Global NFC FitBit Sense and Versa 3

Who would have thought that team FitBit would beat team Pixel to the market with global NFC devices? That is what happened with the release of FitBit Sense and Versa 3, any device bought in any country can add and use Suica. FitBit Charge 4 was the first device to support Suica but only for certain Japanese models. This means that Android users without global NFC can now add it with FitBit Sense and Versa 3. FitBit was up to the global NFC challenge all along. Going forward FitBit needs to expand Japan payment options to include iD, QUICPay, Waon, Nanaco, Mobile PASMO and NFC Pay.

There is one catch: the device must be registered and the IP address must be in Japan to use Suica. It sounds like Mobile Suica lite is being used. Hopefully the same approach can be employed to launch Octopus on FitBit devices in Hong Kong, there are users there who would appreciate it.

Will mobile ticketing go mainstream with new JR East Eki-Net?

Waku-waku for the new Eki-Net? JR East wants to make travel ‘waku-waku’ fun and romantic again like the Showa ‘Full Moon’ campaign era when JR Group ticketing was unified.

One unfortunate legacy of the Japanese National Railways (JNR) breakup and privatization in the late 1980’s was a fragmented ticketing system. The JNR paper ticket system worked very well. I was always impressed how you could go to any JNR Green Window ticket office and the all knowing agent would give expect advice and deftly punch up tickets to anywhere, in any configuration, even covering private rail.

The JR Group model fell apart in the internet era with online ticketing services, Suica and compatible Transit IC cards limited to separate JR Group regions. JR Group ticketing for paper, but not for mobile. What got broken doesn’t get put back together easily though it desperately needs to.

Last weekend the 20 year old JR East Eki-Net online ticket reservation system got the ‘renewal’ overhaul advertised back in March, that aims to reintegrate JR Group tickets into one slick consistent UI instead of a swamp of sub-menus. It also repositions Eki-Net from a limited ‘nice but I’ll stick with paper’ online purchase option to a standard way that JR East wants people to buy train tickets.

While eTickets have been in place since March 2020, Eki-Net 2 is the first serious step towards eliminating legacy mag-strip paper tickets and drastically reduce the number station ticket offices in favor of online mobile ticketing. The first stop for all JR East ticketing is now Eki-Net instead of lining up at a station ticket window.

There are 2 Eki-Net flavors: (1) the full comprehensive Eki-Net Web version optimized for desktop and smartphones offering mobile tickets, paper tickets, car rentals and tour packages like the classic 2nd honeymoon ‘Full Moon’ campaign for retiree couples, (2) Eki-Net App that only offers JR East eTicket and Ticketless mobile options.

What exactly is mobile ticketing?
To understand the aim of Eki-Net it’s important to know the basic ticketing categories:

  • Suica (Transit IC cards) pays the distance based fare using the Stored Fare (SF),
  • eTickets are cloud account Shinkansen ticket bundles that include the end to end distance fare plus the express • seat reservation charge, they are attached to the Suica or Transit IC card via the card number but do not use SF
  • Ticketless is a mixed mode that combines a cloud account express • seat reservation for regular express train seating used in combination with Suica SF
  • Touch and Go is a ticketless Shinkansen option that uses Suica and Transit IC cards for non-reserved seat Shinkansen travel in a pre-determined area, basically the whole JR East network

What’s new in Eki-Net 2?
Suica plays a central role in Eki-Net mobile ticketing. 2021 is also the 20th anniversary of Suica which has evolved beyond its commuter pass origins to encompass eMoney payments, mobile devices, Transit IC mutual compatibility and more.

In recent years Suica has gained another role as an all purpose mobile transit card hosting Shinkansen eTicket from JR East and SmartEX from JR Central. The challenge facing JR East is migrating the vast array of special ticketing and discount fares schemes from paper to mobile. Let’s take a look at the new banner features advertised for Eki-Net 2 and examine how JR East is doing this.

JRE POINT Integration
The integration of JRE POINT is the biggest new feature and illustrates JR East’s intention. The old Eki-Net point system was scrapped, good thing, there is finally point synergy and compatibility between Suica and Eki-Net. If you have any doubts that JR East is serious about mobile ticketing, take a look at the JRE POINT reward schedule:

Earning JRE POINT in Eki-Net, the VIEW PLUS Gold vs Regular 5% difference is obscene

Online paper ticket purchases give you basically zero points if you buy them with anything other than a JR East VIEW credit card, called ‘VIEW PLUS’ service which adds 3% or 8% more JRE POINT per ticket purchase amount depending on the VIEW card for a total of 5% (Regular VIEW) or 10% (Gold VIEW). JRE POINT can also be used for purchasing mobile only eTicket and Ticketless, and upgrading to Green Car and Gran Class seats. The upgrade exchange rate depends on distance and the train type, the new UI shows users all possible JRE POINT seat upgrades during seat selection.

Using JRE POINT in Eki-Net

Improved UI for web and app
Basically the new design dumps the old way of selecting the JR line or train and streamlines everything into a single station point and date entry screen. Seat selection is the advertised UI improvement and it shows: it is much improved on the web side, discount ticket comparisons are easy to see as are JRE POINT seat upgrades.

QR Codes support for group ticket pickup
A nice paper ticket option so that one person can purchase all tickets and send a QR Code for group members to pick up their tickets at the nearest station kiosk. It’s more convenient and replaces the old insert credit card and enter PIN code method for paper ticket pickup.

Eki-Net ticket discounts
Paper tickets have traditionally been the cheaper option. JR East must offer good discount incentives to drive mobile ticketing uptake. Fortunately the new Eki-Net ‘Tokuda-ne’ discounts offer anywhere from 5% off for same day tickets to 50% off for 20 day advance tickets. Discounts combined with JRE POINT are good but we’ll only find out if they drive mobile ticket uptake when regular train travel returns. While these options have closed the discount gap between mobile and paper somewhat, the majority of discount ticketing is still paper only.

JR-EAST Train Reservation
The international flavor of Eki-Net is called JR-EAST Train Reservation. It’s a completely separate web only multi-lingual service that offers regional passes for inbound tourists that can be purchased online before coming to Japan, or at a passport reading station kiosk. JR-EAST Train Reservation passes are different from the paper only Japan Rail Pass in that a growing number of them can be attached to Suica. New features here include: (1) Expanded multi-language support (2) pass purchases after coming to Japan (3) using Suica to attach eTickets. For the later there is a new user guide and How to register your IC card section. You can use Apple Pay Suica • PASMO by registering the card number, get the number using Suica App or PASMO App.

Weak points and summary
The Eki-Net renewal is big, complex and getting mixed reviews from Japanese users. Some love it, others hate it calling it, ‘an improvement for the worse’. The biggest gripe for many is that only up to 4 Express Train • Shinkansen sections are supported for one trip purchase. If you are traveling from Kagoshima to Aomori, forget Eki-Net and go straight to your local station ticket office for paper tickets.

The iOS Eki-Net App remains a nice idea that needs work. It feels like a thin re-skinned version of the mobile web one without offering any obvious benefit, the Face ID•Touch ID login option still useless as you have to manually login once every 24 hours and complete a picture puzzle. And there is no Apple Pay in-app support.

My biggest gripe is the failure of the JR Group to get their mobile ticketing act together. Sure, we have JR Central EX and JR East eTickets, but these are locked in their respective service regions. This is 2021, JR Group ticketing should be cross compatible, streamlined and mobile ready. It doesn’t matter how great JR East makes Eki-Net, users can travel with just Suica on the Tokaido and Tohoku Shinkansen, but they have to buy 2 tickets using 2 different accounts and billing with 2 different ticketing systems. We should be able to travel anywhere on JR Group lines using one account to buy mobile tickets. In todays scenario this isn’t possible. The unfortunate legacy of the JNR breakup lives on.

‘New Eki-Net’ poster at the local JR East station. The overall impression of Eki-Net 2 is that less about going mobile and more about getting customers out of the ticket office to a station kiosk machine instead.

Reference posts
JRE POINT Beginners Guide
Suica App • PASMO App Guide
Apple Pay Suica Shinkansen

My JR-EAST mess

My JR-EAST, like a lot of JR East software services, is a nice idea, poorly implemented. It’s an attempt to unify scattered account login IDs for various JR East web services that evolved independently but need to work together as one in the mobile app era: Mobile Suica, JRE POINT, Eki-Net, View-Net.

The mess was brought home to me recently when I helped a co-worker register his Apple Pay Suica card for Eki-Net Shinkansen eTicket service because the eTicket discounts are attractive. He created a Eki-Net account, which you can only do via the webpage, not the app.

Him: Where do I get the Suica ID?
You need Suica App for that.
One download later it took him 2 tries to register the Suica ID because Suica App copies the entire ID string but Eki-Net cuts off the last 2 numbers as the first 2 sting letters have to be manually selected from a pull down menu. Dumb.

Him: I want to use Green Seat upgrades.
You have to login to Suica App to do that.
Can I use the Eki-Net ID to login?
No, you have to sign up with Mobile Suica.
Can I buy Tokkaido Shinkansen eTickets too?
No, you have to sign up with the JR Central EX service.

And so it went and that’s the mess of JR East software services: each one has a separate registration process and login. On the MY JR-EAST webpage users can register a single ID and PW then login and link other services. One MY JR-EAST ID/PW for Mobile Suica, Eki-Net, JRE POINT, View-Net, except it doesn’t work. Oh wait, it does work for webpage login but not apps. Suica App supports MY JR-East login but JRE POINT and Eki-Net apps do not. View-Net doesn’t even have a mobile app. If JR East wants customers to use their services, why do they make it so hard? This doesn’t jive with the company’s stated intent of reducing in-station service staff and encourage customers to use online resources instead.

It should work like this: the JR Group companies accept online reservation accounts from each other, b better yet they mutually host each other’s online reservation system. I shouldn’t need a separate ID account and registered credit card just because I want to buy a Tokaido Shinkansen eTicket. Let me do that in Eki-Net. The same goes for EX (JR Central) and e5489 (JR West) which are already compatible with each other. Ditto JR Hokkaido and JR Kyushu. Use the sign in with Apple ID model to make all these services work seamlessly with each other and give your customers a break. They might actually start liking JR software services, a first.

All JR Group online services were created back in the era of ISDN internet and iMode handsets. If the JR Group companies want travelers to return after the COVID vaccination program winds down, they have to get their mobile act together and build for the future.

Mobile Suica foreign VISA card processing changes with the Apple Pay VISA JP agreement

Foreign issue VISA card holders using Apple Pay Suica beware, you might be in for a rude surprise when you get the monthly statement. A reader sent some very interesting information:

JR East started processing these Visa transactions differently on foreign cards. Previously, these were processed as ‘SUICA MOBILE PAYMENT’ and the merchant category was passenger railways (travel). Since around May 11 or 12, these are now processed as ‘MOBILE SUICA APPLE V’ and the merchant category is catalog merchants (shopping). This is an unfortunate change as the merchant category change from travel to shopping downgrades the points earning capability on several American cards (eg. from 3x points on the Chase Sapphire Reserve to 1x).

Chase Sapphire Reserve has been a popular choice for Apple Pay Suica recharge because of the 3x rewards. The VISA JP Apple Pay agreement has changed how foreign issue VISA brand card payments made with Apple Pay in Japan are processed obviously, but the merchant category change from railways/travel to catalog/online shopping is a mystery. JR East or VISA JP? On the surface JR East as they are the merchant but why this and why now? Another backend change: JR East is starting 3-D Secure credit card checks in iOS Suica App and Mobile Suica (Android) from May 26.

I do not know if Apple Pay PASMO is in the same boat but suspect so. Foreign issue VISA holders may want to consider using a different credit card for Suica recharge for the best reward points. There are too many reward point differences to make any definitive recommendation. The best long term strategy is to examine your spending patterns and select a JP issue card that fits your needs. Reward point empires to consider: JRE POINT (BIC CAMERA View), Rakuten POINT (Rakuten Card) and V POINT (SMBC Numberless Instant issue).

I will update this post as more information comes in, reader feedback is appreciated.

Update: Good news: a reader reports Apple Pay PASMO recharge still codes as travel for Chase Sapphire VISA 3x travel points. Reader and user comments:

I setup Pasmo in Apple Pay and ran a test transaction with my Chase Sapphire Reserve.  Good news, Pasmo is being processed differently and coding as passenger railways (travel).

I also noticed JRE’s category change for GooglePay Suica a few months ago.

With US credit cards, the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) and the Chase Business Ink Preferred both had 3x points on Travel. If you had used them to charge your Suica via Apple Pay or Google Pay, the charge would show up as ‘travel’ or ‘jr east’. So you were effectively earning 3% cashback (technically more with the multiplier of 1.25 or 1.5 based on the card). The wonderful thing was that you could pay for almost everything in daily life with Google or Apple pay here in Japan. It does seem this has changed. I dropped my CSR a while ago – now it is time to let my Ink go too.

Is it possible to move Suica to a different iCloud account?

asking for a friend but is there a way to remove a PASMO from one iCloud account, and move it over to a different iCloud account? My friend is a bit of an idiot and noob with iPhones.

This is a tricky question and even if possible, why bother? Most people would just add a new Suica•PASMO to iPhone which is very easy to do. Up until the big Mobile Suica reset on March 21 it wasn’t possible to migrate the Suica card anywhere else except a different device with same iCloud account. However, it is now possible to move the same Mobile Suica card between Android and iOS. PASMO doesn’t allow this yet because Mobile PASMO hasn’t received the same backend upgrade. If we were assigning version numbers Mobile Suica would be v2.0, Mobile PASMO would be v1.5. In Mobile Suica 2.0 the card ID, the Mobile Suica account email used for system ID, is independent of Apple Pay and Google Pay systems. Let’s take a look at how it might work.

Here is the Mobile Suica transfer path going from iOS to Android.

  • Requirements: Mobile Suica account, ID registered email and PW, latest versions of Suica App (iOS) and Mobile Suica App (Android) installed on both devices.
  • Step 1: remove Suica from Wallet on iPhone (this parks the Suica card on the Mobile Suica cloud server)
  • Step 2: on the Android device launch Mobile Suica and sign in with the same ID and PW
  • Step 3: follow the screen prompts to add the Suica card from the server to the device

One of the interesting points about Android is that the receiving device must have a valid SIM inserted, otherwise Suica will not transfer. In theory here is how the process might work going between different iCloud account devices:

  • Requirements: Mobile Suica account, ID registered email and PW, Suica App 3.0.3 or later (iOS) installed on both devices.
  • Step 1: remove Suica from Wallet on iCloud A device, sign out of Suica App or delete the app, restart device
  • Step 2: on the iCloud B device launch launch Suica App, tap [機種変更] (Transfer from Android) and sign in with the same ID and PW
  • Step 3: Tap [+], and (if the theory is correct), you should see the Suica card with balance on the server, add to Wallet

Remember this may not work as it is not officially supported by JR East, for security reasons, and I have no way to test confirm if this works or not. Even in the worst case that is does not work you still have the Suica card attached to the iCloud account. And remember, it’s very easy to add Suica and PASMO to any iPhone 8 and later or Apple Watch Series 3 and later.