Apple Pay Suica Express Transit and Security

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Express Transit is one of the great features of Apple Pay Suica. Apple support says,

If your Suica card is set as your Express Transit card, simply hold the top of your iPhone or Apple Watch within a few centimeters of the ticket gate scanner when you enter and exit. Your iPhone or Apple Watch must be turned on, but it doesn’t have to be connected to a network. You don’t need to wake or unlock your device or open an app when you enter or exit the ticket gates. You’ll see Done and a checkmark on the display.

This works for store purchases too. iPhone X users still getting used to the Apple Pay double click side button Face ID gesture really appreciate the simplicity of Express Transit Suica. Express Transit is also secure:

  • Suica can only hold up to ¥20,000 at a given time
  • Express Transit is not enabled until the iPhone passcode is entered and Touch ID / Face ID is enabled after turning on the device
  • Express Transit is automatically disabled when Touch ID / Face ID is disabled

The video below illustrates Suica Express Transit security on iPhone X:

  • iPhone is powered on, Face ID not yet enabled
  • Face ID enabled, Express Transit off
  • Face ID disabled via the side buttons, Express Transit disabled

As the video is made to show, Apple Pay Suica without Express Transit is awkward and almost useless. Apple could improve the Apple Pay Face ID experience by making the default card selection more intuitive, or better yet automatically matching the right card type (Suica, iD, QUICPay) for the reader signal when paying at the cash register

One feature that Mobile Suica on Android Japanese carrier devices have over Apple Pay Suica is that Mobile Suica works on those devices even when the power is off. The recently launched Smart Octopus service on Samsung Pay Galaxy phones works the same way. Transactions are limited when power is off but it works. Samsung also recommends keeping the device off because once the battery is completely dead, so is Smart Octopus. It’s the same for Mobile Suica on Android.fullsizeoutput_895c

Reddit user FeliCa Dude posted an explanation of the FeliCa differences between Android Japanese smartphones with the ‘Osaifu Keitai’ software stack and iOS:

If you turn off your phone, you can still use the FeliCa services that you have provisioned. If your phone runs out of battery, you can still use your Mobile Suica, Edy, etc. The HLOS (ie: Android) doesn’t have to be running, because the inductive field of the card reader plus a small trickle of current from the battery is sufficient to power the CLF and SE.

Apple Pay is different: it’s a NXP NFC chip with embedded keys from FeliCa Networks, and it can’t function without iOS running.

Suica Auto Charge Security
Suica Auto Charge is one of the extra Apple Pay Suica features users can add with Suica App and a JR East View card. You might think that Suica Auto Charge used with Express Transit  is a security risk but Suica Auto Charge has some interesting security limitations:Apple Pay Suica Auto Charge

Auto Suica Charge only works on Suica and PASMO region transit gates. It doesn’t work on transit gates outside of the region, store purchases, vending machines, etc. This limits Suica Auto Charge to riding trains in the Tokyo area. If somebody swipes your iPhone only the Suica balance is at risk and you can disable Suica instantly by putting iPhone in Lost Mode.

Update 2-27-2018: text edited for clarity and re-edited video clip.

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Cheering The Home Team

The Speed Skate Women’s Team Pursuit final race between the Netherlands and Japan was one of the most thrilling races of PyeongChang 2018. The Takagi sisters of Team Japan are from a small village called Makubetsu that is near Obihiro Hokkaido. The villagers were cheering them on from home when they won the gold (the video 3 minute mark) and set a new Olympics record. The YouTube virtual realty video of the event is a fun watch (in the YouTube App for VR glory) as the excitement builds. Congratulations to all.

Apple Maps Japan Quick Point: Ikebukuro Station Underground

Apple Maps does not offer Indoor Maps for Japan. Tokyo was on the Airport/Mall rollout list at WWDC 2017 but later dropped. Indoor maps for Airports and malls are not what people need or want in Japan anyway. The need to navigate Japanese underground station mazes. Here’s a quick look at Ikebukuro Station underground in Tokyo with Apple Maps, Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps.

A Birds-eye View
All 3 maps show the Ikebukuro station underground footprint in light red / pink. Yahoo Japan Maps is the only one with a indoor maps navigation UI. Apple Maps only goes as far as the station footprint, let’s compare indoor maps views from Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps.

Yahoo Japan Maps offers a master bird’s-eye view of Ikebukuro station underground when zoomed out. Yellow station exits are clearly marked. Store information is only shown when the user fully zooms in.

Google Maps does not offer a master bird’s-eye view of Ikebukuro station underground and forces the user to zoom in to see different parts of the same underground structure and access the indoor map UI. The Google Maps team does not believe that station exits are important information and omits them. Store icons clutter up the view when they are clearly not needed but that pays the bills.

Yahoo Japan Maps is the winner here.

Apple Maps Japan Quick Point: Ikebukuro Station

Tech writers go crazy for in depth digital map comparisons but I think quick glance comparisons are better and tell you more. Here’s a quick look at Ikebukuro station in Tokyo with Apple Maps, Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps.

Maps should use ‘on the street’ signage so that users can visually orient themselves. The real world and the virtual world must connect. Everyone in Japan knows that station exits look like this:

Yellow. How much yellow do you see in Apple Maps? The Apple Maps cartography team did not bother matching station exit colors with the real world, stations and exits are purple. The transit team however got the yellow exit color right. Unfortunately the teams did not coordinate the information. A confusing map.

Apple Maps Ikebukuro Station
Apple Maps Ikebukuro Station in transit route mode

What’s shocking is that Google Maps does not bother showing station exits at all. Good luck telling your Google Maps user friend to meet up at Ikebukuro Station East Exit.

As usual Yahoo Japan Maps gets it right again.

iOS 11.2.6 Apple Pay Suica Still Sucks on iPhone X (U)

After a few days of field testing iOS 11.2.6 Apple Pay Suica on iPhone X, the results are in.

The Short Story
iPhone X Apple Pay Suica Express Transit performance on all versions of iOS 11 sucks compared to iPhone 8 and Apple Watch Series 3. It’s unfortunate that Apple’s premium iPhone sucks where it should be stellar: the Japanese market exclusive Apple Pay Suica is Apple’s single most important endorsement for using Apple Pay in Japan.

The Long Story
iOS 11.2.6 has not improved Apple Pay Suica Express Transit performance compared to 11.2.5. Error flicker and full read errors are still a problem though better than the awful Apple Pay Suica bugs of iOS 11.2.

I still think that iPhone X battery optimization is interfering with Suica Express Transit. Compared to the iPhone 7 iOS 10.3.x golden standard, iPhone X Apple Pay Suica Express Transit gate response is sluggish at best, error prone most of the time, store reader performance on UT1-Neo readers and vending machines is a 2 read~3 read crapshoot every time.

The most frustrating thing about iPhone X Apple Pay Suica error flicker is this: there is no way for Japanese customers to confirm or debug the issue at the Genius Bar or with Apple Tech support. The issue can only be confirmed at the nearest JR East station transit gate. Japanese iPhone X customers who contact Apple tech support are told that the error flicker issue does not exist or that a video of it proves nothing. It’s exactly the response that infuriates iPhone X users who experience Suica Express Transit gate errors everyday.

Error flicker does exist. If you are experiencing the issue please contact Apple support or enter a report on Apple Bug Reporter if you have a developer account.

Update 1: a reader contacted me after reading this post. He took his iPhone X to the Apple Store Genius Bar in Tokyo and explained the Suica Express Transit error flicker / full error problems he is experiencing. Apple staff is aware of the inferior iPhone X Apple Pay Suica performance issues compared to iPhone 7 / 8 but there is nothing they can do about it.

Update 2: another reader writes that iPhone X Apple Pay Suica vending machine purchases are “practically impossible.”

Update 3: Reader report that iPhone X Suica worked without any problems on iOS 11.0.1 ~ 11.0.3. Suica errors started only after updating to iOS 11.1 and above.

Update 4: The iPhone X Suica problem may be a NFC hardware flaw. Details here.