The Mobile PASMO Super Suica Challenge

The recently announced Mobile PASMO has some serious limitations lucidly explained in FeliCa Dude’s ‘Mobile PASMO – something we shouldn’t need‘ reddit post. It shines a light on the unfortunate petty politics of Japanese business culture, a catch-22 that ends up killing the very opportunities Japanese companies work to create. Mimicchii is a good Japanese word for it: so obsessively stuck on pointless small details that one completely misses the big opportunity. The PASMO association knows they will loose out, eventually, but hang on to their one and only advantage, commute passes, in the hope they gain a better losers bargain in the end. But how much opportunity is lost by then?

As FeliCa Dude points out, Mobile PASMO is a pointless waste of money and system resources to replicate what Mobile Suica already does:

PASMO is inferior to Suica in many respects, the idea of deploying Mobile PASMO and removing the user’s ability to choose Mobile Suica is fairly short-sighted. Such a development likely cost many hours and much money, but is effectively a boondoggle and a monument to the stubborn failure of JR and the PASMO Association to sort out a way to issue commuter passes on each other’s cards.

Taken to an extreme each transit card player would build its own mobile service but this is impossible in an era of shrinking ridership and resources.

Come together into one mobile service please…

The next generation 2 cards in 1 Suica due in 2021 aims to fix the current state of affairs. Architecturally I expect the problems will be solved, but corporate politics are another matter. JR East will have to offer enough cost saving incentives and flexible extras for the other major transit card players to host their service assets on Mobile Suica: commute plans, Shinkansen eTickets and more. It’s certainly in everybody’s best interest to do so. Time to put aside the mimicchii politics and duplication. If Japanese transit companies can’t come together to build the future, everybody loses.

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The Mobile PASMO announcement

Mobile PASMO was announced for Osaifu Keitai compatible Android devices running Android 6 or later, the service due to start in late March. There was speculation the service would launch at some point when the Mobile PASMO name was registered in late 2017. Here are a few quick observations based on the sparse announcement details.

  • Service is limited to the Mobile PASMO Osaifu Keitai Android app with a limited credit/debit card backend. Think Suica App without Google Pay or Apple Pay integration. You can register a single card for recharge hosted by the Mobile PASMO backend but users cannot mix and match cards like you can with Apple and Google digital wallets and Mobile Suica.
  • This announcement is cutting things awfully close for a March debut of a major service with a squishy start date and no user device profile due until just before launch. Japanese companies usually announce ‘coming this spring’ services 3~4 months in advance. This suggests testing is not very far along and not all PASMO rail operators are integrated for Mobile PASMO commute passes at launch. Long story short: we won’t see Google Pay or Apple Pay integration for a while, local Japanese reports are confirming this already.
  • Suica and PASMO systems are already cross integrated for auto recharge and commute passes at the transit gate and station kiosk level, we also have the next generation Suica format coming one year from now in early 2021. Reducing support costs for commute pass purchase and renewals by moving them online are a key target for both systems, growing integration of Mobile Suica and Mobile PASMO is a given.

Summary and Update
Mobile PASMO is a classic Osaifu Keitai app similar to 2011 era Mobile Suica before Apple Pay and Google Pay integration. That level of integration will require more backend cloud support and qualification but this won’t come easy for PASMO by itself: unlike Suica which is run by JR East, PASMO is an association of large and small private rail operators, only a few of whom have deep pockets and IT resources. The real question is how much JR East Mobile Suica and Mobile PASMO will cooperate to deploy Mobile Suica resources and deep expertise to integrate the many different PASMO players and expand services for all. FeliCa Dude sums it up best in his essential Reddit post: Mobile PASMO – something we shouldn’t need.

The Suica Part

The arrival of Apple Pay Express Transit on Transport for London this month is getting a lot more press than the debut of Apple Pay Express Transit and Suica in October 2016. Local coverage at the time was focused on the arrival of Apple Pay in Japan, Express Transit was barely mentioned. TfL is also getting more press than the debut of Express Transit on the New York MTA OMNY system earlier this year. Apple even created a special page highlighting its arrival.

I suspect there are a few reasons for the brouhaha. The Oyster IC transit card has been around since 2003, open loop EMV contactless cards service started in 2012, Apple Pay support arrived in 2015. MTA on the other hand only started OMNY with very limited open loop transit service in late May. The majority of MTA users still do the MetroCard manual swipe thing. In short TfL users are very familiar with Oyster transit IC cards, contactless bank cards and Apple Pay. They are well aware of the Express Transit difference. The same is true for Apple Pay users in areas like Sydney with a similar transit card system.

MacRumors did a good job of reporting the initial Express Transit on TfL test ramp up before the official debut. Joe Rossignol’s explanation of Express Transit mode support in “parts of Japan” is rather odd though. Which parts does he think don’t work?

The Suica part covers JR East, but since Suica is part of the Japan Transit IC Mutual Use Association this means that Apple Pay Suica works with the PASMO, ICOCA, manaca, nimoca, Pitapa, Toica, Sugoca, Kitaca and Hayaken parts. The Okinawa part will be joining in April 2020. Maybe Rossignol means the parts outside of the blue/pink square mutual transit use area? Most of these are already transit compatible with Apple Pay Suica (the ones with IC arrows pointing at them). This leaves the ones without IC arrows, which will be joining with Super Suica in 2021.

With the exclusion of the soon to join Okinawa OKICA, Apple Pay Suica already covers all the major transit parts in Japan. I have no idea which Apple Pay Suica incompatible parts Rossignol is referring to. The Minobu line? The Oigawa Railway? It is a mystery.

File:ICCard Connection en.svg
Japan Transit IC Map, outside white area cards are due to join Super Suica in 2021

Consumption tax, Cashless rebates and Coffee shops

In case you are not a DOUTOR regular, you may not have noticed that they recently added QUICPay and iD to their cashless payment options. What’s interesting is that QUICPay and iD are the only way to pay with credit/debit cards. It’s completely contactless, the only swipe-able item is the DOUTOR prepaid store card (which is MIFARE on the reader btw). In other words DOUTOR is all ready for the CASHLESS rebate program that starts tomorrow along with the 10% consumption tax.

But DOUTOR is not listed in the iOS CASHLESS App. 7 Eleven, FamilyMart and Lawson are listed there, but MiniStop is not. What is going on? The CASHLESS rebate program is rolling out in waves. The first cut of 500,000 CASHLESS rebate stores goes online October 1, with successive waves at, hopefully, regular 10 day intervals until everybody is onboard. This keeps payment systems from overloading which I think is smart, as a Japanese friend put it, “It’s the smartest thing the Japanese government has done so far.”

You might notice double listings for CASHLESS rebate stores, one for credit cards, one for QR, one for e-payment cards. This is also a startup limitation. Store listings will be consolidated after the program starts.

There are some interesting startup store differences, DOUTOR and Starbucks are not listed, but Cafe Colorado is, and get this: they have the Odagiri Joe marketed AirPay system in place that takes everything from Suica to credit cards to NFC Pay. The local franchise owner is even excited about putting up his CASHLESS poster tomorrow.

If that’s not cashless progress, what is? Regardless of whether the CASHLESS rebate is ‘a success’ or not, it will be a tipping point. Already I notice a shift in public perception: if a store is cash only, it definitely looks behind the times in the minds of customers.

I think that’s the whole point.

Tokyo Cashless 2020: Dear JR East, we need a new Suica Charge App

1️⃣ >Dear JR East, we need a new Suica Charge App
2️⃣ Consumption tax relief with the CASHLESS rebate program
3️⃣ Are Apple Maps and Siri really Apple Pay level ready for the Tokyo Olympics?
4️⃣ Blame the Japan Cashless Payments mess on VISA and EMVCo, not FeliCa

Tokyo Cashless 2020 is a series covering all things cashless as Japan gears up for the big event. If there is a topic that you’d like covered tweet me @Kanjo

Now that iOS 13 with supercharged Core NFC is almost here, it’s time for JR East to junk the old Suica Charge app for Sony PaSoRi FeliCa reader combo on life support until the plug is pulled in September 2020, and create a new Core NFC supercharged app for iOS 13. Since any iPhone 7 and later has the ability to Read/Write FeliCa cards build a whole new app around iPhone as the NFC read/write device. Here are some other helpful suggestions:

  • Make the app multilingual, or at least support English in addition to Japanese
  • Cooperate with the other major transit card companies to support all compatible Japanese transit IC cards for recharging, not just Suica
  • Support international issue credit/debit card registration in the app so that anybody from anywhere can recharge plastic transit IC cards with their bank card
  • Support In-App Apple Pay for recharging
  • Support the app on Non-Osaifu Keitai Android phones that can read/write NFC-F, there are lots of them out there coming to Tokyo in 2020, support Google Pay for In-App recharging too

There is an ocean of plastic Japanese transit IC cards out there. There are lots of Android users, and even iPhone users, who cannot use Apple Pay Suica or Google Pay Suica. A handy Suica recharge app that lets inbound travelers recharge plastic transit cards on the go with just a smartphone is screaming to be born, it would be an essential tool in alleviating station recharge kiosk lines during the Tokyo Olympics. JR East, please make it happen.

Update: I forgot that JR East already announced the end of “Suica Internet” services in September 2020. Suica Internet is a set of internet based services for online shopping and recharging Suica cards with the Sony PaSori reader and a Windows PC. JR East is pruning legacy services as they prepare for the next generation Super Suica rollout in April 2021.