Suica Platform Market Info Update

JRE Points

JR East released some more Mobile Suica / Apple Pay Suica market data via Payment Navi. Suica market basics as of February 28 2018:

  • Suica cards issued to date (plastic and Mobile Suica / Apple Pay Suica) : 68 million
  • Stores that accept Suica e-money payment: 450,190
  • Suica compatible NFC store terminals: 814,680
  • Highest recorded daily Suica transactions (August 25, 2017): 6.64 million

That might not sound impressive at first but considering that 7-Eleven has 2,600 stores in Tokyo, you begin to appreciate the scale that is the Suica Platform.

On the Mobile Suica side JR East recorded 140,000 new Mobile Suica users the first full month that Apple Pay Suica was online (November 2016) , a 700% YOY increase compared to November 2015. Longer term Mobile Suica growth was 20% the first year of Apple Pay Suica service @ 990,000. Total Mobile Suica membership as of December 31, 2017 was 5.2 million.

It’s not clear if the JR East numbers include Apple Pay Suica users who are not Mobile Suica members: users who just add a Suica card to Apple Pay but don’t use the Suica App. I suspect not as JR East reported slightly different Mobile Suica user growth numbers previously.

Even after more than 10 years of Mobile Suica service and 1 year of Apple Pay Suica service, less than 10% of the Suica install base use Suica on mobile devices. There’s plenty of growth potential but as I pointed out in Apple Pay Japan One Year Mark, the next stage of Mobile Suica growth depends on JR East’s ability to negotiate commuter pass agreements with other transit companies that allow Mobile Suica commuter passes in non-JR East regions such as Nagoya or Osaka. That would let Suica, especially Apple Pay Suica, break out of the Tokyo region box.

JR East is building up the Suica Platform in other ways: a streamlined loyalty point system and inexpensive easy to deploy thin client POS terminals.

Goodbye Suica Points, Hello JRE Points
The different JR East loyalty point systems were confusing. We had Suica Points and View Card Points that were not easily exchanged or converted. Starting in late 2017 JR East rolled out yet another point system, JRE Points, that will replace and merge everything into one thing. Suica Points have already been rolled into JRE Points, View Points will be rolled in starting in June 2018.

If you have ever used the JRE Point App you already know that JR East has a lot of work to do if they want JRE Points to be easy to use as Apple Pay Suica. JRE Point App is the kind of app that screams to be a NFC tag thing instead of forcing users to use a plastic card to get those JRE loyalty points. The current JRE Point App does let you convert JRE Points into a Suica Recharge but that’s about it. Also be careful to turn off JRE App background GPS use, it’s a real battery suck.

The JRE Point marketing rocket is just getting off the ground. Once View Points are rolled into the new system I think we’ll see some interesting JRE Point campaigns from JR East as summer gets into high gear. If they work out the NFC tag thing, it could all be great.

Android Thin Client Suica Payment Terminals
Up until now Suica Payment terminals have been ‘rich clients’ that processed payments locally. JR East feels confident enough with the robust Japanese Internet and 4G infrastructure to offer a low cost ‘thin client’ POS payment terminal, the same yet-to-be-named Android smartphone based POS terminals that JR East installed along the Joban line in February. JR East developed it with Nippon Restaurant Enterprise Co. Ltd. based on mobile Suica reader technology created for Shinkansen food service carts and vending machines.

This simple and easy to use device communicates with the Suica payment processing cloud service and works out of the box. It’s an easy choice for small shops who don’t want to bother with the complexity or cost of a CARDNET or Rakuten Pay.

Last but not least JR East said they are “considering” English language versions of Suica App (iOS) and Mobile Suica (Android) for inbound visitors to Japan in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

One more thing, last week Goldman Sachs rated JR East stock a buy.


Exchanging iPhone X: Week 3 “Exchange Does Not Fix iPhone X Suica Problem”

I went to Omotesando Apple Store today and exchanged my iPhone X for a new one. The Genius Bar staffer was very kind, he watched my iPhone X Suica problem video portfolio and listened to my 6 month story. He ran the iPhone X diagnostic program again and tested NFC performance with a portable reader/writer,

He agreed that only Apple engineering could figure out if the Suica problem was hardware or software and said, “I think exchanging is a good idea. If you’re lucky it may fix the problem.” If only I was lucky…

I migrated Suica to the new iPhone X. I knew exactly what station gate to go to: Koenji station gate #1, the golden gate for reproducing the iPhone X Suica problem. Sure enough it gave me a nice cheery error flicker. Hello iPhone X Suica error, nice to see you. Again.

This is the one fascinating and infuriating thing about iPhone X Suica, some station gates like Asagaya gate #4, Koenji gates #1/#8, Ikebukuro Chuo exit gate #11, are prone to read errors, other gates are not.

Just for kicks I asked the station attendant if JR East had any kind of information desk I could leave my iPhone X Suica transit gate error information with. There was not. He said, “Different iPhone models behave differently but from the JR East standpoint all of our gates are qualified to one standard and are equal.”

That means the engineering ball is in Apple’s court.

In summary all I can say is this: exchanging iPhone X for a new one did not solve my iPhone X Suica error problem. If you have this problem, and there are some who experience it every daily commute, the only thing to do is try different transit gates to find the good ones and avoid the error prone ones. Until Apple fixes this issue which I assume is a software one, there is nothing to do but wait…and wait…and wait.

UPDATE: as a consolation prize I contacted Twitter user Kamikou to confirm if his exchanged iPhone X completely solved his Suica problem. It didn’t. iPhone X Suica Problem consolation



Transit Gate Sounds and What They Mean

Mobile Suica and Transit Gate Sounds

When you pass through transit gates in Japan they make a beep. Everybody knows that but did you know the number of beeps have different meanings? There are 5 basic patterns:

  • 1 beep means the transit gate used your Suica Commuter pass
  • 2 beeps means the transit gate used your Suica SF (stored fare)
  • 3 long beep is an error that means your commuter pass is expired or the Suica card SF is insufficient to cover fare
  • 5 beeps means that Apple Pay Suica or Mobile Suica (Android) was a misread and needs to be touched again
  • The dreaded bing-bong sound is a full error: wait for the gate to clear and try again, try another gate or see the station gate attendant

In my iPhone X Suica problem video you can hear the 1 beep and 5 beep patterns plus a bing-bong error sound in the background from a nearby gate.

Last but not least a 2 beep Suica SF gate transit.

Exchanging iPhone X: Week 2 “Show Us Your iPhone”

AppleCare support called me exactly as promised. Apple engineering had looked into everything including how I was holding my iPhone with no conclusion. I seriously doubt there was much investigating as there was so little real information I could convey by phone.

“Apple wants to examine your iPhone X.,” she told me. There were 2 options, I could send it to Apple or take it for an examination at the nearest Genius Bar. I chose the Apple Omotesando Genius Bar and she set up the appointment.

She also said, “Be sure to backup your iPhone before coming and have your Apple ID and  password ready.” It sounds like the Genius Bar will take a look, ask me to explain the iPhone X Suica problem, again, then offer an iPhone X exchange. Probably.

Next Wednesday I’ll find out for sure.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that I showed my iPhone X Suica Problem video to a JR East station attendant. He said,

It looks like a read error. Some customer iPhone models are less reliable than others you know.

He did not indicate the models but I’m looking at you iPhone X.

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.