The above tweet, from an iPhone X Apple Pay Suica user I’ll bet, perfectly captures the frustration experienced by a daily commuter: “I want to quit Apple Pay Suica, it’s so slow, yesterday it didn’t work. Mobile Suica is useless if I have to worry about it every time I go through a gate.” Some users like this one encounter the iPhone X Suica problem every commute of every work day. Apple not doing anything to fix it tarnishes iPhone X at a time when sales are apparently not doing well. It kills the killer Japanese feature of Apple’s killer product.
The line between a boring daily commute and a horrible one is so thin it’s almost nothing at all. The woman passenger with long, lose not so clean hair (the longer it is the less women are inclined to wash it daily) that drapes across my face and backpack in a packed car and clings on my clothes long after the encounter. The delayed train platform crush, The rainy day stinky train car. Small things in the crush add up into a stressful commute day but there is nothing one can do about rainy days or somebody else’s dirty long hair.
iPhone X Apple Pay Suica is different. Customers buy one expecting Apple Pay Suica to work quickly and reliably just like plastic Suica does. Except that it does not. When that happens it’s not just another small thing that adds up into a bad commute day, it’s also another small thing that adds up with clueless Siri, bad Apple Maps and more, to a negative iPhone X customer experience. For a Tokyo commuter on the daily grind anything less than a flawless, reliable Suica is nothing at all.
One thing I can say about Japanese customers after living in the country for 30 years is this: Japanese customers are quiet, fair, possess a dry, critical but practical way of dealing with things and are hard-nosed, some of the most hard nosed customers in the world I think. They like what is good, dislike what is bad, and simply stop using something that doesn’t work for them. But once they feel betrayed by a product, they silently drop it and never come back.
Angela Ahrendts had said that Apple is going to reinvest in the Japanese market after coasting on it for a few years. Fixing Apple Pay Suica performance bugs in iOS 11 would be an cheap, easy and practical place to start.
And remember Angela, if iPhone sells well with Japanese it will sell well with Chinese too.
This is a cool technology demonstration, true ‘tap to pay’ if you will, but I’m not sure that I’m ready to be an Apple Pay Suica Card yet. Does this mean I have to be qualified as Apple hardware too? What is the debugging process? Do I really want to know the answer?
The Mobile Suica user agreement shopping rules section states that the card can be ‘locked’ if not used for set period of time “as determined by the company (JR East).” Although the period of time is not stated this means that if you do not use Apple Pay Suica for 6 months it locks and cannot be used for shopping and transit until you unlock it.
This is inconvenient for occasional inbound visitors to Japan who might not know about the 6 month Suica lockout and try to use it. There are 2 ways to unlock a Suica that has not been used for 6 months.
Recharge Suica with Apple Pay (any small amount will suffice)
Ask a station agent to unlock your Suica: put your iPhone in Service Mode then hand it to the agent
You might need to have a station agent service your Suica card in Apple Pay. If you do, put your device into Service Mode before you hand it to the station agent:
On your iPhone, open Wallet, tap info icon, then open Service Mode.
For your Apple Watch, remove it from your wrist, enter the passcode to unlock it, and double-click the side button. Then, select your Suica card, firmly press the screen, tap Service Mode, and ask the station agent to hold your Watch with the display facing down.
Update: a reader reports says that you do not have to put the device in Service Mode, just hand it to the JR East station agent and they’ll unlock your Suica.