New JR East eTicket service launches March 14

JR East is launching their new eTicket service starting March 14 via the eki-net app for iOS and Android, a refresh for the venerable online eki-net service will be coming as well. The new service is more of a start line than a new start. The eki-net app and website are what we have not changed much these past few months, the change will a gradual ramp up to replace both the old-style online eki-net Shinkansen ticket service and the current Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTicket service, and migrate to ticketless transit on JR East lines with the major JP transit cards. As anticipated the basic concept is similar to the JR Central SmartEX service and app that registers any major transit IC card for Shinkansen eTicketing. JR East is taking it a few steps further with regular express train eTickets but it’s not clear yet how or if this works outside of Suica.

The proof will be in the pudding when new eki-net Shinkansen reservations start on February 14. We should also expect a new Suica App updated for the new eTicket system that includes both Shinkansen and hopefully, regular express trains. Let’s hope it’s the nice valentine present JR East wants it to be.

The Good

  • new eki-net membership is free
  • All major transit IC cards (ICOCA, Toica, PASMO, etc.) can be registered and used for eki-net Shinkansen eTicketing
  • All JR East Shinkansen ticketing and regular express trains ticketing are covered but it’s not clear yet how regular express eTickets work with Mobile Suica
  • Narita Express eTickets are finally easy to reserve and use with Mobile Suica
  • Multi-person eTickets purchases
  • Major credit cards/debit cards accepted (confirming, if non-JP issue cards are a problem this will go in the Bad/Ugly slot)
  • The iOS eki-net app supports Face ID/Touch ID login
  • It appears that JR East will not be following the JR Central approach of different services with different discount

The Bad

  • The new eTicket service is still called eki-net
  • Account creation and updating can only be done online, not in the eki-net app

The Ugly

  • Since the new service has not started yet eki-net app is the same old eki-net online service in a smartphone app with a better UI. The app is not multilingual which does not bode well for a multilingual Suica App in time for the Tokyo Olympics, but we’ll see how things pan out when the new backend system goes online
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JR Central Online EX Ticketing Extends to Kyushu Shinkansen in 2022

JR Central/JR West/JR Kyushu issued a joint PR release that JR Central’s EX Shinkansen eTicket system, encompassing both EXPress Reservation and smartEX services, will be adding JR Kyushu Hakata~Kagomashima Shinkansen ticketing in spring 2022.

2022? If it’s going to take that long why bother announcing it now? I am sure that part of the reason for the long lead time is the next generation Suica card architecture (Super Suica) and FeliCa OS update coming in spring of 2021. All nine of the Suica sister transit IC cards under the Transit IC interoperability umbrella will need to switch over to the new transit card format to maintain compatibility: Suica, Toica, ICOCA, SUGOCA, Kitaca, PASMO, namaca, Hayaken, nimoca.

Right now Mobile Suica is the only transit card on mobile, and mobile offers service extras like downloadable Shinkansen eTickets. The next generation Super Suica format will likely extend mobile capability and mobile service extras to all nine cards. At the very least JR Central will have to retool the EX system for the new card architecture while maintaining compatibility with the current card architecture. It makes sense to upgrade the current EX system areas first and add Kyushu Shinkansen ticketing last.

Meanwhile, JR East is due to rollout a new eTicketing system in spring 2020.

File:ICCard Connection en.svg
Japan Transit IC Map, outside white area cards are due to join Super Suica in 2021

iOS 13 Apple Pay Suica Warning for EX App users

One of the early issues of using Apple Pay Suica was that the Suica card ID number would change every time the card was removed and re-added to Wallet, migrated to a new iPhone, or transferred from iPhone to Apple Watch. This was no problem for using Suica for transit and payment, but soft-linked services like JRE POINT and the JR Central Shinkansen EX App were a problem. Users had to manually update the Apple Pay Suica card ID number in those service accounts. If they did not, those services stopped working.

The good news is that Mobile Suica and Apple Pay fixed the issue in 2017. The bad news is that the issue is back again. JR East has done a lot of backend work on the Mobile Suica system to get the iOS 13 direct Suica card creation Wallet feature in place. I moved by main Apple Pay Suica card to test it on Apple Watch and noticed that the Suica card ID had changed. I thought I might need to issue an all points alert, but close investigation revealed that JR East has really improved things on the Mobile Suica system.

The official JR East Mobile Suica support position is that Suica card ID numbers can change when removed and re-added to Wallet. Softlinked Apple Pay Suica services like EX App (smartEX and Express Reservation) and Touch and Go Shinkansen stop working when the Suica ID number changes and need to have the registration information updated to re-link the services.

My own experience is the Suica card ID number changes, once. After that, moving Suica around doesn’t change anything. I suspect this is related to the changes in iOS 13 Wallet. Another interesting change is that the JRE POINT system automatically updates a changed Suica ID number from Mobile Suica. It just works. Hurray!

Softlinked Apple Pay Suica services like EX App (smartEX and Express Reservation) and Touch and Go Shinkansen are still a problem. Touch and Go Shinkansen users simply register their device again at a JR East station kiosk. Apple Pay Suica & Express Card EX App users need to open up Suica App, tap the Express Reservation option and login to EX via the shitty little mobile EX browser window. You should see a “Your Registered Device has changed” and a “Update” button. Tap that and all is done. You can confirm the updated Suica ID number in EX App.

I do not have a smartEX account and cannot confirm this, but I suspect users need to update any changed Suica ID number manually in the EX/smartEX Apps. In the future I hope that JR Central does a better job of dynamically connecting their EX system with Mobile Suica.

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.

The Apple Pay Suica diagram looks like this:Apple Pay Suica Diagram

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.