The final word on global FeliCa iPhone XS, iPhone XR, Apple Watch Series 4

Apple Pay Japan
The Apple Pay Japan pages also confirms global FeliCa for iPhone XS, iPhone XR and Apple Watch Series 4

Apple is slowly updating Apple Pay eligible device information and Suica information and finally got around to updating the Apple Pay Japan page eligible device specs. It’s the final word that iPhone XS, iPhone XR and Apple Watch Series 4 are really truly global FeliCa just like previous generation devices, but more important, from here on out, simply Apple Pay.

The last piece will fall into place when the Apple Watch platform adds Express Cards with power reserve that are specific to A12 Bionic iPhone XS and iPhone XR. Apple Pay will be feature complete on all devices, across the board.

A12 Bionic Powered NFC
A12 Bionic is powering some very interesting new NFC features on iPhone XS and iPhone XR
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Juggling domestic and international App Store accounts in iOS 12

iOS 12 App Store limitations
iOS 12 App Store can update Apps from a secondary account but only App titles that exist in the main account App Store

I can’t find the link right now (found it) but some blogs reported back in early summer that iOS 12 iOS 11.3 gained the ability to update App Store content from 2 different account IDs, USA and international.

I have juggled USA and Japan App Store content since App Store day 1 2008. Updating meant constant logging out and logging in to different accounts manually, a pain in the neck that I grew accustomed to over the years. Things have slowly improved but seamless savvy domestic~international App Store switching is still not there yet in iOS 12.

iOS 12 updates Apps from both USA and Japan accounts but only for content that is exists in both App Stores. Any attempt to update Japan only content from Yahoo Japan, Docomo, etc., and the USA App store coughs up a ‘This item is no longer available’ error. Back to the old tried and true ‘log out of US store log in to Japan store’ update maneuver.

This kind of ‘USA English version first, internationalization and optimization later when we can get to it’ attitude seems to be getting worse at Apple instead of better. On iOS 12 alone we have Apple Music Japan content that still does not Kana sort, half-assed Apple Maps Japan content, no Japanese TV content what-so-ever even though Netflix Japan and Amazon Prime Japan are going all out. On the just released macOS Mojave 10.14 iMessages is still missing Location settings. The list goes on.

Apple likes to pride itself on being, slightly, ahead of the curve on software internationalization. Sometimes it is, sometimes not. Smart, savvy internationalization of OS, cloud and content services that lead the industry may not sound sexy or produce big profits, but they have a huge impact on product quality around the world.

Making Apple products the best possible products out there was what Steve Jobs was all about. Apple may be stumbling of late, let’s hope they remember their founder by putting all into the job at hand.

 

Decision of the day

OK, you are the manager of the Kaldi Coffee Farm in the JR East Asagaya station Beans mall. Your store offers JRE POINT and is taking part in 3 day free 500 JRE POINT present campaign that starts Friday.

Today, Tuesday, is double JRE POINT day at Asagaya Beans mall. It is also raining which means foot traffic is down. Do you

    Offer double Kaldi Coffee points and screw shoppers coming for the free 500 JRE POINT campaign on Friday?
    Offer double Kaldi Coffee points on Friday so that shoppers get the girl, the gold watch and everything?

The answer of course is #1 screw the shoppers. Kaldi management must have graduated from the ‘dangle the carrot don’t let them eat it’ school of business.

Update: Interested piqued, I asked a Kaldi clerk if coffee double points would be in effect during the 500 JRE POINT Campaign. “We only do it on the 25th of every month, but sometimes on other (unannounced) days, it changes each month.” Other unannounced days…hmm. I then asked a Japanese friend to confirm things, “Kaldi has been doing that a lot recently. They used to have ‘store anniversary sale’ days on actual anniversary days but those are all unannounced now. I guess food imports business is not so profitable these days with the exchange rate so all the sales campaigns are unannounced. Maybe they’ll start announcing them again when they get desperate.”

Bingo.

Yumi Matsutoya Arrives on Apple Music

Talk about finally. Yumi Matsutoya, one of the biggest Japanese artists and J-Pop stars of the last 50 years, and one of the longest holdouts, landed with her complete catalog on Apple Music Japan this Friday. Her profile is listed on the Apple Music US site (Yumi Matsutouya). The catalog isn’t up yet but looks like it should be coming soon.

Japanese metadata tags are the usual Apple mess: the artist name in English instead of Japanese on iTunes downloads but proper Japanese on Apple Music downloads. The once proud iTunes Music Store is such a vestigial appendage to Apple Music, Apple clearly wants to kill it off.

Nevertheless this is great news for longtime fans. I know exactly what’s going to be playing the rest of the day.

A12 Bionic Bulletproofed Apple Pay Suica

Anybody reading this blog is undoubtably confused by the endless discussion of Apple Pay Suica errors and problems. Here is some explanation to help you understand them and how A12 Bionic in iPhone XS and iPhone XR solves them.

Apple Pay Suica problems are not problems with FeliCa technology. The problems are caused by the way Apple implements FeliCa technology on their hardware. Instead of using a real FeliCa chip from Sony, Apple created a virtual FeliCa chip on the A-Series chip with per device unique keys licensed from FeliCa Networks.

Apple’s custom implementation of FeliCa on the Apple Pay platform is clever and cost-effective in many ways but there are downsides:

  • iOS/watch OS has to be running for Apple Pay Suica to work. Japanese Android devices with FeliCa chips can still use Suica when the battery runs down.
  • Different iOS/watchOS versions affect Apple Pay Suica performance in good ways, and bad ways.

Apple Pay Suica Software Problems
Wireless radio technology like NFC, WiFi, Bluetooth and cellular is a delicate balance of software and hardware that often seems like a black art. A small code tweak or tiniest hardware flaw can easily upset the balance and wreak havoc. Remember the ‘you’re holding it wrong’ iPhone 4 anntenagate crisis? Like that.

Occasional iOS versions have caused Apple Pay Suica performance problems:

  • The iOS 10.1 Apple Pay Suica debut release worked pretty well but occasionally tripped up at transit gates, slamming them shut and forcing a re-read. By iOS 10.3 Apple Pay Suica performance was great.
  • The Apple Pay Cash iOS 11.2 release made life miserable for all Apple Pay Suica users. Apple fixed it with the iOS 11.2.5 update.

It’s happening again with the iOS 12/iOS 5 debut release. iPhone 8, Revision B iPhone X, Apple Watch 3/4 users are experiencing unresponsive Express Cards and Apple Pay demanding a Passcode/Face ID unlock at transit gates, or just good old error flicker (Suica error correction algorithms on JR East transit gates are truly amazing BTW). I’m sure Apple iOS engineers are on it and Apple Pay Suica performance will be back to normal after an update or two.

Express Card Power Reserve Mode
Express Card power reserve mode on iPhone XS and iPhone XR lasts up to 5 hours. You can use it for transit, recharge and purchase.

The A12 Bionic Difference
This kind of Suica, “iOS loves me, iOS loves me not” version by version game is a consequence of Apple requiring iOS to operate Suica on pre-A12 Bionic devices. iPhone XS users are not having Suica problems with iOS 12 thanks to the new A12 Bionic architecture and Secure Enclave that powers Express Cards with power reserve. Here is what we know so far:

If I had to take a guess from the superior performance of Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XS, the A12 Secure Enclave and Secure Element layer loads FeliCa keys and code and uses them not only in power reserve mode but also for regular mode Express card operation completely removing all the iOS overhead and interaction for basic Suica operations. It is much closer to how a Suica smartcard works. This makes iPhone XS Apple Pay Suica ‘bulletproof’ to any given iOS version. It just works, even when the battery runs down.

Apple Watch Series 4 still uses the ‘OS has to be running scheme’ as the Apple S4 does not support Express Cards with power reserve. I think the Apple Chip design team must be working on a S-Series chip that will have the same features of the A12 Bionic Secure Enclave and Secure Element architecture. Express Cards with power reserve and bulletproof Suica will be a great selling points for Apple Watch in Japan when it arrives.

Most of this explanation is about FeliCa and Apple Pay Suica but the same methods can be used for all other middleware stacks: Express Cards with power reserve work with Apple Pay Transit in China.

The iPhone X Suica Problem
Last but not least there is the iPhone X Suica problem which I have covered extensively over the past year. This is a completely different beast from all of the above, a unique and rare Apple failure unrelated to iOS or A-Series Secure Enclave architecture. The iPhone X Suica problem is a NFC hardware problem with iPhone X units manufactured before April 2018 and is fixed in Revision B iPhone X units manufactured after that date. Exchanging a problem iPhone X unit is the only way to resolve the problem. Unfortunately Apple is making exchanges very difficult for iPhone X customers with problem devices who need help. I hope Apple will come its senses and issue a repair program for iPhone X customers who really need Apple’s help.