JR East Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTicket Outage and Refunds

JR East already announced the end of Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTicket Service in March 2020 and is busy building a new eTicket system that will start April 1, 2020. This is a huge change, glitches are sure to happen along the way.

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).

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Reader Questions: Remove Suica from Apple Pay Wallet but not lose Suica

What’s the process if I want to remove Suica card from Apple Pay Wallet but not lose the card? I plan to sell my phone but have a commuter pass that’s still valid.

This one is super easy. Go to Wallet, tap Suica, tap “˙˙˙” in the upper right corner, scroll to the bottom of the Suica card options, tap “Remove This Card”.

Poof, Suica card is gone from Wallet, but don’t worry.

This is where the fun begins. Suica is automatically migrated from Wallet and stored on the Apple Pay iCloud & Mobile Suica Cloud where it is safe and ready to be re-added to the same iPhone, another iPhone or Apple Watch at any time with Suica Balance and Commute Plan intact.

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.

This is the reason why Apple Pay Suica cards cannot be migrated to Android Osaifu Keitai or Google Pay. Migrators leaving iPhone for good need to delete all of their Apple Pay Suica cards and get a refund in Suica App. This is the only way to completely delete a Suica card from Apple Pay iCloud and Mobile Suica.

Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch: First Impressions

Now that iOS 12.3 is out with great Apple Pay Suica performance and no more bugs, I have a new side project: Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch. I moved my daily Commuter Suica to Apple Watch and it’s an interesting experience. Some first impressions.

  • 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.”

It is indeed.

SuicaEng vs Suica App Reviews and UI Design

App Store user reviews are not always about the app. They also reveal problems users are dealing with that might not have anything to do with the app itself. The differences between the SuicaEng and Suica app reviews on the US App store are an interesting example of that.

The reviews are less about the apps and more about using Apple Pay Suica and issues they have with it. In retrospect it would have been better if JR East had released SuicaEng app instead of the full Suica app on App stores outside of Japan for people who just wanted to add Suica to Apple Pay. Why didn’t Apple and JR East just put a ‘Create Suica’ option button in Wallet and be done with it? There’s a downside with too many choices.

As the negative Suica App reviews make clear, more choices and functionality confuses users. Good UI design should only show what the user needs to see at any given moment. It’s a design issue covered extensively by Ken Kocienda in his excellent book Creative Selection when he was creating the iPad software keyboard.

In this case it comes back to Apple Pay Region settings, filtering out unnecessary choices and eliminating potential problems. If you live in America and want to add a Hop card on Apple Pay after it becomes available this summer, which Add > Card Type screen is less confusing? A bunch of choices that have nothing to do with the country a user lives in might look cool but are an invitation to trouble, like the negative Suica App reviewer who deleted $150 worth of prepaid balance but doesn’t know how to retrieve it. Clutter means user confusion and potential problems.

China transit cards can created in Wallet without using an app, so why does Suica require one? JR East played it safe by keeping virtual card creation on a separate app the user has to download, even though the feature could have implemented in Wallet. Doing it in an app also has the bonus of less complication by doing away with Region settings. Until Apple Pay Wallet comes up with a better way to add virtual cards from different regions without a Region setting, I think one time use apps like SuicaEng make sense, and keep support issues at a minimum.

I also like weird ‘SuicaEng’ app name. Most people assume that it’s just Japanese using weird English, but it’s a very conscious choice that has nothing to do with English ability. Japanese language loves to condense things and Suica + English = SuicaEng immediately sets the app apart from the full featured Suica app, while playing on the odd similarity: you can guess what the app is about without knowing anything about it. Most of all, the strange name keeps it memorable. After seeing it, you’ll never forget it.

Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTicket Service Ends March 2020

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.