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.
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.
Mobile Suica maintenance is a regular nightly occurrence from 1am~4am with longer once a month sessions. The July 6~7 and July 20~21 Suica system maintenance work is very unusual for both the time, 9pm~5am on each night, and the reach: both Mobile Suica and JR East station Suica ticket machine services are going offline.
A big glitch happened yesterday evening May 24 at 18:00: the Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTicket service went down. Some Apple Pay Suica users experienced performance issues with Suica Recharge in Wallet and adding new Suica cards to Wallet during the outage, Mobile Suica users on Android were affected as well. All services were restored as of May 25 5:30 am local Tokyo time.
During the service outage Mobile Suica users on iPhone (Suica App) and Android (Mobile Suica App) who purchased Shinkansen eTickets could not download purchased eTickets to their device, make any online changes to purchased eTickets, or purchase new eTickets.
JR East will refund any Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTickets that were purchased or could not be used during the service outage. JR East also stresses that any unsuccessful Suica Recharge attempts are not charged to bank cards. See the JR East Support page (Japanese language only) for details and use the link to apply online for a eTicket refund (Japanese language only).
The user does not need a Mobile Suica account to do this, for example, if you add a plastic Commuter Suica card to Apple Pay. It all works seamlessly because of an arrangement between Apple and JR East that links Apple Pay and Mobile Suica together in a special way.
If you take the time to install Suica App and look at your Suica card info, you see something like this:
Let’s say you add a 2nd plastic Suica card to Apple Pay. Look at the Suica App info for the 2nd card and you’ll see something like this:
What’s happening on the system level is that even though you do not have a Mobile Suica account, Apple Pay automatically registers your Apple ID on Mobile Suica Cloud the first time you add Suica card to Wallet, so that you never lose it. If you add a 2nd card it is also registered as Apple ID_1, a 3rd card as Apple ID_2, etc. Each and every Suica card is safe and secure no matter how many times you remove it from Wallet. The important thing to remember is that removing Suica from Wallet never deletes Suica from Apple Pay iCloud or Mobile Suica.
Apple Pay Suica performance on watchOS 5.2.1 on Apple Watch Series 4 is great, but not as great as iOS 12.3 on iPhone XS. Because A12 Bionic removes the iOS overhead for Express Cards with power reserve, Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XS/XR feels light and snappy like a plastic Suica card. I can’t wait for Express Cards with power reserve on Apple Watch.
Suica Recharge on Apple Watch sucks and I have discovered how wonderfully useful Suica App really is. I have a Commuter Suica on Apple Watch and a My Suica on iPhone. Both of these can be recharged and managed (with different credit cards attached to each Suica!) in Suica App. It’s super convenient and has opened my eyes to a major Apple Pay Wallet design weakness: iPhone Wallet and Watch App Wallet should just be one thing that manages all of my Wallets cards on both devices in one place. Apple Watch Wallet is great, in a pinch, but it’s a lousy UI experience for managing transit card options and Suica Recharge. Apple Pay transit prepaid card users access those card options far more than credit cards. I added a unified Wallet request for iOS 13 to the Apple Pay WWDC19 wish list.
Suica Reminders for low balance and commuter plan renewals are another Apple Watch weak point. They don’t exist. Suica App to the rescue again with Notification Sounds. The 3 beep Suica low balance reminder (¥1,000 or less) works everywhere and is a life saver. It’s far more attention grabbing than Apple Pay Suica Notification Center reminders on iPhone.
A true story: I was buying lunch at a family owned Daily Yamazaki convenience store. You might know the kind, a Showa style convenience store stocked with Yamazaki breads, homemade sandwiches and bento, usually run by an older couple, a store from a different era that will unfortunately disappear.
I bought a bento and paid with Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch. The Suica 3 beep low balance reminder sound from the reader caught the attention of the owner who looked to be in his late 70s. “Suica works on that? It’s so small.” I assured him Suica worked on Apple Watch.
He smiled and said, “That’s really convenient. You’ll never lose it or have to find it when it’s on your wrist.”