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.

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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 and EX Service 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. 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. 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 App/smartEX/EXPress Reserve 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 Express-Express Reserve IC card and Express Reserve member ID/Password

JR Central IC
EX IC Card for View Card

After receiving your View Express IC card go to Suica App and tap Express Reserve. You are presented with a Safari browser window service agreement, tap the agree-service connect button near the bottom. After tapping the button you will see 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 Logon
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 as smartEX. See the JR Central EX App online guide for English eTicket reservation and purchase 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!

smartEX Apple Pay Suica Quick Guide

The English language version of JR Central-JR West smartEX, the Tokaido~Sanyo Shinkansen eTicket service launched October 2017. This is a simple guide 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 Express Reserve.

Background
smartEX and Express Reserve both operate from the same EX system and provide online reservations and eTicket purchases for JR Central (Tokyo~Osaka) and JR West (Osaka~Fukuoka) that are attached to plastic transit smartcards. Express Reserve is the older of the two. From October 2017 the system was updated so that Apple Pay Suica users can register via Suica App, purchase eTickets in the EX app, and ride JR Central/JR West Shinkansen lines with just Apple Pay Suica. Express Reserve costs ¥1080 a year and is aimed at frequent Shinkansen business travelers offering a variety of discounts.

smartEX is a new sister service that is free but offers limited discounts. smartEX is all about convenience over discounts and is aimed at the occasional traveler. Anybody with Apple Pay Suica, Mobile Suica on Android or regular plastic Japan Transit IC cards (ICOCA, TOICA, etc.) can register them for smartEX Shinkansen travel. You can also use the smartEX just for purchasing regular Shinkansen paper tickets that you pickup at the station.

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.


smartEX Registration in EX

JR Central smartEX Registration guide here
The English language smartEX 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. A collection of EX App registration screen shots is shown below.
  2. Login with your password. Unlike the Japanese EX App, Face ID/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.

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 smartEX App. I highly recommend verifying your membership information in samrtEX App to make sure everything is correctly registered.


smartEX eTicket Purchase

JR Central smartEX Purchase guide here
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 eTicket purchase is instant. You can change a reservation for free but a refund costs ¥300.


Boarding Guide

JR Central smartEX Boarding guide here
Once you have Apple Pay Suica registered and have purchased a Shinkansen ticket in smartEX all you do is enter the station gate and the Shinkansen ticket gate with Apple Pay Suica. The Shinkansen ticket gate will issue a ‘Seat Information’ receipt’, take the receipt and board your Shinkansen. At the destination ticket gate use Apple Pay Suica for exiting the Shinkansen gate and the regular train gate.

Be sure to hang onto the Seat Information Receipt as it may be valid for other transit from your destination station.


smartEx Weak Points
As the comparison chart explains, smartEX is not about cheap Shinkansen eTickets. Discounts are small, almost full price although smartEX offers slightly better discounts with round trip ticket purchases and advance ticket purchases. If you want the best discounts, buy paper Shinkansen tickets at any discount ticket shop. Other weak points:

  • No Apple Pay In-App support in EX app.
  • No Touch ID/Face ID support. For some reason the English smartEX App version removes the Touch ID/Face ID support of the Japanese EX App.
  • No transit IC card number validation.

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. If the number is incorrect your trip ends there, like mine did.