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.

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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.

Suica App EX Reservation

Chi-san finally rides the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Okayama with just Apple Pay Suica on Apple WatchMy smartEX quick review explained the differences between smartEX and EXReservation services and noted:

An interesting point is that JR Central has spent extra time and resources working with JR East to make EX interoperable with Apple Pay Suica and Suica App. This is strange when you consider that neither JR Central’s own transit card TOICA, nor JR West’s ICOCA have a Mobile Suica-like smartphone version ready to deploy on Apple Pay.

EXPress Reservation-Suica App chartI breezed past the October 23 Suica App update that added Apple Pay Suica – EX Reservation interoperability and assumed it was the same EX-IC + Transit IC Card arrangement used by JR Central EX users .

That was a mistake. I should have paid more attention because there were far too many Japanese twitter users celebrating the arrival of Apple Pay Suica – EX Reservation interoperability. Then I stumbled across an excellent post on Another Dimension by Chi.

Chi waited 10 years for the October 23 Apple Pay Suica – EX interoperability startup and his post outlines the long winding road up to his maiden Okayama ~ Tokyo Shinkansen trip with just Apple Pay Suica. Without a EX-IC card. That is what Apple Pay Suica users were all excited about, parity with Android Mobile Suica – EX Reservation interoperability that has been in place for years.

EXPress Reservation with Mobile Suica/Apple Pay Suica
Register Apple Pay Suica in the Suica App EXPress Reservation menu as your “EX-IC” card

Joining the EX Reservation via Suica App registers Apple Pay Suica as the “EX-IC” card for travel on JR Central and JR West Shinkansen lines with just Apple Pay Suica. This is exactly the same as smartEX but with the much bigger EX Reservation discounts. A single Shinkansen trip with EX Reservation discounts pretty much covers the annual ¥1,080 membership fee.

Suica App Sign Up
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 3 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 EX Reservation IC card.

JR Central IC
EX IC Card for View Card

After receiving your View Express IC go to Suica App and tap EXPress Reservation. Every time you tap this menu 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 Reservation login site.

Tap the text line just below the orange login banner that reads: “Mobile Suica users accessing EXPress Reservation 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 that then enter your View Card number/expiration date and a password. When completed you receive an EXPress Reservation member ID.

Smarter than smartEX
An interesting and important difference from smartEX is that registration via Suica App automatically enters your Apple Pay Suica ID with the EX system and updating is easy if your Suica ID changes from a re-install, etc. smartEX requires a manual update if the Suica ID changes and is easy to forget.

Once registration is complete use the EX App for JR Central – JR West Shinkansen ticket reservation and purchase. Be sure to login EX App with your Express Reservation member ID and password via the Express Card option.

If you ride JR Central – JR West Shinkansen lines more than 1~2 times a year and have a View Card, EX ticket discounts are worth registration via Suica App EXPress Reservation.

smartEX Start Line: Quick Guide (U)

The English language version of JR Central-JR West smartEX, the Tokaido~Sanyo Shinkansen e-ticket service launched October 30. The EX App itself has been localized in English in the Japan App Store for some time now, the October 30 rollout is the debut of the English version smartEX App on the US, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong App Stores and Google Play. What follows is a simple explanation and review for Apple Pay Suica users.

To understand the good and weak points of smartEX and see if it’s worth using or not, it’s important to look at the whole EX system: smartEX and its older sister service EX-PRESS Reservation.

smartEX comparison chart v2

EXPress Reservation-Suica App chart

Background
smartEX and EX-PRESS both do the same thing from the same EX system: provide ticketless Shinkansen reservations and purchases for JR Central (Tokyo~Osaka) and JR West (Osaka~Fukuoka). EX-PRESS is the older of the two and was built with IC transit cards as the centerpiece: a special Shinkansen IC card used in tandem with regular IC transit cards. It is aimed at frequent Shinkansen business travelers and offers many kinds of discounts and services.

smartEX is the EX system streamlined for the mobile era. It does away with the special Shinkansen EX-IC card and only uses Apple Pay Suica, regular plastic transit cards or Mobile Suica on Android. smartEX is all about convenience over discounts and is aimed at the occasional traveler.

Transition from IC Cards to Mobile
But losing the EX-IC card means losing the ability to offer loyalty points, special discounts and other goodies tied to it. From the system infrastructure standpoint, migrating and repositioning EX to use regular transit cards instead of EX-IC, was starting over from scratch.

An interesting point is that JR Central-JR West have spent extra time and resources working with JR East to make EX interoperable with Apple Pay Suica and Suica App. This is strange when you consider that neither JR Central’s own transit card TOICA, nor JR West’s ICOCA have a Mobile Suica-like smartphone version ready to deploy on Apple Pay or Android.

It’s almost as if smartEX is laying a foundation for Apple Pay Suica-like service down the line, either on a JR Central-JR West cloud service they build themselves or hosted on JR East Mobile Suica.

smartEX Preflight
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 EX App 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.

smartEX Registration in EX
The international EX App registration process is different from the Japanese registration process I experienced a month ago: you do registration in the app itself, a much better less confusing process. The Japanese EX service started as PC browser portal in 2008; EX App is a fairly new addition so the browser registration requirement for Japanese users remains in place.

  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. A collection of EX App registration screen shots is shown below.
  2. Login with your password. Unlike the Japanese EX App, Touch ID is not supported.

Your credit card verification step experience depends on your credit card bank; it can be jarring jump to a web page within the app. The transit card ID registration step requires selecting first 2 letters in one field, followed by manually entering the remaining 15 characters of the code in a separate field.

Once registration is complete you can access and update your smartEX membership information in EX App. I highly recommend verifying your membership information in EX App to make sure eveerything is correctly registered.

EX App e-ticket Purchase
In the login screen enter your smartEX password. The main screen is the Reserve a train search screen set for the current time and place.

  1. Select departure time, station points and tap search
  2. In select train check seat availability then tap the train that you want to ride
  3. Select the kind seating: smartEX Reserve, smartEX Non-Reserve. With Reserve you can choose a seat from the Select seat screen. You can also change the car you want to sit in.
  4. In the confirm your purchase screen tap Purchase

Be careful because once you tap Purchase e-ticket purchase is instant. You can change a reservation for free but a refund costs ¥300.

Comparison with Suica App
Comparing the EX App with Suica App is fun but a little unfair. Suica App is a UI window on the vast Mobile Suica ecosystem, while EX App is just Shinkansen e-ticket reservation and purchase that doesn’t download anything to the local device like Suica App.

That said, the EX App UI is light years ahead of Suica App Shinkansen e-ticket reservations, EX even offers group ticket purchasing. Suica App really shows it’s ugly i-mode heritage with a tedious and long menu drill down process. It takes twice as long as EX to make a reservation, seat selection and purchase. Forget group tickets, Suica App is strictly a one man show.

I really hope that JR East can modernize the rich Mobile Suica ecosystem and match the slick easy to use EX App UI experience.

Screen shot comparison of EX App (1-2) with Suica App (3-4) Shinkansen train and seat selection

Weak Points
As the comparison chart explains, smartEX is not about cheap Shinkansen e-tickets. Discounts are small, almost full price although smartEX offers better discounts with round trip ticket purchases and advance ticket purchases. If you want the best discounts, buy boring old paper Shinkansen tickets at any discount ticket shop.

As with any new service there are weak points like I experienced using smartEX. The current smartEX registration system has no way to validate Apple Pay Suica ID numbers or any plastic transit card. The only way to find out if everything works is the first time you use smartEX and Apple Pay Suica at the Shinkansen ticket gate.

One thing Apple Pay Suica users need to be extra careful of is that anytime you delete and reload Suica into Apple Pay, the system creates a new Suica ID for the ‘same’ Suica. You must update your Suica ID in EX App, otherwise your Shinkansen trip will end at the station entrance ticket gate.

Summary
As said before, smartEX is really just a start line of a new Shinkansen e-ticket service for the mobile era from JR Central-JR West. The centerpiece is the slick and easy to use EX App. However the launch has been rocky and many parts are missing: discounts are small, loyalty points are MIA, there is no Apple Pay support and for some unexplained reason the English EX App version removed the Touch ID/Face ID support of the Japanese EX App.

smartEX services will grow and expand as JR Central and JR West build their cloud infrastructure. Discounts and loyalty points will be added back in over time, TOICA and ICOCA will certainly join Suica on Apple Pay at some point. Hopefully these will come sooner rather than later.

Previous smartEX posts
My not smart Shinkansen trip with smartEX
Registration and smartEX purchase first impressions with the Japanese version
The smartEX start line

Update 11/2: The iOS EX App can now be downloaded.

Update 10/31: The web page is fixed now but the iOS EX App is listed as coming soon.


Update 10/30: the iOS version of EX App was pulled from the USA App Store after release earlier this morning. The JR Central English page is a mess, this is a rough launch.

My Not Smart Shinkansen Trip with smartEX

I followed all the smartEX registration instructions, honest I did. I logged into EX with my smartEX generated ID and password and purchased my Shinkansen ticket to Nagoya without a hitch. All looked good. At the appointed day and time I went to the Tokyo station Tokaido Shinkansen gate. Everything went to hell.​

​The station attendant placed my iPhone on the reader to diagnose the problem. Despite doing all the right steps my smartEX e-ticket purchase was not linking to my Apple Pay Suica. He then took me to a ticket machine and said, “Enter your smartEX password.” I use Touch ID with EX App and did not know the password, The poor attendant waited while I dug around in Safari passwords to find it. With the password entered he printed out a paper ticket.

The attendant told me that I needed to call smartEX system support to solve the problem. I asked if there was one. He grabbed a smartEX pamphlet but there was no number. He said, “There’s a number listed in the app.” There was not but I said thank you anyway and offered some advice, “I feel sorry for the station attendants if JR Central doesn’t improve smartEX. When the English language version of this drops on October 30, it will be a mess.”

smartEX Weak Points
I used my travel time to dig around in EX App preferences. It was time well spent. smartEX registration can only be done in the browser, but once completed you can edit account information in EX App. The app has a Touch ID log in option but there is a separate mandatory security layer for editing smartEX account information:

Generate a onetime password and receive it by email. After entering the onetime password you can edit all your registered information: name, email, credit card, Apple Pay Suica ID:

I re-entered my Apple Pay Suica ID and asked the Nagoya station attendant to confirm if my smartEX was correct. She placed my iPhone on the reader and confirmed that I was all set now. My return trip was a breeze, smartEX worked fine.

Apple Pay Suica ID Formatting Differnces and Errors
As I said previously smartEX registration is a work in progress and will certainly be a friction point for some inbound Apple Pay Suica users and boils down to the Apple Pay Suica ID number:

  1. Suica App only copies the entire 17 character Suica ID (screen shot below)
  2. smartEX only accepts a 15 character ID and automatically formats the pasted ID from Suica App deleting the final 2 characters
  3.  smartEX does not automatically verify your Suica ID with Mobile Suica or Apple Pay. If you delete and re-add the same Suica card to Apple Pay, or migrate Suica to a new  iPhone, the Suica ID number changes and you must manually update your smartEX Suica ID number. If you forget to do this smartEX will not let you through the ticket gate even though you have a valid e-ticket. This is exactly what happened to me.

Suggestion for Smooth smartEX Experience
Here is a suggestion for a smooth maiden smartEX voyage. The system by itself cannot verify if everything is in working order but JR Central station attendants at Tokaido Shinkansen ticket gates can verify it for you. Verification requires the following:

  • Successful smartEX registration
  • Successful smartEX login and e-ticket purchase

Tell the Shinkansen gate attendant that you want to verify your smartEX ticket purchase and hand them your iPhone. A quick check on the reader is all that is needed. If all is in order you are assured of a smooth process every time. Have your smartEX ID and password on hand in case something goes wrong. The attendant will need it to print out paper tickets.

Last but not least be sure to update your smartEX registered Suica ID number if you migrate Apple Pay Suica to a new iPhone, or delete and re-add it to the same iPhone.