Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTicket Service Ends March 2020

When you purchase Shinkansen eTickets in Suica App, you’ll see a small notice at the bottom of the menu screen: Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTicket Service ends March 2020. Does this mean we’ll have to go back to paper tickets? Not at all.

JR East has been coy about the new cloud based eTicket service they are working on to replace the current Mobile Suica one. Originally the plan was to release a product similar to JR Central’s smartEX in April 2019.

Oops, that didn’t happen and I think we are better off for it. smartEx for all of it’s backend system hocus-pocus, isn’t that smart. The basic system is designed with manually input Transit IC card numbers (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, and all) as the center. The result is a fragile and static system that doesn’t port well. Sign up for the Express Reserve (EX Reserve) service option in Suica App and you too can experience JR Central’s oh so fugly EX system.

I don’t think JR East wants that kind of system. There are probably 2 aims: replacing the old but reliable iMode backend with a modern dynamic one that can comfortably process the full variety of regular train and Shinkansen eTickets while plugging into many different UI front-ends: Suica App, web, other transit company apps, etc. It will be properly internationalized too. The iMode backend has served us very well since 2006 but needs to go, take a look at the eTicket purchase screenshots on the Suica App page and you’ll see.

We’ll get a new eTicket service with a new name in a new version of Suica App, in English and Japanese probably, and lots more. I look forward to seeing what JR East comes up with for the big Tokyo Olympic 2020 rollout.


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iOS 12.1.1 Suica Express Transit Performance

Apple has never issued an iOS update that specifically mentions Suica or Express Transit Card performance, so each update becomes a guessing game of what’s fixed and what’s not. iOS 12.1.1 was released December 6 in Japan and there has been very little mention of Suica performance on Twitter. Not necessarily a good thing, if performance has changed dramatically, good or bad, people tweet about it.

I reached out to a few trusty Revision B iPhone X Suica user sources. They report no change from the buggy Suica performance they’ve experienced since upgrading to iOS 12. A few iPhone 8 users have also complained about buggy Suica performance. My experience with Suica Express Transit on iPhone XS continues to be excellent though Apple Pay Suica recharge performance is poor when recharging from a Suica notification short cut.

Here’s the iOS 12.1.1 performance score as I see it:

  • Suica Express Transit performance on pre A12 Bionic iPhone: B-
    • Occasional error flicker at transit gates
    • Unresponsive Apple Pay Suica recharge, 50% failure rate when recharging via Suica notifications
  • Suica Express Transit performance on A12 Bionic iPhone: A-
    • Unresponsive Apple Pay Suica recharge, 50% failure rate when recharging via Suica notifications

As pointed out in earlier posts Suica Express Card with power reserve on A12 Bionic is a significant departure from previous devices both in operation and performance. Also the iOS 12 Suica Express Card error flicker issue is a iOS 12 software issue that is completely different from the iPhone X Suica NFC hardware problem.

The quick summary is that Suica Express Card performance has not improved from iOS 12.1. We’ll have to wait until iOS 12.1.2 and try again.

JR East and Apple Quietly Fix a Suica Weakness

One of neat things about Apple Pay Suica is how easy it is to add, delete and migrate Suica cards to different iPhones. iCloud and Mobile Suica keep the Suica card information and balance safe and secure no matter what device it’s on.

There was one weakness however: the Suica card ID number changed every time the card was deleted and re-installed in Wallet. This was a problem for other apps that used the Suica card ID to soft link a service, such as JR Central smartEX. If the Suica card ID changed and the user forgot to manually update the new Suica ID number, the service stopped working. This is exactly what happened to me the first time I used smartEX.

This also applied to Suica Coin lockers which use the Suica card ID to lock and unlock. While it was highly unlikely anybody would delete and re-install an Apple Pay Suica card with their stuff locked away, the possibility was there.

Fortunately Apple and JR East have fixed this weakness. Now when you delete a Suica card from Wallet and re-install it the Suica ID number stays the same. JR East did not advertise the change but I suspect it was put in place the same time Touch and Go Shinkansen launched on April 1. Touch and Go soft links the Apple Pay Suica card ID number when you register.

With the new changes in place manually updating Apple Pay Suica ID numbers is a thing of the past.

UPDATE: the Suica ID number stays the same when deleting, reinstalling and migrating on iPhone but changes when transferring from iPhone to Apple Watch. I have not confirmed if Suica ID changes back to the original ID number or another new ID number when transferring Suica back to iPhone from Apple Watch.

EX App Updated for iPhone X

JR Central updated their EX App to v2.0.8 for Face ID and iPhone X compatibility. Release notes mention other improvements in the UI. EX App is used for Smart EX and EX-Press Reservation Shinkansen e-ticketing service on the Tokai and Sanyo Shinkansen Tokyo-Osaka-Fukuoka line and works in tandem with Apple Pay Suica.

Updated English language versions should also be available on USA, Australian and Indonesia app stores but is not confirmed.

Apple Pay Suica EX Quick Guide

JR Central offers the EX App for Shinkansen online eTicket purchases that can be linked with Apple Pay Suica for travel on Tokaido (Tokyo~Osaka) Sanyo (Osaka~Hakata) Shinkansen. EX has 2 different kinds of accounts that can link with Apple Pay Suica: smartEX and Express Reserve.

The 2 different kinds of EX accounts that link with Apple Pay Suica have some important differences:

  • Express Reserve: membership costs ¥1,080 a year but offers a wide range of ticket discounts. Registration is done via the Japanese language only Suica App and Express Reserve only accepts Japanese issue credit cards.
  • smartEx: membership is free but discounts are limited. Online registration is offered in Japanese language and English language and smartEx accepts a wide variety of credit cards from Japan and other countries.

EX App from the Japan App Store offers more features: Japanese and English support, login support for all EX services: Express Reserve (Express Card), smartEX and JR West Card, and Face ID/Touch ID support, but does not support direct account creation/registration.

EX downloaded on App Stores outside of Japan support smartEx account creation/registration in the app, but do not support or Express Reserve login or Face ID/Touch ID login.

All versions of EX do not support Apple Pay for In-App eTicket purchases.


smartEX Registration
To register and use smartEX you need 2 things: a Japanese transit card ID number and a credit card. Apple Pay Suica users must have Suica App installed to access their Suica ID.

I highly recommend preparing your Apple Pay Suica ID number before smartEX registration. Copy Suica ID in Suica App then paste it into Memo app. It will be one long 17 character alpha-numeric string starting with “JE”. Put a few spaces between JE and the following 15 character string so that you can easily copy just the last 15 characters without JE.

JR Central smartEX Registration guide here
The English language smartEX App registration process is different from the Japanese registration process: you do registration in the app itself.

  1.  Register name, birth date, email, password, credit card with credit card verification, and transit card ID. Be careful to copy and paste just the last 15 characters of your Apple Pay Suica ID explained above.
  2. Login with your password. Unlike the Japanese EX App, FaceID/Touch ID is not supported. However you can download and use EX from the Japanese App Store which offers full support and works in English.

Express Reserve Suica App Registration
Using Express Reserve with Apple Pay Suica requires a JR East View card or JR Central Express Card or Plus EX membership. This guide only covers JR East View card registration.

The Suica App sign up process is not difficult but requires decent Japanese reading ability, patience and a JR East View Card already registered in Suica App. With that in place and your 4 digit View Card PIN number on hand, tap the Suica App View Express menu, then tap View Express Register.

The View Express Register section will instruct you to enter 4 digits of your PIN number in a random order.

Once View Express Register is successfully completed wait 2 weeks for JR Central to send your View Epresss Express Reserve IC card.

JR Central IC
EX IC Card for View Card

After receiving your View Express IC go to Suica App and tap Express Reserve. You are bumped to Safari and have to tap the agree-service connect button near the bottom. After tapping the button you are taken to the mobile Express Reserve login site.

Tap the text line just below the orange login banner that reads: “Mobile Suica users accessing Express Reserve for the first time touch here.”

This takes you through a quick registration process where you enter an email address and receive a mail with a special smartphone registration link. Tap the link then enter your View Card number/expiration date and a password. When completed you receive an Express Reserve member ID.

EX App
An interesting and important difference from smartEX is that registration via Suica App automatically registers the Apple Pay Suica card ID with the EX system.

Once registration is complete, use the EX App downloaded from the Japan App Store for Express Reserve Shinkansen ticket reservation and purchases. Be sure to login to EX App with your Express Reserve member ID and password using the Express Card sign-on option. You can also login with a smartEx account.

After login, Shinkansen eTicket reservation and purchase is the same. See the JR Central EX App online guide for instructions.

If you ride JR Central – JR West Shinkansen lines more than 1~2 times a year and have a View Card, Express Reserve ticket discounts are worth the registration via Suica App Express Reserve. Happy transit!