Suica App 2.5 Update

Suica App 2.5 dropped on 9/25 without a peep from JR East but this morning they released a notice urging Suica App users to update by 10/22. It’s not immediate clear what has changed, most likely it’s all backend stuff.

Gosh does this have anything to do with a Apple Pay system update or Octopus? And by the way, where are we on that one Sunny?

UPDATE: JR East has followed up with a Mobile Suica email notice labeled ‘urgent’ asking Suica App users to update to version 2.5 ASAP. This looks serious so update as soon as you can.

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Tokyo Cashless 2020: Are Apple Maps and Siri really Apple Pay level ready for the Tokyo Olympics?

1️⃣ Dear JR East, we need a new Suica Charge App
2️⃣ Consumption tax relief with the CASHLESS rebate program
3️⃣ >Are Apple Maps and Siri really Apple Pay level ready for the Tokyo Olympics?
4️⃣ Blame the Japan Cashless Payments mess on VISA and EMVCo, not FeliCa

Tokyo Cashless 2020 is a series covering all things cashless as Japan gears up for the big event. If there is a topic that you’d like covered tweet me @Kanjo


iOS 13 is not a software release. It’s a mission statement of what Apple hopes to achieve by the end of the iOS 13 life cycle. iOS 13 will be peaking out just as the Tokyo Olympics take place between 24 July – 9 August 2020. There will be a huge influx of inbound smartphones using all kinds of apps for transit, navigation and payments. Apple has told Japanese journalists that Apple services will be ready. How will peak iOS 13 Apple Pay, Apple Maps and Siri stack up with the competition? How useful will they really be? Let’s find out, starting with the strongest contender.

Apple Pay
Apple has put a tremendous effort into creating a global NFC platform that incorporates all the key NFC technologies (EMV, FeliCa, MIFARE, etc.) into one seamless package sold worldwide. This is still unique and unmatched. Inbound visitors with iPhone have the option of adding Suica to Wallet and instantly gaining all the benefits of using Japan’s famous tap and go transit and making contactless payments nationwide.

Apple Pay with Suica makes iPhone a great transit and payment solution for the Tokyo Olympics and Apple Pay Suica will be the inbound star player for all things transit and payments. iPhone and Apple Watch are so perfectly matched for using contactless payments in Japan during the Olympics that I can only wonder if Apple has been planning for this opportunity all along. Make no mistake, Apple Pay is going for the gold.

In addition to Suica support, merchant support is growing for inbound Apple Pay cards as well

Apple Maps
Apple Maps Japan is one of those players with great unfulfilled potential that is never realized. Apple has vowed that Maps will be ready for the Tokyo Olympics. This means that Apple Maps 2.0 for Japan will be ready with new detailed maps, Look Around, and, one hopes, indoor maps that include stations, not just airports and shopping malls.

The biggest use case for Apple Maps during the Olympics is transit directions and local walking area navigation in station areas. Apple Maps is still a very ‘America centric’ app in that default map views and the UI are geared for driving, not transit and walking. iOS Google Maps has a more intelligent approach that layers transit over the current map view that eliminates the transit view/map view UI toggling of the chunky Apple Maps UI. Google Maps is a much more smoothly integrated collection of services.

Even with the addition of better map detail of Apple Maps 2.0 and Look Around however, Apple Maps must absolutely clean up and completely revamp its cluttered cartography and Point of Interest (POI) layers and remove the bolted on transit functions with improved integration to be a serious contender in the Tokyo Olympics Navigation contest. I don’t see that happening: there’s no way 7 years of bad habits and ‘Where’s Wally’ can be magically fixed in the 10 month run up to the Olympics.

Siri
Bringing up the rear, Siri is the ‘Cool Runnings’ contender in the wrong Olympics. With Google Maps you can ask Google Assistant “when’s the next train to Shinjuku” and Google Maps will give you a list of transit options. Google Maps Transit also gives you platform guidance, optimum car positions for the destination station, and ground truth yellow exit numbers:

Siri and Apple Maps offer none of this. In fact Siri is not even programmed at this point to provide transit information and politely declines all such requests (and when did Japanese Siri’s speaking rate speed become so SLOOOOOW?). Even a manual Apple Maps Transit search does not provide the same level of Google Transit information: no platform guidance, no car positions, no crowd conditions, etc. Meanwhile JR East just announced an agreement with Google to offer Google Assistant Shinkansen transit information. This isn’t even a contest.

Quick Summary and Tokyo Olympics iPhone Guidance
Given the current state of Apple Pay, Apple Maps and Siri, I offer the following suggestions.

  • For iPhone 8/Apple Watch Series 3 and later inbound visitors from countries with Apple Pay availability:
    • Add Suica to your iPhone and recharge it with your Apple Pay card from home
    • Use Google Maps and Google Assistant for navigation and transit
  • For iPhone 8/Apple Watch Series 3 and later inbound visitors from countries without Apple Pay availability:
    • Purchase a regular plastic Suica card from a JR East station kiosk and transfer it to your iPhone (Welcome Suica cards cannot be transferred), you cannot recharge it with a credit card but Apple Pay Suica can recharged with cash at any convenience store checkout register, any 7 Eleven ATM, or JR station smart kiosk. The advantage of Apple Pay Suica over plastic Suica is that you always know what the balance is and when it needs recharging. You can avoid long queues at station recharge kiosks.
    • Use Google Maps and Google Assistant for navigation and transit

JR East Price Changes with October 1 Consumption Tax Increase

JR East announced price increases that take effect with the 10% consumption tax on October 1. The increases apply to basic fares, regular express train fares and Shinkansen fares. There are downloadable PDF files of the price changes in English and Japanese.

There a few Mobile Suica changes too. Mobile Suica eTicket refund fees are rising from 310 ➡️ 320, Mobile Suica re-issue fees are rising from 510 ➡️ 520. Green Seat Upgrades are also rising, I will update those changes to my Suica App page in a day or two.

Even though the JAPAN CASHLESS rebate program does not cover transit purchases, you can ease the pain by registering your Apple Pay Suica with JRE POINT. Not only can you get JRE POINT with Suica transit use from October 1, and you also get JAPAN CASHLESS rebates as JRE POINT with Apple Pay Suica purchases, which you can then use for free Suica Recharges. Details on the Tokyo Cashless 2020 rebate page.

Ride the Rails with Apple Pay Suica and Earn JRE POINT

The enhanced NFC functions of iOS 13 could not have come at a better time for the Japanese market. The great 10% consumption tax cashless experiment begins October 1 when the tax hike becomes effective and the Japanese government starts giving 2%~5% refunds for cashless payments via established card point systems. The ‘My Number‘ Japanese Individual Number card will be a centerpiece for getting those point rebates and the Japanese government has already announced iOS 13 support for My Number card. The whole rebate/refund thing is clear as mud but exciting too. Suica is listed as one of the many e-money cards eligible for consumption tax refunds/rebates. Suica consumption tax point refunds will be delivered via JRE POINT.

JR East added to the excitement today with the announcement that starting October 1 Suica users can earn JRE POINT simply by riding the rails. Mobile Suica transit users (Apple Pay Suica, Google Pay Suica, Osaifu Keitai Suica) earn 1 JRE POINT per 50 yen of IC transit fare, plastic Suica cards earn 1 JRE POINT per 200 yen of IC transit fare.

That’s a huge incentive to drive transit users from plastic Suica to Mobile Suica. The same JRE POINT rates apply to Green Car Seat purchases. And get this, only Mobile Suica Commuter Plan purchases and renewals are eligible for JRE POINT with 1 JRE POINT per 50 yen of the purchase/renewal. This is a sweet deal if your company sponsors your commuter pass. They give you the money, you get the points. Ugh, now I have to hold off renewing my Apple Pay Suica Commute Plan until October 1 but the points are worth going without my commute plan for a few days. JR East’s big push for Mobile Suica over plastic is remarkable and will become a shove when the next generation ‘Super Suica’ format arrives in April 2021.

To earn points the Suica card must be registered to a JRE POINT account. The JRE POINT account setup process has gotten a little more streamlined, and the iOS JRE POINT App a little less clunky over the past year. Mobile Suica and JRE POINT systems are now dynamically linked so you don’t need to worry if the Apple Pay Suica card ID number changes.

Today’s announcement only applies to regular train travel but JR East will be adding a lot more in 2020~2021 as the Super Suica start date approaches: JRE POINT for Touch and Go Shinkansen travel starts with the new JR East eTicket system in April 2020, Round trip fixed travel route coupon-like JRE POINT is due December 2020. And finally, with Super Suica in place, the regular express train/Shinkansen ‘EkiNet‘ ticketing and point system will be rolled into the JRE POINT system. Travelers can then earn and use JRE POINT to purchase regular express train and Shinkansen eTickets and upgrade seats. It will be Apple Pay Super Suica eTicket bliss.

Apple Pay Suica Troubleshooting #3: Recharge hangs and errors

1030/1050/1210/2040 Errors
All Apple Pay Suica recharge errors happen when iPhone has a poor network connection. If Apple Pay Suica Recharge fails or hangs, don’t panic. Cancel the recharge process by hitting the sleep button, then check to make sure iPhone has a robust network connection, sometimes it helps to toggle Airplane Mode on and off to clear a bad connection. Try recharge again.

One important thing to remember is that even if you see a charge on your bank card, it is only temporary and will not be processed. If recharge still fails Suica App may display one of the following error numbers: 1030/1050/1210/2040. Follow these steps to clear the error:

  1. Restart iPhone
  2. Make sure your iPhone has a good network connection
  3. Make sure you are not in the Mobile Suica maintenance window: 2am~5am Japan Standard Time
  4. Open Suica App (you do not need a Mobile Suica account for this operation)
  5. Tap the red explanation point you see on the Suica App card

This will clear most error problems. If it does not clear the problem the next steps are:

  • Make sure you are logged into Apple ID and the iPhone Region is set to Japan
  • Remove Suica from Wallet.
  • Wait 10 minutes.
  • Tap the plus sign.
  • Tap Continue, then tap Suica.
  • The Suica card you removed from Wallet should be showing with the balance.
  • Add the Suica to Wallet.
  • Return iPhone Region to your preferred setting.

In some rare cases you may get this screen when attempting to re-add Suica in Wallet:

This means you made multiple recharge attempts that Mobile Suica needs to clear. Simply wait for the end of the next Mobile Suica maintenance window: 2am~5am Japan Standard Time, then re-add Suica.