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.

My Not Smart Shinkansen Trip with smartEX

Apple Pay Suica Shinkansen EX Quick Guide

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 FaceID/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 station attendant in Nagoya 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 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

Suggestion for Smooth smartEX Experience
Here is a suggestion for a smooth maiden smartEX voyage. The EX App itself cannot verify if everything is in working order with JR East Mobile Suica, 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.

UPDATE
The information on this post has been updated to reflect changes in smartEX and Mobile Suica systems. Apple Pay Suica card ID numbers do not change when removed and re-added to Wallet or when migrating Apple Pay Suica to a new device.

smartEX Beats Suica to the App Store with English

Apple Pay Suica Shinkansen EX Quick Guide

There is a small chance that Suica App could release an English language version  before smartEX App arrives on October 30 but I doubt it.

The reasons are varied but boil down to one single difference: smartEX is a simple streamlined app that pulls information off a simple streamlined ticket reservation system while Suica App is the front window of an entire ecosystem.

smartEx App does one thing: Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen e-ticket reservations/purchases. This includes timetable searches, seat availability/reservations and refunds. It uses your registered account information (name, credit card and IC transit card) but does not allow you to manage any of it. smartEX e-tickets are not downloaded or directly attached/stored on the IC transit card and do not interact with Apple Pay Suica.

Suica App does many things:

  • Mobile Suica account management (name, credit card, Suica card, etc.)
  • Suica card creation and registration (Apple Pay)
  • JR East Shinkansen e-ticket reservations/purchases
  • Green Seat purchases on regular trains
  • Suica Commuter Pass purchase, renewal and route changes
  • Refunds
  • Suica Recharge
  • Suica Auto Recharge setup
  • Suica App e-tickets download directly and are stored on Apple Pay Suica

It delivers these services on Japanese features phones (from 2006), Android [from 2011)  and iOS (from 2016). On top of all that Suica App is adding JR Central Tokaido and JR West Sanyo Shinkansen e-ticket purchase options starting October 23. That is a lot of services packed in a single app with many moving database parts on the backend. All of these ecosystem parts have to be in English before Suica App can make its English language debut.

Suica App is like the tiny tip of a huge iceberg. There is a huge mass of Japanese information dating back to the i-mode era lurking underneath the surface that has to be localized and vetted. That alone takes time and resources. But if JR East doesn’t take the time to do it right, their limited support resources would be quickly overwhelmed: imagine if an English language users taps on an option in Suica App and is suddenly faced with a screen full of Japanese. English language support would be flooded with questions.

The easy thing to do would be pruning option menus down to a manageable quick delivery turn around for English localization but I don’t think JR East will take that path. I think JR East wants to have the whole of Suica App in English, even if it takes time. I agree and think taking time to create a quality English language product is the right path to take.

smartEX English Language Service and App Coming on October 30

JR Central announced that an English language version of the smartEX Shinkansen e-ticket service will launch October 30 along with the smartEX app. This comes exactly one month after the launch of the Japanese service.

The app looks like a localized version of the current Japanese EX App. This is a welcome development but I sincerely hope the smartEX registration rough spots have been smoothed over and simplified (note that the app preview does not show the registration). Otherwise there will be some very frustrated foreigners.

The great thing is that iPhone 8 and iPhone X users from abroad can easily add Suica to Apple Pay and use it with smartEX for paperless e-ticket travel on the Tokaido Shinkansen. All on your iPhone. Have fun.

Intriguing Pieces

It’s very odd when you consider that global FeliCa iPhone 8 is the only smartphone in the world that you can use out of the box to add a Suica card and use SmartEX to ride the Shinkansen with just iPhone 8 and Apple Pay Suica. You do not need a Mobile Suica account like any other smartphone because Apple built Suica functions and connectivity into Apple Pay.

That is unique and interesting but why did JR Central go out of its way and devote resources to support JR East and Apple Pay Suica when their own TOICA transit card only exists as a plastic one? It doesn’t make sense: all the elite EX-PRESS business travelers who use the JR Central Shinkansen regularly will dump TOICA and go all in with Apple Pay Suica. Companies invest resources for a reason, something is going on.

It is also very odd that PASMO registered the Mobile PASMO trademark on Apple Keynote day as the first step before anything else including, it seems, creating a plan. Clearly a branding trademark is on PASMO’s mind. Let’s look at these intriguing pieces from a branding perspective.

Apple Pay Suica Diagram

The Apple Pay Suica diagram looks like this:

Apple invested a lot of time and effort to add global FeliCa and emulate all the Suica FeliCa functions in Apple Pay and on iPhone hardware. As Japanese IT journalist Junya Suzuki pointed out in his Mobile PASMO piece, all the Japanese transit cards are compatible on the outside but on the inside there are differences in how they use the FeliCa chip and add service extras.

Implementing all those differences and service extras in Apple Pay and on iPhone hardware is a lot of work for Apple. There is also the problem of a PASMO building their own mobile service with limited financial resources. And there is very little time until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

PASMO’s trademark move suggests the solution is simply going to be a branding one:

Apple Pay PASMO Diagram
PASMO would have to host commuter pass and credit card accounts on the JR East Mobile Suica cloud. Apple and JR East would simply brand the PASMO information.

Start with a basic service that offers the 2 big things Japanese users want most:

  • Commuter passes
  • Credit card loyalty points

JR East started simple by dropping EX-PRESS Shinkansen options from the Suica App until JR Central had iPhone Apple Pay Suica interoperability in place. JR Central is doing the same with the browser only simplistic SmartEX JP registration process.

This model can work for iOS apps too. JR East could host a PASMO app in addition to their Suica app:Apple Pay Apps Diagram

The evidence so far suggests this is how Mobile PASMO will play out. It provides an easy model for PASMO and the other transit cards to get on board Apple Pay quickly then add back service extras over time. JR Central cooperation with JR East and Apple Pay Suica is another sign that things are warming up on several fronts.