Changing the iPhone region to add Apple Pay Suica confuses a lot of users. Many are not familiar with region settings and what they do, and it’s far too easy to think that a Japan region setting is a requirement to use Apple Pay Suica, which is not the case. When it comes to iOS 13 Apple Pay and NFC switching, the region is a simple filter so that user only sees Apple Pay card options for a given region, not the whole Apple Pay world. In this situation region setting becomes a stumbling block, most inbound iPhone users are probably not even aware that they can add and use a deeply useful Japanese contactless digital transit card with a few finger flicks.
This is a problem because the current iOS Region preference setting mixes 2 different job functions. Twitter user Zetton neatly explained the issue: the iOS Region setting defines the cultural space the user lives in and how iPhone treats some data, but Apple Pay uses regions in a different way to show available location options. It is this user cultural space vs current location option dichotomy force fitted into a single region setting, that confuses users. This is why JR East created the one time use SuicaEng app that completely dispenses with region settings for adding Suica to Apple Pay. iOS 13 rolled direct Suica card creation into Wallet, look ma no apps, but the ‘change region setting to Japan’ to add Suica downside was still there. Until now.
There are signs that Apple is working around the region problem by presenting location aware ‘add Suica’ Wallet notifications. It’s not universal and impossible to test if you already have Suica, but it seems the separate ‘add Suica’ option also appears in Wallet based on user location in Japan, regardless of region setting.
After iOS 13.2 hit the final beta I migrated my Suica from iPhone to Apple Watch to give watchOS 6 Apple Pay Suica a proper shake down. Even after only a few days I can already say that Apple Pay Suica performance on watchOS 6 is far better than any version of watchOS 5. Not only does it feel more responsive, Suica Express Transit seems more sensitive further away from the gate reader hit area, crazy as that sounds.
Going back to Apple Pay Suica on Apple Watch also brings back a great feature I missed on iPhone: hands free Suica. Incredible as it sounds, Apple Watch is still the only wearable device for Suica, the only choice for hands free Suica. Once you get used to hands free Suica Express Transit with Suica Auto Recharge, it spoils you for any other kind of cashless payment. Hands free shopping and transit is a breeze that makes everything else feel like a huge step backwards.
Apple should be marketing the hell out of it in Japan but don’t. What a waste of a huge and exclusive marketing opportunity. When Apple Pay Octopus finally, finally, finally launches, I expect Hong Kong Apple Watch users will really appreciate hands free Octopus.
Tokyo Cashless 2020 is a series covering all things cashless as Japan gears up for the big event. If there is a topic that you’d like covered tweet me @Kanjo
iOS 13 is not a software release. It’s a mission statement of what Apple hopes to achieve by the end of the iOS 13 life cycle. iOS 13 will be peaking out just as the Tokyo Olympics take place between 24 July – 9 August 2020. There will be a huge influx of inbound smartphones using all kinds of apps for transit, navigation and payments. Apple has told Japanese journalists that Apple services will be ready. How will peak iOS 13 Apple Pay, Apple Maps and Siri stack up with the competition? How useful will they really be? Let’s find out, starting with the strongest contender.
Apple Pay Apple has put a tremendous effort into creating a global NFC platform that incorporates all the key NFC technologies (EMV, FeliCa, MIFARE, etc.) into one seamless package sold worldwide. This is still unique and unmatched. Inbound visitors with iPhone have the option of adding Suica to Wallet and instantly gaining all the benefits of using Japan’s famous tap and go transit and making contactless payments nationwide.
Apple Pay with Suica makes iPhone a great transit and payment solution for the Tokyo Olympics and Apple Pay Suica will be the inbound star player for all things transit and payments. iPhone and Apple Watch are so perfectly matched for using contactless payments in Japan during the Olympics that I can only wonder if Apple has been planning for this opportunity all along. Make no mistake, Apple Pay is going for the gold.
The biggest use case for Apple Maps during the Olympics is transit directions and local walking area navigation in station areas. Apple Maps is still a very ‘America centric’ app in that default map views and the UI are geared for driving, not transit and walking. iOS Google Maps has a more intelligent approach that layers transit over the current map view that eliminates the transit view/map view UI toggling of the chunky Apple Maps UI. Google Maps is a much more smoothly integrated collection of services.
Even with the addition of better map detail of Apple Maps 2.0 and Look Around however, Apple Maps must absolutely clean up and completely revamp its cluttered cartography and Point of Interest (POI) layers and remove the bolted on transit functions with improved integration to be a serious contender in the Tokyo Olympics Navigation contest. I don’t see that happening: there’s no way 7 years of bad habits and ‘Where’s Wally’ can be magically fixed in the 10 month run up to the Olympics.
Siri Bringing up the rear, Siri is the ‘Cool Runnings’ contender in the wrong Olympics. With Google Maps you can ask Google Assistant “when’s the next train to Shinjuku” and Google Maps will give you a list of transit options. Google Maps Transit also gives you platform guidance, optimum car positions for the destination station, and ground truth yellow exit numbers:
Siri and Apple Maps offer none of this. In fact Siri is not even programmed at this point to provide transit information and politely declines all such requests (and when did Japanese Siri’s speaking rate speed become so SLOOOOOW?). Even a manual Apple Maps Transit search does not provide the same level of Google Transit information: no platform guidance, no car positions, no crowd conditions, etc. Meanwhile JR East just announced an agreement with Google to offer Google Assistant Shinkansen transit information. This isn’t even a contest.
Quick Summary and Tokyo Olympics iPhone Guidance Given the current state of Apple Pay, Apple Maps and Siri, I offer the following suggestions.
For iPhone 8/Apple Watch Series 3 and later inbound visitors from countries with Apple Pay availability:
Use Google Maps and Google Assistant for navigation and transit
For iPhone 8/Apple Watch Series 3 and later inbound visitors from countries without Apple Pay availability:
Purchase a regular plastic Suica card from a JR East station kiosk and transfer it to your iPhone (Welcome Suica cards cannot be transferred), you cannot recharge it with a credit card but Apple Pay Suica can recharged with cash at any convenience store checkout register, any 7 Eleven ATM, or JR station smart kiosk. The advantage of Apple Pay Suica over plastic Suica is that you always know what the balance is and when it needs recharging. You can avoid long queues at station recharge kiosks.
Use Google Maps and Google Assistant for navigation and transit
There is something missing in the lineup however: a low cost entry level global NFC iPhone that’s even lower than the price cuts Apple implemented with the 2019 lineup. As Ben Thompson of Stratechery explains in a great post:
That means that this year actually saw three price cuts: •First, the iPhone 11 — this year’s mid-tier model — costs $50 less than the iPhone XR it is replacing. •Second, the iPhone XR’s price is being cut by $150 a year after launch, not $100 as Apple has previously done. •Third, the iPhone 8’s price is also being cut by $150 two years after launch, not $100 as Apple has previously done.
The rumored A12 chip iPhone SE2 may well be pie in the sky, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t market appeal for an inexpensive global NFC iPhone for places like Japan and Hong Kong. Those markets have highly integrated transit networks coupled with highly evolved transit card systems like Suica and Octopus. With both of these on Apple Pay there’s a good opening for a small SE size inexpensive global NFC iPhone, it would do very well.
UPDATE: What’s the best iPhone for Suica? A reader asked for my recommendation of a good Suica use iPhone in the 2019 lineup. I do not recommend iPhone 8. The superior NFC and Suica performance, plus the Express Card with power reserve and background tag reading features of A12 Bionic and later is a huge leap over previous models. These enhanced NFC functions are important for new Apple Pay features yet to come. I think it comes down to a choice between iPhone XR and iPhone 11, and how long you plan to use it in Japan.
It’s also helpful to remember that 2019 is the last lineup of 4G/LTE only iPhone. I think iPhone 11 is better optimized for 4G in the long run as Japanese carriers start to switch over bands to 5G. There is also the much better camera to consider. Last but not least is battery. The power optimization of A13 Bionic is going to deliver much better battery performance over a longer period of time.
It boils down to this: if you plan to use the iPhone for 2 years iPhone XR is a good choice, if you plan to use iPhone for 3~4 years iPhone 11 is the better choice.
Why the delay? It clearly was not the Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay exclusivity window that ended in December 2018. We may never know the whole story but I suspect that iPhone 7 FeliCa support is one reason for the delay, but certainly not the only one.
It makes sense for Apple and OCL to release Octopus that can be used on as many Apple devices as possible, the bigger the potential user footprint, the better. Octopus will work on Apple global NFC devices: iPhone 8/X/Apple Watch 3 and later. The important question is how badly do Apple and OCL want to add iPhone 7/Apple Watch 2 to the supported device list?
I previously wrote that Apple announced iOS 13 Core NFC enhanced tag support (FeliCa, etc.) for (all) iPhone 7 devices and later at WWDC19, but this does not sync with Apple Pay Suica device requirements: Apple is telling developers that all iPhone 7 models are good for NFC Read/Write FeliCa but telling customers that only iPhone 7 JP models are good for NFC card emulation FeliCa.
There are millions of NFC-F phones and devices outside Japan. That is because Type A and FeliCa are core requirements for NFC certification. If a phone supports NFC, it supports FeliCa. What is required to be compatible with most payment terminals in Japan is an Osaifu-Keitai provisioned secure element: that can be a SWP-enabled SIM card (not available yet), the Mobile FeliCa chipset with embedded SE, or an iPhone 7 provisioned for Osaifu-Keitai. The international iPhone 7s can do basic FeliCa read/write without encryption, because they embed a FeliCa-capable CLF <contactless frontend>. Apple has chosen not to provision them with Osaifu-Keitai keys, probably to avoid paying royalties to FeliCa Networks for each device.
This sparked some fascinating comments from Twitter user Lukas and, lo and behold, the very FeliCa Dude himself, an unexpected and pleasant surprise:
As always, the Dude delivers. Abide in the Dude, his knowledge and keen insight on all things NFC contactless and FeliCa is without peer. In a nutshell this means that OCL could offer Apple Pay Octopus on all iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 devices and add them to the Global NFC Apple device list…but will they? If OCL and Apple can supply the necessary keys in the over the air (OTA) iOS 13 release via the in-house Apple FeliCa keys server, all the better. Either way I think we will find out very soon, possibly as a ‘Apple Pay Octopus coming to Hong Kong’ side mention in the Apple Card release press kit.
Now that the FeliCa Dude has checked in, I hope he can find an appropriate outlet, blog or otherwise, to enlighten us, whatever the occasion. He is a far better writer than I will ever be. I’ve learned a lot from his writings, I know a lot of other people can too. The world needs to hear from the FeliCa Dude, not my cheap imitation.
The crucial section: “In my opinion there are only three reasons that Apple should not be able to bring Octopus emulation to iPhone 7:
If they are unable to allocate IDm (card unique ID) values to these non-blessed devices because that process is tangled up with FeliCa Networks
If they shot themselves in the foot and disabled their ability to interface their secure element to the FeliCa CLF (contactless frontend) in the PN67V on those non-Japanese iPhone 7 devices because they didn’t see Octopus coming.
They don’t feel like supporting iPhone 7 at all, not even the Japanese models: each device has a different generation of secure element, and additional development/testing/certification work may be required for them. This is again a combination of what Apple is willing to do and on which hardware platforms OCL is willing to authorize Octopus to be emulated on. It’s nothing to do with FeliCa Networks or Sony.”