Japanese Railway Digital Experiences
Various Japanese railway companies have created different digital experiences, and they all continue to improve these services. JR East, JR Central and JR West have released railway apps to improve their customers' traveling experience. Passengers can use these apps to gain more information about trains, the timetables, and the station floor plan. JR East also developed an e-money card that gives passengers the ability to buy tickets or other items without needing to visit a vendor.
THE DIGITAL RAILWAY EXPERIENCE IN JAPAN
JR East released their official JR East Railway app for Android and iOS in 2014. The purpose of JR East's app was to establish an information platform that would provide passengers with useful service, business, and operational data. Since the initial release, the app has been updated to provide information about the operational status if all lines run by the JR East Railway company. Additional information provided by the app also includes timetables, the location of the trains, the temperatures within the train cars, congestion status of trains on specific lines, information about floor plans for their various stations, coin-operated lockers, and information about other station facilities.
The official app was downloaded 400,000 times during the first month it was made available. It was downloaded 1 million times during the first year, and 1.6 million times by February 2016.
JR East also created Suica. Suica is a prepaid e-money card that eliminates the need to purchase tickets or items from vending machines. The service started at 424 stations in the Tokyo metropolitan area in November 2001, and the number of Suica cards issued reached approximately 60.77 million at the end of July 2016. At the end of March 2016, the number of stations where Suica tickets are issued was 4,789 stations across the nation. These include stations of other railway companies that accept interchangeable tickets. The 2017 JR East annual report states that 64.0 million Suica cards have been issued since the program's inception. A number of 388,040 stores accept the Suica card.
JR Central and JR West have also released a free smartphone app in November 2017.
CONNECTING TO STATIONS AND THE DIGITAL ECOSYSTEM
JR East partnered with other companies to eliminate connection loss in tunnels or areas within the stations where mobile connection would usually be poor. JR East provides free public wireless LAN services to customers, making it easier to connect to their online services.
In December 2016, JR East made it possible to purchase tickets for the Hokkaido area through eki-net, which is a service provided via the Internet.
JR East installed an "innovation vending machine" at their stations, which is coupled with a smartphone application. They can purchase products via the application before arriving at the station, and use their smartphones to retrieve their purchases from the vending machines.
The Acure Pass app lets passengers purchase drinks in advance. Customers can then use social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, or the LINE messenger app to gift the drink to a friend.
JR East's future plans include incorporating various technological innovations into their railway stations, such as IoT, artificial intelligence, and big data to determine patterns, trends, and other helpful information. JR East and JR West are partnering up to develop an improved online reservation service which will then be made available to foreign visitors.
JR East and other Japanese railway companies have developed apps to create various digital railway experiences. These apps include various railway apps, as well as apps to allow the purchase of various items before arriving at the station. JR East stations provide free wireless LAN services for passengers to connect to. JR East also plans to include more technological innovations such as artificial intelligence and IoT.