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.
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.
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 often more about convenience over price: paper tickets usually have better on the spot discounts unless you dig deeper into the system and sign up for services in advance.
JR Central/JR West created and use the EX system (smartEx and Express Reserve) that links a online purchased eTicket to a preregistered plastic transit smartcard for travel on Tokaido (Tokyo~Osaka) Sanyo (Osaka~Hakata) Shinkansen. It is not a download eTicketing service for mobile devices because JR Central/JR West don’t have a Mobile Suica cloud-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 plastic 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.
When you purchase Shinkansen eTickets in Suica App, you’ll see a small notice at the bottom of the menu screen: Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTicket Service ends March 2020. Does this mean we’ll have to go back to paper tickets? Not at all.
JR East has been coy about the new cloud based eTicket service they are working on to replace the current Mobile Suica one. Originally the plan was to release a product similar to JR Central’s smartEX in April 2019.
Oops, that didn’t happen and I think we are better off for it. smartEx for all of it’s backend system hocus-pocus, isn’t that smart. The basic system is designed with manually input Transit IC card numbers (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, and all) as the center. The result is a fragile and static system that doesn’t port well. Sign up for the Express Reserve (EX Reserve) service option in Suica App and you too can experience JR Central’s oh so fugly EX system.
I don’t think JR East wants that kind of system. There are probably 2 aims: replacing the old but reliable iMode backend with a modern dynamic one that can comfortably process the full variety of regular train and Shinkansen eTickets while plugging into many different UI front-ends: Suica App, web, other transit company apps, etc. It will be properly internationalized too. The iMode backend has served us very well since 2006 but needs to go, take a look at the eTicket purchase screenshots on the Suica App page and you’ll see.
We’ll get a new eTicket service with a new name in a new version of Suica App, in English and Japanese probably, and lots more. I look forward to seeing what JR East comes up with for the big Tokyo Olympic 2020 rollout.
JR East announced the end of the Mobile Suica ¥1030 annual membership fee for all Android devices on February 26 2020. Mobile Suica is free for Apple Pay users. JR East also announced the end of Symbian OS feature phone support with most devices being cut off from Mobile Suica on February 25 2020, and the rest following on December 22 2020 along with some Android devices.
All of the ‘offed’ devices can still use Suica for transit and purchases but are limited to cash recharge which can be done at station kiosks and any convenience store. Users who want to keep their Mobile Suica account will have to migrate to an eligible Apple or Android device.
JR East is also terminating Mobile Suica Shinkansen e-ticket purchases this year and will replace it with a new service similar to JR Central’s Smart EX. Details should be coming soon.