Apple Pay Suica Shinkansen 2019

Suica is the only transit card in the world on mobile that covers both high-speed rail and regular transit. Apple Pay Suica can be used for eTicket Shinkansen travel on all Shinkansen lines and ticketless travel in designated regions on JR East Shinkansen lines. However, Shinkansen eTickets are more about convenience over price: paper tickets usually have better discounts unless you dig deeper into the system.

There are big changes on the horizon. JR East announced that the current Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTicket service will end March 30, 2020. It will be replaced with a completely new eTicket system and a new, and likely multi-lingual, version of Suica App. JR Central/JR West are sure to be making changes at the same time. And this is just the run-up to the huge changes coming with Super Suica in April 2021.

The current eTicket system is a evolutionary mix of 2 different ticketing systems built by the separate JR company groups that operate the Shinkansen lines:

  • JR East created and uses Mobile Suica eTickets downloaded to Apple Pay Suica, Google Pay Suica and Osaifu Keitai for travel on Tohoku, Yamagata, Akita, Hokkaido, Joestsu, Hokuriku Shinkansen.
  • JR Central/JR West created and uses the EX system (smartEx and Express Reserve) that links a online eTicket to a preregistered plastic transit smartcard number for travel on Tokaido (Tokyo~Osaka) Sanyo (Osaka~Hakata) Shinkansen. It is not ticketing for mobile devices because JR Central/JR West don’t have a Mobile Suica-like transit card system. In this case Apple Pay Suica is just another linked transit card number, EX doesn’t know or care if it’s a real card or not.

JR East also offers ticketless Shinkansen travel for any Touch and Go service registered Apple Pay Suica or plastic transit IC card. Just like EX, the Touch and Go system doesn’t know or care if it’s a real card or not.

Changes in 2020

Nothing has been announced but here are some expected changes coming in April 2020.

  • New JR East eTicket system covering both Shinkansen and regular express trains for both Mobile Suica (Apple Pay Suica, Google Pay Suica, Osaifu Keitai) and registered plastic transit cards of all colors (ICOCA, PASMO, etc.). In some ways it will resemble EX with a new JR East banded eTicket app and matching online site, but it will also be Mobile Suica savvy.
  • New Suica App that will be highly integrated the new e-Ticket service and finally multi-lingual. I hope that EX service will be integrated into the new Suica App as well, but this might a feature that will have to wait until Super Suica in April 2021.

JR East has said that they hope to expand the ticketless Touch and Go Shinkansen travel region, but I suspect this is another feature that will have to wait for Super Suica when the current ¥20,000 Suica SF balance limit will likely be raised, or even doubled.

In any event, Shinkansen eTicket services will greatly improve in 2020 and beyond. It will be fun.

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Deep Secrets of Apple Pay Express Transit

Apple Pay Suica on A12 Bionic iPhone XS/XR works even in the middle of a recharge

Apple Pay Suica on A12 Bionic iPhone XS/XR is different from other devices because basic FeliCa transactions bypass iOS and go directly to the Secure Enclave. You can see this in action with Express Transit power reserve, but if you observe carefully you can catch it in other ways.

I caught a glimpse today buying ice coffee at a JR station NewDays shop (supplied by Doutor btw). I was recharging Suica with Apple Pay and forgot it was still processing when I touched iPhone XS to the reader. The payment went through without a problem, the recharge completed a few seconds later.

Is this a iOS 12.4 beta thing or did A12 Bionic iPhone do this all along? I suspect it did all along and makes sense: the payment transaction bypassed iOS which was busy processing the Apple Pay recharge and wasn’t ready to post a balance update to the Secure Enclave. Prepaid and postpay processing at the same time…very interesting.

Most people think all Express Transit is the same, but Suica Express Transit prepaid is very different from EMV Express Transit postpay. Suica settles the transit bill in less than 200 milliseconds (ms) locally right at the transit gate, while EMV Express Transit leisurely (500 ms) tells the gate, ‘I am bank card XXX, put it on the bill’ for settlement later between the bank and the transit agency. For EMV there is a lot of backend system work to make that happen, and even then the user sometimes has to tap twice:

The Rakuten Pay Super Suica Connection

IT journalist Junya Suzuki wrote an interesting piece for Impress Watch detailing the recent Rakuten Pay Suica announcement. Unfortunately there was a major missing piece of analysis: Super Suica. I asked him about it.

I look forward to reading Suzuki san’s take, meanwhile here is mine. It has everything to do with the Japan Transit IC card standard and the common eMoney purse that I wrote about in the Apple Card piece.

(The) Japan Transit IC card standard occupies a very special category, 255 transit companies form a common interoperability standard which started from Suica. There are more issued Transit IC cards than people in Japan, everybody has one.

The core group of 9 major cards (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, TOICA, Kitaka, manaca, SUGOCA, nimoca, HAYAKEN) also share a common prepaid purse: Transit IC eMoney. The national coverage and scale of the major cards transforms Transit IC eMoney into something special found nowhere else: a de facto national prepaid card standard.

File:ICCard Connection en.svg
Japan Transit IC Map, a very cool animated timeline is also available

Pay close attention to the transit cards that encircle the pink area, with the exception of PiTaPa. These are local rural area transit cards that are currently orphaned from both the common eMoney purse, and transit interoperability.

In April 2021 Super Suica will enlarge the pink area to include these orphaned cards. They will join the common eMoney purse and be compatible with all the pink area cards for transit and purchases. These will also be on Apple Pay Suica, Google Pay Suica and Osaifu Keitai.

That is a huge change in and of itself, but there is another very important aspect. All of these orphaned rural area transit cards are basically cash recharge only. Rural area transit companies operate on shoe string budgets and cannot afford the infrastructure cost to host credit card recharging on the back end even for kiosks.

Super Suica will solve this problem and what better solution than Rakuten Pay Super Suica for all rural Rakuten Pay users, and there are lots of them. This is the major sweet spot that Rakuten and JR East are aiming for. It merges the Rakuten Pay backend with the Super Suica frontend into one convenient service for transit and eMoney purchases while leveraging lucrative Rakuten loyalty points. Rakuten has the best integrated point system in Japan and JR East wants to use it to extend the Suica Platform nationwide. Rakuten Pay and Super Suica belong together, like peanut butter and jelly.

iOS 13 NFC for Japanese Individual Number Cards

No sooner than Apple announced iOS 13 with enhanced Core NFC read/write support than developers are quickly preparing to use it. Engadget Japan and Nikkei both report that the Japanese government will add support for iPhone NFC tag reading Individual Number Cards this fall. Individual Number Cards are a fairly recent development for the Japanese national and local governments to gradually tie various social services and income tax filing to a single personal ID number for better management and control. It’s evolving into a general purpose national ID card.

Individual Number Cards are supported by card readers that require a personal computer and additional software. FeliCa NFC tag reading with a smartphone is much easier because it can work out of the box and an app. Android Phones are supported but limited to select AQUOS, Galaxy and Xperia smartphone models. iPhone NFC tag support in iOS 13 will considerably widen the user footprint.

Masanori Kusunoki Japan Digital Design CTO tweets confirmation of Japanese government support for Individual Number Card NFC tag reading with iPhone iOS 13 NFC this fall

Google Pixel 3a has a FeliCa Problem

iPhone X was not the only smartphone to have a NFC problem. Japanese users sites report that Google Pixel 3a models marked G020D have a FeliCa defect. Google Support on Twitter recommends users with affected units update to the latest version of Android and restart the device. It’s not clear if this fixes the issue or not.

The Mupon.net site digs deeper into Pixel 3a NFC issues and has found warped USB-C ports and shutdown during sleep problems as well on certain model numbers. The advice is simple:

G020H:OK
G020D:NG

The site advises Pixel 3a users in Japan with these issues to check the model number and get a replacement.