Golden Week Golden JRE POINT

Golden Week 2019 is going to be an extraordinarily long one, 10 days in all. It would not be Golden Week without a few marketing gimmicks and JR East has not disappointed: 15X bonus JRE POINT running May 2~6 with any JRE POINT registered Suica purchases at yellow sticker Suica JRE POINT stores (NewDays, Becks Coffee Shop, Kiosk, etc.) .

To be sure setting up Apple Pay Suica with JRE POINT is a pain, but once done it’s nice to rack up the points. Until May 6, goodbye Starbucks and hello Becks.

When you purchase things with Apple Pay Suica at Suica JRE POINT stores you earn JRE POINT automatically
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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.


Region Settings and Apple Pay

If you see this when iPhone Region is not set to Japan, it means you have a Suica card in Wallet or parked on iCloud ready to add to Wallet

The iOS Region Setting and Apple Pay are linked together in interesting ways that has changed with iOS versions. Up through iOS 10, devices needed to have the Region match the country they wanted to add and use cards in: iPhone had to be set to Japan to add and use Japanese credit cards in Apple Pay, and so on.

This changed in iOS 11 with global FeliCa iPhone and NFC switching. The Region setting only needed to be changed to add a card for any particular country and had nothing to do with using it. This is because Apple Pay Wallet only displays the card options that match the Region setting and acts like a filter. The Wallet animation cycle shows what’s available:

After adding a card, the Region setting can be anything as Apple Pay ignores it and takes care of the rest. Many inbound users don’t realize this and have avoided adding Suica to Apple Pay under the misconception that the iPhone/Apple Watch Region has to be set to Japan to use it.

Wallet behavior is the same in iOS 12, even with the iOS 12.2 UI tweaks, but the Region setting can be completely ignored when adding cards to Apple Pay with an app like SuicaEng. SuicaEng simply adds Suica no matter what the iPhone Region setting is, a nice time saver because changing the iPhone Region is a mini restart.

Another small change from iOS 11 is that if you have a Suica card deleted from Wallet that is parked on iCloud, Wallet will show you the Add Suica option no matter what the iPhone Region setting is. It’s a nice touch and reminder in case you ever forgot you had one.

I hope Apple continues to streamline Apple Pay Wallet so that users don’t have to think about or deal with Region settings to add cards, where all cards options for the region you are currently in present themselves, and ‘just work’ when the user selects them.

iOS 12.2 Apple Pay Suica Performance

2 weeks after the release of iOS 12.2, Japanese social media has been very quiet about Apple Pay Suica Express Card problems. It’s a good sign that the majority of users are happy enough with iOS 12.2 Suica performance to care much about discussing it. Based on that and my own testing, I think it’s safe to say that iOS 12.2 is the first stable iOS 12 release for Apple Pay Suica, but Apple has been slower addressing Suica Express Card performance issues than earlier release cycles for iOS 10 and iOS 11. I’m not a fan of the iOS 12.2 Apple Card flavored Suica Wallet UI design but most people seem okay with it.

Here’s a rundown of previously reported iOS 12 Apple Pay Suica Express Card performance issues with iOS 12.2 feedback:

  • Suica Express Card error flicker: occasional error flicker at transit gates with iOS 12.0~12.1.4 on pre-A12 Bionic devices: iPhone 7 (JP model), iPhone 8, iPhone X (Rev. B) and Apple Watch 2~4. This is a completely different issue from the iPhone X NFC hardware defect.
    >>Feedback from users report this iOS 12 issue is fixed
  • Slow or unresponsive Suica Recharge: a long term performance issue where Suica Recharge is slow or fails half of the time especially when recharging from a Suica notification shortcut.
    >> This issue is fixed in iOS 12.2, Suica Recharge is robust and snappy
  • Dead Suica Express Card UI on n0n-A12 Bionic devices: a case of the hardware works but the software doesn’t, Suica works flawlessly on readers but Express Card UI notifications stops working and Suica balance fails to update after transactions at transit gates, store readers and Suica Recharge. This affects non-A12 Bionic devices iPhone 7 (JP model), iPhone 8, iPhone X (Rev. B) and Apple Watch 2~4 but is easy to fix by putting Suica in Service Mode for a few seconds.
    >> Feedback from users report this issue is fixed
  • Dead Suica Express Card UI on A12 Bionic devices: another case of the hardware works but the software doesn’t that only affects iPhone XS and iPhone XR. Suica works flawlessly on readers but the entire Apple Pay Suica Express Card UI dies: no notifications, no balance update, no Apple Pay sound, no feedback whatsoever. Service Mode does not revive the Suica UI but a restart fixes it.
    >>Fortunately this issue seems rare. Unfortunately I have experienced it on 2 separate iPhone XS devices and the bug is worse in iOS 12.2: previous iOS 12 versions exhibited this problem every 24~48 hours, iOS 12.2 (16E227) has is every 12 hours or less.

I will update this post with new performance feedback or observations.

Apple Pay Transit and 6 Reasons for Closed Transit Fare Systems

After the announcement of Apple Card and more Apple Pay Transit coming soon to “major cities in America” like Chicago (Salt Lake City/Utah Transit Authority is an embarrassment to Apple since UTA dropped Apple Pay EMV credit card support in summer 2018 because of too many difficulties), I came across this interesting tidbit about the Ventra card:

Arguably it’s a good thing that the Ventra prepaid debit card is going the way of the dinosaur. The debit card function debuted with a long list of fees that had the potential to siphon of much of the money stored on the card, including:

A $1.50 ATM withdrawal fee
A $2 fee to speak to someone about the retail debit account.
A $6.00 fee for closing out the debit balance
A $2 fee for a paper statement
A $2.95 fee to add money to the debit account using a personal credit card
A $10 per hour fee for “account research’’ to resolve account discrepancies

“These fees were probably not any different than other bank cards offered by Money Network or Meta Bank or other predatory banks,” says Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance, who reported on the issue at the time. “But it was shameful for the CTA to be aligned with that.”

After a backlash, most of these fees were reduced or eliminated, but CTA retail outlets were still allowed to charge Ventra card holders a fee of up to $4.95 to load cash on the debit sides of their cards. So maybe it is for the best that the CTA is getting out of the bank card business.

Streets Blog Chicago December 2017

Open loop transit fare systems with EMV contactless credit cards are invariably promoted as a great convenience and the bright open future of transit, but the dark business downsides of letting credit companies and banks on transit gates is rarely, if ever discussed.

Fees and predatory banks are never going away and will always be a problem as long as credit cards are allowed on transit gates. It’s a much better business solution to keep banks one step removed from the process and limited to the back end for adding money to transit prepaid cards that can then be used for building a real business that benefits the entire transit region. In one sense Apple changing the rules for Apple Pay Cash person to person transfers protects customers from a potential layer of ‘predatory fees’ by removing the credit card (debit cards are still ok) .

I have said it many times and say it again: if a transit region is serious about building a Japanese style Transit Platform, keeping transit gates closed system is the first rule of business. The next step is leveraging the transit card on digital payment platforms like Apple Pay and Google Pay that can mix and match credit/debit cards for adding money on the back end, link with rewards and much more.

For JR East the tight integration of transit, Suica and retail has been very successful: 30% of 2017 revenue (26.8 billion USD) was Suica/IT/Retail projected to grow to 40% by 2027. It’s a business model that grows revenue even when transit ridership has leveled off. This kind of growth is impossible to accomplish with open transit fare systems.

JR East presentation slide from March 2019