Deliciously timely iOS 15.4 Wallet and Mobile Suica day pass support

Mobile Suica day pass support starts March 12

JR East announced 2 new features for Mobile Suica yesterday: day passes and student commuter pass online purchase and renewal support. Day passes are already available for plastic Suica, Mobile Suica support starts March 12. The 4 passes are: Nobiri Holiday, Tokyo Ward Pass, Tokyo Free Pass, Yokohama-Minatomirai Free Pass.

These Mobile Suica passes will not be available at the local station ticket window, they are purchased in a new version of Suica App due by the service launch date. Only regular Mobile Suica or Mobile Suica with expired commute plan can be used for day passes, Mobile Suica with valid a commuter plan attached cannot be used. JR East is promoting the passes offering bonus JRE POINT when purchased in Suica App with a VIEW credit card.

New Wallet app strings in iOS 15.4 developer beta found by Steve Moser

The very next day after the JR East announcement Apple released the first developer iOS 15.4 beta with many new features including Wallet app strings related to transit card commute plans and stored value, such as “Save money with time based or unlimited ride plans.”

The delicious timing is not coincidence: Apple Pay Suica will certainly put these new iOS 15.4 Wallet strings to good use when the new day passes launch. Wallet app currently indicates when a Suica card is a regular type or has a commute plan attached. The addition of Suica day passes require some sort of new Wallet UI indicator.

One interesting aspect of the Mobile Suica commuter pass limitation: the current card architecture only has one area for attachted commute plans, if there is a valid commute plan it must be removed before a day pass can be added. This storage limitation is addressed by Suica 2 in 1 which holds up to 2 different commute plans but even here there is the problem of conflicting commute plan + day pass plan that exist for the same transit region on the same card. There is no way for the transit gate to determine which one to use for fare calculation: commute plan or day pass. Hence the ‘no commute plan’ rule.

Mobile Suica student commuter passes (university or vocational schools) have been around for some time, but purchase and renewal required a trip to the local JR East ticket office to confirm the school issue student ID. From February 13 students purchase and renew Mobile Suica student commute plans in a new version of Suica App after pre-registration and uploading a picture of the student ID for verification via the Mobile Suica member site (that got a desperately needed refresh). Still somewhat of a pain but much better than before.

Imagine how easy it would be if a digital student ID card loaded in Wallet could be used for secure digital confirmation instead of uploading a picture and mailing a paper copy. In time digital ID will hopefully deliver this kind of time saving convenience.

Mobile Suica is now the default Japanese corporate transit card

After posting about the surprise rise of Mobile Suica payment use it occurred to me that I failed to take the corporate transit angle into consideration. COVID has been hard on transit companies in many ways, especially now that there is much less need for commuter passes. But it has also been kind to Mobile Suica in unexpected ways, the appeal of Express Mode for transit and purchases that doesn’t care about face masks is undeniable, and Transit IC mutual compatibility lets Suica work as a national transit card. Japanese corporations are leveraging this last point as Mobile Suica takes care of nationwide corporate transit needs, and takes care of the travel expense accounting.

While there isn’t a need for dedicated commuter passes for people working remotely, companies still need to reimburse employees for travel they still need to do. Calculating and reimbursing plastic transit cards is a pain as it is for paper tickets. Mobile Suica as corporate transit card has several advantages here, it works nationwide for regular transit, for Shinkansen eTicketing (EX, Eki-Net eTickets, Touch and Go), for travel incidentals (taxi, meals, etc.), and it is much easier to pull itemized travel details online from Mobile Suica accounts.

The biggest advantage of Mobile Suica is SmartGo Staple and SAP Concur online integration with live JR East Suica transaction records for much easier corporate travel expense accounting. SmartGo is particularly compelling as it matches Mobile Suica account expense reporting with a corporate VISA prepaid card option, removing the need for monthly employee reimbursement. This matchup of SAP, SmartGO and Mobile Suica has made Suica the default transit tool for COVID era corporate Japan.

2022 Japan mobile payments survey results: Mobile Suica tops the bunch

The Japanese contactless payments landscape has changed considerably since the 2016 launch of Apple Pay. It certainly was the Black Ship arrival turning point that Junya Suzuki predicted, contactless payments, especially mobile contactless payments, continue to evolve in fascinating ways.

The latest Mobile Marketing Data Labo (MMD) mobile payments survey ranking for NFC payments had an interesting twist: Mobile Suica was the top NFC payment choice at 22% beating out NTT docomo iD at 21%.

That doesn’t sound like much but this survey is asking specifically about store purchases made with a mobile device, not transit use. Mobile Suica beat iD despite a number of heavy marketed iD related dPoint rebates and bonus point campaigns. What’s even more interesting is that users said they are really interesting using Rakuten Edy, with Mobile Suica running a close 2nd place, and iD way down in 6th place. Why? 2 reasons I think, the convenience of Express Mode for purchasing things on the run keeping face mask in place, and points. Don’t underestimate the last one.

Tossing the local teiki for Mobile Suica
The survey got some notice in the Japanese tech media but nobody analyzed the surprising strength of Mobile Suica despite the ongoing COVID impact on Suica transit use, perhaps it didn’t make sense to them. Mobile Suica topping the ranking doesn’t make sense by itself as suddenly gaining users in the traditional greater Tokyo Suica transit use region…but it does make sense when you add people who don’t need a local region teiki/commuter card for work because of COVID and have switched to Mobile Suica for their occasional transit needs, also using it for purchases. Instead of a plastic ICOCA, Sugoca, manaca, TOICA, etc, those users use Mobile Suica. Not everybody is switching of course, but it does put Mobile Suica use on a larger national footing than ever before, and that adds up. This, I believe, is what the MMD survey ranking is showing.

And there is JRE POINT. JRE POINT only got started when Apple Pay Japan did in 2016, but it didn’t become a serious thing until Suica Point Club was merged into JRE POINT in 2017. It has steadily grown from there and the last missing puzzle piece was added when Eki-Net Point was finally merged into JRE POINT in June 2021. JRE POINT has finally achieved synergy gluing together the far flung JR East online service pieces (Mobile Suica, JRE POINT, Eki-Net) and JR East will be aggressively marketing point campaigns and eTicket discounts that encourage users to go all in with mobile.

The survey also shows at something else: dPoint isn’t very compelling despite all the campaign rebate noise. I’ve heard from iD•dBarai (dPay Code Payments) users, ‘dPoint doesn’t travel well’, the NTT docomo dPoint economic zone lock-in isn’t very compelling from the inside. This is confirmed by MMD’s code payment app satisfaction survey that ranks dBarai at 4th place, far below Rakuten Pay at #1 and PayPay at #2. From my own experience I use dPoint when upgrading to a new iPhone and nothing else. The SoftBank economic zone (Z Holdings et all) was clever in that they made ubiquitous availability and cash rebates, instead of points, the service lock-in.

And then there is Rakuten POINT economic zone. The survey interest ranking is measuring Rakuten POINT interest not Rakuten Edy. The ability to earn and use Rakuten POINT across online shopping, stock trading, travel reservations and more is big. The gist of it all is that Japanese users care more about points than the contactless payment type. Long term I think the most successful payment economic zone players will follow the Toyota Wallet model, a wallet app offering flexible multiple payment options (QR, NFC, etc.). Apple and Rakuten need to hurry up with Apple Pay Edy, the very last eMoney holdout.

UPDATE
Forgot to include the corporate travel angle driving Mobile Suica use.

Help Desk: time to toss the teiki for Mobile Suica?

I’ve abandoned renewing my teiki in favor of just using the suica app on my phone. So much easier, I think it’s worth the money I’m saving by buying a teiki. For some reason though, I’m not getting JRE points when recharging my suica. Any ideas?

Reader question from Fukuoka

In this era of on again, off again COVID infection waves and remote work from home, many people may not need a teiki/commuter pass for the office, even though they still need a transit card for occasional work use. A reader who lives in Fukuoka asked about using Suica in the Fukuoka sugoca/hayakaken/nicoma transit card territory. Is possible for Apple Pay Suica to do the job instead of native area cards?

If you do not need a teiki then absolutely yes, Mobile Suica takes care of your needs. But there are a few gotchas to be aware of. Actually there is only one: points. All of the various transit IC cards are tethered to their respective regions with reward points and company branded credit cards. Each card has a different reward point system, JRE POINT for Suica, JR Kyupo for Sugoca, hayaken point, JR West Point and so on.

If we take the example of using Suica in Fukuoka, there is only one way to earn JRE POINT, Apple Pay Suica recharge with a JR East issue VIEW credit card in Wallet app. And there is only one way to use JRE POINT, Suica recharge with JRE POINT via Suica App. If you can live without points Suica is fine, but if you want to rack up points, this sucks. It comes down to personal choice of using what works best for you, convenience, and/or what gives you the best return.

One thing is clear, the teiki needs to change with the times. If you follow this blog you know I write a lot about Suica 2 in 1 cards that support 2 separate reward point systems and commute passes in one card. Currently these cards are only for JR East region transit affiliates, but the next generation 2 in 1 FeliCa architecture can done anywhere. All the JR Group companies should do this and issue 2 in 1 cards for their respective regions and work with transit affiliates to improve transit IC card compatibility for cross region transit, multiple points, multiple passes, mobile support and so on.

An interesting aspect of Suica 2 in 1 such as the Yamagata cherica card is that commute plans include traditional point to point transit passes and transit zones passes. Japanese transit companies are have to get creative and offer different kinds of passes that appeal to different working styles in the post-COVID era. Tough transit times demand tough transit action. 2 in 1 transit cards that support multiple point rewards and commute passes on mobile is the future for transit IC.

Suica Light, the Welcome Suica for locals

JR East announced, yet another, Suica card: Suica Light. In terms of functionality it has no card deposit, a 6 month transit validity, card issue is not direct from JR East and limited to local governments, schools and corporations. In other words it’s not for individual purchase and use. The concept is somewhat similar to Welcome Suica: a Suica for specific kind of user with a limited transit use validity, no card deposit, no refunds. A time limited, throw away Suica. What’s the point?

On one level JR East wants to offer a new option that simply replaces some paper ticketing for group travel and also leverages current Suica platform (transit and eMoney) infrastructure. The logical and easy step might be using QR to handle special ticketing that doesn’t fit with regular Suica. JR East has tested QR Code capable gates but there is no rollout map or announced strategy. The problem with QR for JR East is that it doesn’t grow their Suica platform.

2022 is a big year for JR East’s MaaS strategy centered on the Suica 2 in 1 Region Affiliate program with 8 new cards launching in the Tohoku region. The key new feature is that different special services can be attached to differently branded Suica cards. Local users get the benefit of special local services linked with the wide national Suica footprint. This is also what Suica Light is aiming for in a different way: special services and/or tour packages attached to a differently branded, limited validity Suica.

We’ll see how it goes but there are sticky points for Suica Light and Suica 2 in 1:

  • Recycling: the short validity means these Suica Light cards have a very short life. JR East should provide a recycling program so that users can safely dispose of them.
  • Anywhere/Anytime recharge: hard money recharge is the old standby but many users would greatly appreciate the ability to check the card balance and recharge it with a smartphone app when on the go. It’s high time that JR East provide a recharge app for all plastic Suica cards.
  • Management: with the proliferation of Suica 2 in 1 and Suica Light that are not issued directly by JR East, users need a mobile app to manage the card (confirm or add services) without a trip to the local card issuer office.
  • Mobile Support: Suica Light mobile issue has some challenges at JR East is not directly involved and the user needs to verify their ID, but Suica 2 in 1 needs mobile support, sooner the better.

The challenge facing JR East is building a flexible, feature rich, future proof Suica cloud backend that extends the fast local processing Suica frontend, while reducing costs. Not an easy task.