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. 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 the cash register. Some of the newer readers by Panasonic can do this but it needs to be supported on the POS system to work. Unfortunately most POS systems opt to stick with the manual selection method.

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

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
The new iPhone XS and iPhone XR have new Apple A12 Bionic powered NFC features: Express Cards with power reserve and Background Tag Reading. With power reserve you can use Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XS/XR for transit, purchase and recharge even with the battery run down. A review of Apple Pay Suica Express Cards with power reserve is here.

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