Apple Pay Suica Express Transit and Security

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 enabled after turning on the device
  • Express Transit is 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. You might need to enter your passcode or Apple ID instead of using Face ID in these situations:

  • The device has just been turned on or restarted.
  • After five unsuccessful attempts to match a face.
  • After initiating power off/Emergency SOS by pressing and holding either volume button and the side button simultaneously for 2 seconds.
  • The device hasn’t been unlocked for more than 48 hours.
  • The passcode hasn’t been used to unlock the device in the last six and a half days and Face ID hasn’t unlocked the device in the last 4 hours.
  • The device has received a remote lock command.

Be careful if you wear a face mask, as you can easily disable Face ID without realizing it. I also find that putting iPhone X, XS, XR in a fairly snug pants pocket can sometimes press the side buttons enough to disable Face ID. Face mask users can mitigate this by turning off Raise to Wake or Face ID for unlocking iPhone, be sure leave it on for Apple Pay.

The Apple Pay Face ID experience could be improved 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 check out. Some of the newer readers by Panasonic can do this but the feature needs to be supported on the POS system to work. Unfortunately most POS systems opt to stick with manual selection.

One feature that Mobile Suica on Android Japanese carrier devices had over Apple Pay Suica is the ability to work on those devices even in power reserve mode. Apple Pay Express cards finally added power reserve with A12 Bionic iPhone XS and iPhone XR.

Apple Pay Suica Auto Charge

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.

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.

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