Location aware Apple Pay Suica fixes the region setting problem

Changing the iPhone region to add Apple Pay Suica confuses a lot of users. Many are not familiar with region settings and what they do, and it’s far too easy to think that a Japan region setting is a requirement to use Apple Pay Suica, which is not the case. When it comes to iOS 13 Apple Pay and NFC switching, the region is a simple filter so that user only sees Apple Pay card options for a given region, not the whole Apple Pay world. In this situation region setting becomes a stumbling block, most inbound iPhone users are probably not even aware that they can add and use a deeply useful Japanese contactless digital transit card with a few finger flicks.

This is a problem because the current iOS Region preference setting mixes 2 different job functions. Twitter user Zetton neatly explained the issue: the iOS Region setting defines the cultural space the user lives in and how iPhone treats some data, but Apple Pay uses regions in a different way to show available location options. It is this user cultural space vs current location option dichotomy force fitted into a single region setting, that confuses users. This is why JR East created the one time use SuicaEng app that completely dispenses with region settings for adding Suica to Apple Pay. iOS 13 rolled direct Suica card creation into Wallet, look ma no apps, but the ‘change region setting to Japan’ to add Suica downside was still there. Until now.

There are signs that Apple is working around the region problem by presenting location aware ‘add Suica’ Wallet notifications. It’s not universal and impossible to test if you already have Suica, but it seems the separate ‘add Suica’ option also appears in Wallet based on user location in Japan, regardless of region setting.

I suspect the add Apple Pay Suica location prompt is a backend feature in testing phase. It’s a smart move because Apple Pay Suica on global NFC iPhone and Apple Watch is going to be the best way for inbound visitors to get around town during the Tokyo Olympic games this summer and Google Pay Suica is still not available for inbound Android users. Ditto the recently announced Android only Mobile PASMO. Apple has a golden marketing opportunity in Japan that won’t happen again, they should make the best of it. The sooner Apple completely retires the ‘device region set to Japan‘ requirement for adding Suica, the better

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What’s the difference between iOS 13 Wallet created Suica and SuicaEng?

iOS 13 Wallet gained the ability to directly create a Suica card without an app. Judging from Twitter posts however, it seems inbound visitors prefer SuicaEng for adding Suica to Apple Pay. This is understandable: SuicaEng is a onetime use app that completely removes the ‘set Region to Japan’ to add Suica requirement that confuses people. The region change is only for adding Suica but many people seem to think that the iPhone Region must be set to Japan to use Suica, which is not true: Suica works regardless of the device Region setting. Apple clearly needs to improve the Wallet UI so that users can easily add different country cards without a confusing side trip to Settings and Region.

It doesn’t matter how a user adds Suica to Apple Pay but there are some interesting differences. There are 3 basic variety of Suica cards when buying a plastic one from a station kiosk or creating a virtual one in Suica App: non-registered Suica, registered My Suica, commuter Suica.

Non-registered plastic Suica cannot be re-issued if lost and the balance is gone too, but the arrival of Apple Pay Suica blurred the lines between non-registered and registered My Suica. Technically the distinction is still there and JR East is not obligated to refund or re-issue a non-registered Suica if it stops working on Apple Pay.

Regardless of the variety, when any plastic or virtual Suica is added to Apple Pay the user Apple ID becomes part of the Suica card ID, permanently attaching it to the Apple Pay and Mobile Suica systems like a petrified barnacle. This is the reason why Apple Pay users must refund/delete all Apple Pay Suica cards and their Mobile Suica account if they migrate to Google Pay Suica (and vice versa).

The differences between SuicaEng and iOS 13 Wallet created Suica boil down to:

  1. SuicaEng creates a single non-registered Suica card in Wallet, it cannot create more than one.
  2. iOS 13 Wallet creates a registered My Suica and can create multiple Suica. It’s a very tight integration between Apple Pay and Mobile Suica.

Not that users will notice any difference because all Suica look and work exactly the same way. The differences are hidden away from the users on the backend, exactly as they should be.

Unlocking Suica App Security Lock

Suica App is very handy but comes with serious limitations for inbound visitors:

  • Suica App is Japanese language only
  • Suica App only accepts Japanese issue cards for registration

An English version of the app is certainly coming before the Tokyo Olympics, likely arriving in tandem with the new JR East Shinkansen eTicket system in April 2020.

Fortunately we have the English language SuicaEng app for adding a virtual Suica card, and we also have direct virtual Suica card creation in iOS 13 Wallet that eliminates dealing with SuicaEng or Suica App. And if you need to purchase anything in Suica App, such as Commuter Plans or Shinkansen eTickets, it can all be done with your Apple Pay cards.

Suica App has good security, but if you forget your Mobile Suica account password or attempt to register an international issue credit card, you can get yourself security locked out of Suica App and Mobile Suica. Here’s how to unlock the Suica App security lock and get a new password issued.

The first thing you need to do is write down your Mobile Suica registration details:

  • Last name, first name in Romaji/Kanji and Katakana
  • Birthdate
  • device phone number
  • Japanese postal code number
  • Mobile Suica registration e-mail address
  • An e-mail address you want the password reset sent to, this can be the same as the Mobile Suica registration e-mail

Once you have this information ready, go to this Mobile Suica Password Reset form. Follow the screenshot example below and enter the information. After entering the information click or tap on the button to verify the information, if all looks good click or tap the send button at the bottom of the verification screen.

You will receive a Mobile Suica password reset message from info@mobilesuica.com, messages can take up to 2 hours to arrive. Be aware that Mobile Suica issues password resets daily from 9:00 to 20:00 Japan Standard Time (JST), if your request arrives outside of those hours, it will be processed the next day.

After you obtain a new password from Mobile Suica, login to Suica App using the new password. You can then change the password in Suica App, follow the screenshots below:

In the event that Mobile Suica Support requests that you contact them to remove the security lock on your account you only have 2 options, both of them require Japanese language ability:

For either option have the following pieces of information ready:

  • Last name, first name in Katakana
  • Birthdate
  • Mobile Suica registered device phone number
  • Mobile Suica account ID
  • Suica card ID number
  • Suica card ‘Shikibetsu’ ID: this is the same as your Apple ID or slightly different with an ‘_1’ or ‘_2’ appended at the end


When using the chat option you type a request such as ‘Mobile Suica account has a security lock that I want unlocked.’ The next step is passing though a few canned support responses before being connected to an online support person. They will then ask you to confirm your account with the above information. Confirm to the support person that your Mobile Suica account has a security lock that you want unlocked.

Apple Pay Suica Needs a Inbound PR Campaign, in English

Apple Pay Suica Inbound first time user experiences are endlessly fascinating and educational. What’s obvious and works for people who live in Tokyo, isn’t the case for visitors. The Cup of Tech podcast from July 16 highlights the frustration of not being able to pay for everything with credit/debit cards, and a positive first time Apple Pay Suica use experience.

The 5 minute mark is the tech low point: the state of cashless payments in Japan, but there is no color on what kinds of stores or businesses did not accept credit cards, and the comment about using PASMO and Suica for payment is weird: “It’s usually one or the other, it’s not both…. so I guess you have to have both.” I guess Zach never figured out that Japanese transit cards are compatible with each other.

The 6 minute mark is the tech highpoint: using Apple Pay Suica which Zach assumed he could not use because he read somewhere that, ‘you could only do this on phones sold in Japan.’ Fortunately he found out that his Apple Watch works with Apple Pay Suica and discovered the joys of using Suica Express Transit and recharging with Apple Pay on the go.

Both experiences make it clear that most people visiting Japan with global NFC iPhones are completely unaware of Apple Pay Suica and the ease of adding it to Wallet with the super simple SuicaEng app (which Zach highlights in a later podcast). I know because in 2 years of hosting a Apple Pay Suica guide, the page view analytics show that not many people are actively searching for Apple Pay Suica information in English.

JR East has done many Apple Pay Suica campaigns aimed at Japanese commuters, it is time that JR East and Apple create an English language Apple Pay Suica campaign for tourists that covers the ease of adding it and using it. Plaster the stations, wrap the trains. Waiting to do everything in 2020 for the Tokyo Olympics is waiting too long.

Update: I forgot to mention that a campaign from JR East and Apple can also help counter the 7pay QR Code security meltdown scandal that has poisoned contactless payments for everybody, even for FeliCa NFC, which has a long successful security track record and absolutely nothing to do with QR.

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.