The iOS Region Setting and Apple Pay are linked together in interesting ways that has changed with iOS versions. Up through iOS 10, devices needed to have the region match the country they wanted to add and use cards in: iPhone had to be set to Japan to add and use Japanese credit cards in Apple Pay, and so on.
iOS 11 through iOS 14 This changed in iOS 11 with global FeliCa iPhone and NFC switching. Region setting only needed to be changed to add a card for any particular country and had nothing to do with using it. This is because Apple Pay Wallet displays card options that match the Region setting, it acts like a filter that removes outside clutter. The add card animation cycle shows what’s available:
After adding a card, the Region setting can be anything, as Apple Pay ignores it and takes care of the rest. Many inbound users don’t realize this and have avoided adding Suica to Apple Pay under the misconception that the iPhone/Apple Watch Region has to be set to Japan to use it.
Wallet behavior is the same in iOS 12, even with the iOS 12.2 UI tweaks, but the region setting can be ignored when adding cards to Apple Pay with an app like Suica. Another small change from iOS 11 is that if you have a Suica card deleted from Wallet that is parked on Apple Pay iCloud, Wallet will show you the Add Suica option no matter what the iPhone Region setting is. It’s a nice touch and reminder in case you ever forgot you had one.
iOS 15 iOS 15 revamped the Wallet add card UI considerably. Transit cards are now region free, anybody can create new transit cards. Add Suica or PASMO regardless of your device setting. See Suica • PASMO Guide for details. There is also a new ‘Previous Cards’ category for quickly re-adding cards, keys and ID that were removed from Wallet but are saved on iCloud. Some options such as adding nanaco and WAON e-Money cards and Driver’s License ID in Wallet are still region-setting dependent.
they can be recharged with Apple Pay credit cards or cash
they don’t require Apple Pay authentication
they are multi-purpose and are used for purchase, transit and opening door locks
Apple Pay credit/debit cards in both EMV or FeliCa flavors use middleware to work the transaction magic but Express Cards like Suica and Student ID don’t use middleware. They are pure card emulation residing in the super exclusive PassKit NCF Certificate Nirvana zone where they can do anything they want.
There is a weakness on pre-Bionic architecture however: iOS/watchOS has to babysit all the card emulation and is a somewhat fragile. Changes in the OS affect performance and reliability. Here is a timeline of my experiences with iOS 10 Apple Pay Suica Express cards on the iPhone 7 JP model.
Apple Pay Express Card performance on pre-Bionic hardware tends to be cyclical: each new iOS has unstable performance at first but improves with later updates. It happened with iOS 11 and the rocky Apple Pay Cash start. And it’s happening again with iOS 12 and iOS 12.1 both of which have Express Card performance issues.
At some point this feature will be standard across iOS and watchOS. The reliability benefits are huge, as is peace of mind in a power pinch.
And finally there is iPhone X Suica Express Card performance which is in a dog league all its own. Taken together with the iOS 11~iOS 12 timeline, it illustrates how complicated and confusing the current iOS 12 situation is for iPhone X Japanese users. Until Apple comes clean and provides some guidance for iPhone X devices with defective NFC, I don’t see things improving for these users. I’m glad to be out of it but cringe reading iPhone X user experiences and feel for the users as I’ve been there myself.
Hen na SIM appears to be a global SIM sticker package for overseas use that is bundled and sold by H.I.S. Mobile along with an iOS “app” that customers download not from the Apple App Store but from the H.I.S. site. H.I.S. sidesteps Japanese regulations with the Overseas use only label and seems to be sidestepping Apple rules as well by misusing enterprise iOS app distribution.
H.I.S. is a Japanese discount travel company with a less than stellar reputation. I used them 10 years ago and knew some people who worked there. The water cooler stories were vicious “black company” yakuza stuff. A normal person didn’t last long in such a deranged corporate culture. I would never consider giving them my business again, or my iPhone.
It will be interesting to see if Apple pulls the H.I.S. developer enterprise account for rule violations.
VISA is the least consumer friendly card company in Japan. Period. Mastercard, American Express and JCB are making it easy for Japanese customers to use their cards in mobile wallets (Apple Pay, Osaifu Keitai) both domestically and abroad with NFC Switching. NFC certification requires both NFC-A and NFC-F. Smartphones can do it all, how nice.
As Tatara san explains, it is the #3 SIM card option that is really being phased out. #1 includes Apple Pay and Osaifu Keitai devices. The recently released Google Pay Japan is simply an alternative Osaifu Keitai front end that entirely dispenses with the dead HCE-F. As if this was confusing enough, VISA Japan has not signed on with Apple Pay Japan or Google Pay Japan, nor is VISA payWave compatible with the Osaifu Keitai standard. This leaves #2 and #4 as the only real Mobile VISA payWave Japan options going forward. Good luck with that.
Japanese media has speculated that the Sumitomo Mitsu and Mizuho financial groups want to promote QR Code contactless payments over NFC and the death of Mobile VISA payWave proves that QR is winning the contactless payment turf war. Don’t believe it.
So where is VISA going in the Japan market? One guess: the success of Apple Pay Suica and the release of the Global FeliCa iPhone/Apple Watch has VISA at a momentary standstill. Because if Google follows Apple’s lead and releases a Global FeliCa Pixel 3 with NFC switching, things will get very interesting. The more Global FeliCa becomes a ho-hum checkbox feature with every smart device, the more VISA Japan will have to play nice with Apple Pay and Google Pay or risk being shoved aside.
Which brings us back to FeliCa again. To outsiders it looks like the Japanese contactless payments market goes round and round, but it doesn’t. VISA Japan goes round and round playing market politics never moving forward, and that does damage. Last month I wrote:
It would be much better for customers if smart device manufacturers bundled all the major middleware stacks (EMV, FeliCa, MIFARE, China Transit, CEPAS) and simply called it Global NFC. Real Global NFC.
Until the industry does a better job of integrating NFC hardware and the various middleware pieces into a virtual whole, NFC confusion will continue to be a problem.
It would be much better for customers if the credit card industry stopped the contactless payment turf wars and started delivering solutions that help customers instead of sowing confusion.
Mizuho Suica for Apple Pay raises questions and fascinating possibilities way beyond yesterday’s announcement. Why now and why only Apple Pay? Is this the first of many Suica branded cards coming to Apple Pay?
The announcement was short, small and caught Japanese IT journalists off guard. Nobody anticipated Apple Pay Suica branding just appearing and working with a wallet app update. It’s slick and in true Apple fashion ‘just works’, but journalists missed important points with huge ramifications:
Mizuho Suica only exists as a virtual card hosted on the Mobile Suica Cloud, there is no plastic equivalent
DNP provides the Mizuho Wallet app backend
Put together this means the Apple Pay Suica branding vehicle is complete and ready to roll. Almost exactly the model outlined earlier.
The only remaining question is how many other transit companies and banks are going to get on? It’s tempting to think that with another Apple Event approaching, Suica’s eight sisters will join the Apple Pay branding parade: PASMO, ICOCA, TOICA, manaca, Kitaka, SUGOCA, HAYAKAKEN, nimoca. That’s probably a long shot but the vehicle is ready and waiting if they decide to join and time is running out if other transit areas want to benefit from the flood of inbound visitors anticipated for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
None of the other Japanese transit cards are on mobile but everybody building their own cloud infrastructure is out of the question. If JR East, DNP and Apple can coax the other Japanese transit cards to join the Suica branding scheme that finally offers commuter plans and more for everywhere and not just Tokyo, Apple Pay will easily become the de facto mobile wallet for Japan.
UPDATE 1: the Apple Pay Suica branding program is underway, sources say ‘stay tuned’ for more Apple Pay Japan payments and apps in the near future, September and October are the usual suspects.
UPDATE 2: I think one reason why Japanese journalists missed the virtual only Mizuho Suica point is because the Android Mizuho Wallet App release earlier this year also had virtual cards with one very important difference. Android Mizuho Wallet creates virtual Mizuho QUICPay JCB Debit cards not Suica. Mizuho Debit cards are hosted on the Mizuho system just like their credit cards. Virtual Suica branded cards are hosted on the JR East Mobile Suica Cloud, a completely different system with completely different implications.
UPDATE 3: I hate the blog title and am utterly clueless trying to find a better one that exactly captures why this is an important development.