were hoping for. If Google delivers on their promise to remove the Pixel Watch NFC kneecap, all those users can at least use Suica. It does raise the question I asked back in May, if all Pixel Watches do Suica, why not Pixel 7? Pixel 7 is perfectly capable but Google is keeping that NFC kneecap in place. And there is the glaring Google Pay gap between Pixel 7 JP models which support all contactless JP payments from Suica to iD to Edy, while Pixel Watch only supports one: Suica.

Meanwhile Apple Watch remains the only full featured global NFC Suica wearable because Apple took the time and effort to do Apple Pay right…what else is new?

I’ll update this post with Pixel FeliCa details as they become available.


Will Pixel Watch finally deliver global NFC Google Pay? (May 2022)
Ever since Apple made global NFC standard on all iPhone and Apple Watch models in 2017, global NFC has become a litmus test of ultimate Apple-like user friendliness. When inbound devices can add Suica, it’s not only cool, but also necessary to get around. Garmin and Fitbit wearables do the global NFC thing, but Android remains stubbornly ‘buy a Japanese smartphone to do the Suica FeliCa thing.’

In the global NFC sweepstakes then, every Google Pixel release cycle is a game of ‘will they or won’t they’ finally deliver global NFC. Actually Pixel is already global NFC with Mobile FeliCa ready to go, but Google disables it on all non-Japanese Pixel models.

Which brings us to Pixel Watch which got a sneak peek at Google I/O 2022. The buzz on Japanese Twitter was basically: I want one, but not if it does’t have Suica support. Fair enough, I bet a lot of people are thinking that and not only in Japan. After all, Hong Kong users would love having a Pixel Watch that supports Octopus.

The good news is that Suica appears to be coming to Google Pay for Wear OS. Various Suica string have appeared in recent Google Pay APKs. This is expected: it would certainly be very awkward if Pixel Watch doesn’t support Suica when Fitbit devices do.

But this begs a bigger question. Wouldn’t it be extremely awkward if Pixel 7 doesn’t support Suica out of the box when Pixel Watch does? I would say so. But then again one hopes The Android Ready SE Alliance is working to fix all that, and do away with the limitations of Android HCE nonsense once and for all.

The Weekly

2022-03-14 Spring Cleaning

Mobile Suica day pass support started March 12

Mobile Suica App Day Passes
As promised Mobile Suica added day passes starting March 12. These are digital versions of the 4 day passes available for plastic Suica at JR East station kiosks: Nobiri Holiday, Tokyo Free Pass, Tokyo Ward Pass, Yokohama-Minatomirai Free Pass. Day passes are ‘same day’ purchases, valid from the first train through the last train of the purchase day.

Mobile Suica day passes are purchased via the smartphone app (Suica App on iOS, Mobile Suica on Android) and can be added to any Suica card displaying in Suica App that does not have a valid commute plan attached (expired commute plan Suica can be used). See the Suica App guide for purchase details.


Greater Kanto area Suica and PASMO extensions
March is always a busy month for transit companies, on the bright side new schedules go into effect and new services launch, on the not so bright side some older services are terminated. COVID has hit all transit very hard, but there are some good changes too such as increased Suica and PASMO Transit IC card use instead of paper tickets, and the extension of those networks.

March 12 saw two big launches, Suica 2 in 1 nolbé card with wide Gunma area bus support, and the Chichibu Railway joining PASMO. As the Yahoo Japan news blurb says, it’s finally possible for to ride all transit in Saitama Prefecture with just a Suica or PASMO.


Off Peak Commuter Suica Point Service Extension
Last but not least, the JRE POINT Off Peak Point Service campaign for Commute Suica cards (plastic and Mobile Suica) is being extended for another year, 2022-04-01~2023-03-31. The point service is being tweaked a bit. Instead of offering different point rewards for ‘early’ and ‘late’ commute times, the same points are given for both designate off peak times. The update also gives more points after 4 commuter pass transits in the same month. The program promotes commuter pass use and the updated point schedule doesn’t up the monthly max but it does offer max points to all Suica commuter users now, not just late off peak users.

JR East Off Peak Points

Google Pay PASMO

Notice: Google Pay PASMO launched 2022-09-28 (with some limitations)

Google Pay added Suica with a burst of fanfare in May 2018 that quickly soured when it became clear that Google Pay in Japan was just another Osaifu Keitai flavor. This was a year and a half after the highly successful launch of Apple Pay Suica that pretty much changed everything.

Mobile PASMO for Android Osaifu Keitai launched March 2020 followed by Apple Pay PASMO in October 2020, over a year later still no Google Pay PASMO. What’s the holdup? Does anybody really care at this point?

In short, 2021 was a very rough year for Google Pay. Nevertheless there are signs of new Google Pay services coming to Japan. For Wear OS the answer is definitely yes, for Android, maybe. Wear OS beta code strings referencing Google Pay Suica support appeared in late 2021. Today there was a reader tip of a “SERVICE_PROVIDER_PASMO” code reference in Google Play services v22.02.20 APK. Taken together it’s pretty clear that we’ll see PASMO coming to Google Pay and Suica expanding to Google Pay on Wear OS.

Timing wise the magic season for new service launches in Japan is March-April-May. They should launch together, it also makes sense for PASMO to land on both Android and Wear OS alongside Suica. The big question is whether Google Pay PASMO on Android will have the same Osaifu Keitai device restrictions that Suica has, or not.

This is why the Wear OS support angle interests me most. We’ve seen Mobile Suica expand to Garmin and Fitbit without using any Android Osaifu Keitai software. If Suica, and PASMO, on Wear OS uses the same playbook, it will mean much wider support on the growing number of smart wearable devices.

Which brings us back to Android. If Google Pay Wear OS doesn’t need Osaifu Keitai software to work, when will Google Pay on Android also cut the Osaifu Keitai cord?

2022-07-19 Update
The latest Google Play APK now includes PASMO artwork

Only Japan has cute transit card mascots?! Why?

I have been in Japan for so long that I assumed the cute, cleverly effective transit card mascot characters like Suica penguin, PASMO robot, ICOCA duck (er platypus?), etc., are employed by transit companies around the world. They are not. Let’s compare…

TfL Oyster? Not cute.

San Fransisco Clipper? So unoriginal.

Sydney Opal? Ditto.

Hong Kong Octopus? Borrowed mascot better than none?

For goodness sake, if transit companies around the world can’t implement the great technology that makes Suica great, they could at least create cute fun mascot characters that brighten the commuting day and help people feel good about riding transit again. And you do want people to ride transit again after the COVID nightmare right? Cleverly designed mascots with a touch of anime kawai’ are a great marketing tool for that.

Is it possible to move Suica to a different iCloud account?

asking for a friend but is there a way to remove a PASMO from one iCloud account, and move it over to a different iCloud account? My friend is a bit of an idiot and noob with iPhones.

This is a tricky question and even if possible, why bother? Most people would just add a new Suica•PASMO to iPhone which is very easy to do. Up until the big Mobile Suica reset on March 21 it wasn’t possible to migrate the Suica card anywhere else except a different device with same iCloud account. However, it is now possible to move the same Mobile Suica card between Android and iOS. PASMO doesn’t allow this yet because Mobile PASMO hasn’t received the same backend upgrade. If we were assigning version numbers Mobile Suica would be v2.0, Mobile PASMO would be v1.5. In Mobile Suica 2.0 the card ID, the Mobile Suica account email used for system ID, is independent of Apple Pay and Google Pay systems. Let’s take a look at how it might work.

Here is the Mobile Suica transfer path going from iOS to Android.

  • Requirements: Mobile Suica account, ID registered email and PW, latest versions of Suica App (iOS) and Mobile Suica App (Android) installed on both devices.
  • Step 1: remove Suica from Wallet on iPhone (this parks the Suica card on the Mobile Suica cloud server)
  • Step 2: on the Android device launch Mobile Suica and sign in with the same ID and PW
  • Step 3: follow the screen prompts to add the Suica card from the server to the device

One of the interesting points about Android is that the receiving device must have a valid SIM inserted, otherwise Suica will not transfer. In theory here is how the process might work going between different iCloud account devices:

  • Requirements: Mobile Suica account, ID registered email and PW, Suica App 3.0.3 or later (iOS) installed on both devices.
  • Step 1: remove Suica from Wallet on iCloud A device, sign out of Suica App or delete the app, restart device
  • Step 2: on the iCloud B device launch launch Suica App, tap [機種変更] (Transfer from Android) and sign in with the same ID and PW
  • Step 3: Tap [+], and (if the theory is correct), you should see the Suica card with balance on the server, add to Wallet

Remember this may not work as it is not officially supported by JR East, for security reasons, and I have no way to test confirm if this works or not. Even in the worst case that is does not work you still have the Suica card attached to the iCloud account. And remember, it’s very easy to add Suica and PASMO to any iPhone 8 and later or Apple Watch Series 3 and later.