Hands Free Suica

After iOS 13.2 hit the final beta I migrated my Suica from iPhone to Apple Watch to give watchOS 6 Apple Pay Suica a proper shake down. Even after only a few days I can already say that Apple Pay Suica performance on watchOS 6 is far better than any version of watchOS 5. Not only does it feel more responsive, Suica Express Transit seems more sensitive further away from the gate reader hit area, crazy as that sounds.

Going back to Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch also brings back a great feature I missed on iPhone: hands free Suica. Incredible as it sounds, Apple Watch is still the only wearable device for Suica, the only choice for hands free Suica. Once you get used to hands free Suica Express Transit with Suica Auto Recharge, it spoils you for any other kind of cashless payment. Hands free shopping and transit is a breeze that makes everything else feel like a huge step backwards.

Apple should be marketing the hell out of it in Japan but don’t. What a waste of a huge and exclusive marketing opportunity. When Apple Pay Octopus finally, finally, finally launches, I expect Hong Kong Apple Watch users will really appreciate hands free Octopus.


JR Central Online EX Ticketing Extends to Kyushu Shinkansen in 2022

JR Central/JR West/JR Kyushu issued a joint PR release that JR Central’s EX Shinkansen eTicket system, encompassing both EXPress Reservation and smartEX services, will be adding JR Kyushu Hakata~Kagomashima Shinkansen ticketing in spring 2022.

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.

Meanwhile, JR East is due to rollout a new eTicketing system in spring 2020.

File:ICCard Connection en.svg
Japan Transit IC Map, outside white area cards are due to join Super Suica in 2021

The FeliCa Fabulist NFC TIMES

The EMV TIMES trashed FeliCa Suica again NFC TIMES posted a story today: Mobile Suica Still Accounts for Disappointing Share of Suica Users and Transactions in Japan (paywalled).

The article revolves around information (not a direct quote) that NFC TIMES claims they got from JR East deputy general manager of Suica IT and business development, Tomohiko Umekawa. Umekawa “told” the NFC TIMES that Mobile Suica issue is 9.5% of total Suica issue: 7.2 million out of 76 million, no fiscal year was given. Mobile Suica transaction volume is then explained in the article as being 10%.

The slight of hand swapping card issue numbers for transaction volume numbers disconnect was so odd that I contacted JR East Public Relations with a link to the NFC TIMES piece and the JR East executive supplied information, asking if they could confirm the information and fiscal year. JR East PR said that while Suica issuance numbers are public, Mobile Suica transaction numbers have not been released or made public. It looks like NFC TIMES made it up.

Dan Balaban says:

Mobile Suica and Osaifu-Keitai-Keitai in general have largely been a disappointment…even with Apple Pay supporting Mobile Suica for the past four years

What exactly qualifies as a disappointment, or a success here? And to who? More importantly, who exactly are we making look good by comparison…EMV Open Loop? Balaban concludes:

FeliCa Mobile Payments and Ticketing Nothing New in Japan, as Apple Strains for Apple Pay Developments to Spotlight

Let’s count, shall we? Apple Pay Suica launched on October 25, 2016. That makes it “almost four years” in that Apple Pay Suica is almost turning four, not “the past four years” as in a full four years going on five. Buddhists count birthdays starting at year one, the day of birth, so I guess Balaban is a Buddhist. Or he’s making shit up, again.

It’s a sad state of affairs and a comment on the current state of industry newsletter sites. Given all the cut and paste context and apparent fabrication in the piece, I say call the whole thing off and compare real honest numbers after: the JAPAN CASHLESS rebate, the Tokyo Olympics, and the big bad Rakuten Suica tie-up which is going to be huge. Believe me, things are only getting started.

iOS 13 Wallet Suica

The arrival of the Suica transit platform on the Apple Pay platform heralded a progression of innovation.

  • October 2016 : Suica is the first transit card on Apple Pay and also the debut of Express Transit and FeliCa
  • September 2017: global NFC Apple Pay arrives with iPhone 8/X/Apple Watch Series 3
  • September 2018: A12 Bionic NFC delivers Express Cards with power reserve and Background NFC tag reading
  • September 2019: direct creation of Suica in Wallet

The last one is a small step with big implications that people are only beginning to see. Instead of a plastic card that is read into Wallet or added to Wallet with a 3rd party app, Suica creation is now a basic function of iOS 13 Wallet that works with other Apple Pay cards from anywhere to add money. Suica is part of iOS. Think about that.

All of these developments have been driven by Suica, this is why Suica is the Apple Pay bellweather. Transit card creation in Wallet and adding money with Apple Pay cards from anywhere will undoubtedly be part of Apple Pay Octopus and migrate to other Apple Pay Transit cards over time. If you want to see where the Apple Pay puck is going, keep an eye on Apple Pay Suica developments. What arrives on Suica first becomes standard later.

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.