Apple Pay Has Rocky Debut in Japan as Commuters Hit Snags

  • Users experiencing difficulties charging train passes
  • Train fare payments with Apple Pay launched in Tokyo today

Apple Inc.’s entry into Japanese digital payments is off to a rough start, with commuters struggling to register their train passes onto iPhones.

East Japan Railway Co. said users are experiencing difficulties connecting to the Mobile Suica contactless payment system, after the rail operator servicing Tokyo metropolitan area began accepting Apple Pay today. The trouble started shortly after 9 a.m. in Tokyo. While JR said services were restored after a couple of hours, Apple’s page showing the status of various services showed that there were still some lingering disruptions.

Apple is seeking a foothold in a market where people still prefer paying with cash despite years of using rail passes that double as electronic money cards. The Cupertino, California-based company’s new iPhone 7 includes support for the FeliCa standard, a tap-to-pay technology used in cards such as the Suica and Pasmo rail passes widely accepted in Tokyo and Osaka. Winning over Japanese commuters could foster growth in e-money usage through Apple Pay and entice more people to buy its phones.

“It’s a shame that systems went down, but it shows just how much user interest there is,” said Eiichiro Yanagawa, a senior analyst for consulting firm Celent. “They’ll be able to learn from today’s experience to improve services for the future. We can probably take this as a positive sign,” he said.

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive officer, was in Japan this month and spent some time promoting Apple Pay, posting pictures on social media of going through train station gates using a Suica-enabled iPhone.

While Apple Pay’s debut is meant to pave the way for more people to use the technology to store credit cards on iPhones, that capability remains limited, with some cards issued by American Express, DC, UC and MUFG excluded for now.

JR East said Tuesday’s problems were due to the large number of attempts to access the service. Apple Pay and Mobile Suica were the top trending Twitter topics in Tokyo. Users took to social media to express their frustration.

“This makes me worried about system stability going forward,” @ltdexp_1002M posted on Twitter. “Seriously? This may be the first service outage ever for Suica?” said another user posting under @taturou.

Representatives for Apple in Japan didn’t respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment on the Apple Pay disruptions.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.