Deliciously timely iOS 15.4 Wallet

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 on 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 passes will be purchased in a new version of Suica App due by the service launch date. Mobile Suica cards with valid commuter plans attached cannot be used for passes, only regular Suica or Suica with expired commute plan. 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.” Perhaps the delicious timing is just coincidence but Apple Pay Suica could certainly put some of these new iOS 15.4 Wallet strings to good use when the new day passes launch…we shall see. Other Apple Pay transit areas like OMNY will find them useful too.

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 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 along 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 can purchase and renew Mobile Suica student commute plans in a new version of Suica App or on the Mobile Suica site (that will hopefully be refreshed, it desperately need one). They enter basic details and upload a picture of their student ID, though they still have to mail a paper copy to JR East. Still a pain no doubt but much better than before.

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 similar software suites that link with Mobile Suica accounts 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.

SmartGo Staple a service for the COVID era but the interesting thing is that with more people doing without commuter passes, Apple Pay Suica and Mobile Suica easily covers nationwide transit and payment use. Commuter passes are the only reason for all those Japanese Transit IC cards. One Mobile Suica does it all.

During the COVID pandemic corporate travel has changed with the times going from commuter passes to mobile transit, Mobile Suica is now the default Japanese corporate transit card.

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.

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

Lawson Bank app adding Mobile Suica recharge in 2022

See, I told you that when VISA Japan finally signed on with Apple Pay it was just the latest shot in the digital banking wars. Today we have another one: JR East announced that Lawson Bank will add Mobile Suica recharge support to their app in spring 2022. In addition to Lawson Bank, other bank apps will also offer Mobile Suica recharge using the Lawson Bank platform for direct recharge from a bank account…to the Mobile Suica platform. The current list is Kiraboshi Bank, Hachijuni Bank, Tochigi Bank, Kochi Bank, Tomato Bank, Kirayaka Bank, Kagawa Bank. More bank apps will be added before the service starts.

So why are these regional banks adding Mobile Suica recharge support to their apps? On one level it shows JR East growing the Mobile Suica platform footprint as one more mobile ‘something pay’ that can be used everywhere. On a deeper level I think it relates to the Abe government blockchain strategy for regional banking as well as JR East blockchain plans. There’s a lot more going on the backend than just Mobile Suica recharge (which is important because it is mobile only), and that will be interesting.

Apple Pay Suica • PASMO • Octopus service outages follow the Facebook one

16:00~18:00 October 5, 2021 JST
Apple Pay / iCloud system status updated to ‘outage resolved’ at 16:00 JST. Mobile Suica and Mobile PASMO Apple Pay services were also listed as ‘restored’ at 16:00 JST. As Apple Pay Suica and PASMO recharge started working again at 14:00 JST, the service outage was 8 hours total.

15:00 October 5, 2021 JST
Apple Pay Octopus recharge is also not working, this means the problem is an Apple Pay system issue, not caused by Mobile Suica, Mobile PASMO or Mobile Octopus systems. No signs yet if Apple Pay recharge for Clipper, SmarTrip and TAP transit cards is affected as well.

14:15 October 5, 2021 JST
Apple Pay Suica and PASMO recharge are working again for me on iPhone and Apple Watch. No official status updates yet from Mobile Suica, Mobile PASMO and iCloud.

8:00 October 5, 2021 JST
Apple Pay Suica and PASMO services are currently not working for Apple Pay recharge, commuter pass renewal, transfer to other devices, new card issue, and Green Seat upgrades (Suica only). The Apple iCloud system status page shows an Apple Pay outage for adding and removing cards but does not mention Suica or PASMO. Mobile Suica and Mobile PASMO recharge on Android Osaifu Keitai and Google Pay Suica are not affected though some Android users report problems with some Mobile Suica services such as Green Seat purchases.

The first report of trouble was 6:00 AM JST, but Apple Pay Suica auto-charge worked normally for me passing through the station gate at 7 AM. If you attempt a Suica or PASMO app recharge you get network connection errors no matter how good your device connection is.

Apple Pay Suica and PASMO recharge is limited to cash recharge at station kiosks and convenience store ATM machines. A major outage took out Facebook services earlier today, Japanese twitter users also report Outlook is not working. Suica and PASMO card use for transit and purchases is not affected.

This post will be updated as service status changes.

Mobile Suica system status
Mobile PASMO system status
iCloud system status