Dead HCE-F, Global NFC ≠ Global FeliCa, and Other NFC Confusion

NFC technology lineup in iOS 13

NFC is a confusing name. It’s an upside down umbrella that catches every single naming convention connected with it: Type A, Type F, EMV, FeliCa, MIFARE, etc.  There are also all those smartphone platform and credit card company brand names built on NFC technology: Apple Pay, Google Pay, NFC Pay, Mastercard Contactless, etc. Companies have greatly added to the confusion changing brand names on a whim: Visa PayWave is now Visa Contactless, Google Pay was Android Pay and Google Wallet before that.

The confusion is perfectly captured by the ever-growing collection of acceptance marks cluttering up Japanese cash register counters.

How do you keep it straight? It helps to remember that NFC is just hardware.

NFC Certification = Global NFC
NFC-A and NFC-F support is required for NFC Forum certification for a device. NFC means NFC-A + NFC-F. NFC-B is optional. All NFC smart devices are Global NFC devices capable of supporting all NFC based payment systems. The street reality is they don’t because smart device manufacturers pick and choose what middleware they support. Everybody supports EMV but manufacturers pick and choose different middleware stacks for different models and different countries.

Global NFC ≠ Global FeliCa
Google’s Pixel 2 a perfect example of a Global NFC device that doesn’t do FeliCa because Google did not choose to license FeliCa middleware. Google also muddied the Android water considerably with the Google Pay Japan rollout that proves HCE-F is dead: Google Pay Japan is just an alternative front end sprinkled on top of existing Osaifu-Keitai middleware. We’ll see what Google cooks up for Pixel 3 but I suspect Google wants to have cake and eat it too: something like Real Google Pay for Pixel 3, Google Pay Lite for everybody else.

Apple on the other hand sells Global FeliCa iPhone 8, iPhone X and Apple Watch 3 worldwide. Inbound visitors to Japan with those devices can add a Suica card with all the benefits to Apple Pay. Inbound Android users are left in the cold feeling confused which is a shame.

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.

Apple Pay Suica Inbound #7: No Foreign Transaction Fees

Apple Watch Suica

A reader comment after using Apple Pay Suica on his iPhone X:

My trip is half over, and we’ve found Suica to be a huge advantage over the old method of converting currency when we use our “no foreign transaction fee” card  to recharge it. So we use it heavily every day.

Since I live in Japan this important Apple Pay Suica advantage never crossed my mind. There are plenty of “No Foreign Transaction Fee” credit cards available in America. As long as they work with Apple Pay they are good to work for Suica Recharge. As long as you have a Global FeliCa model iPhone or Apple Watch you are good to add Suica. For the purchases you make with Suica kiss foreign transaction fees goodbye.

Unfortunately for inbound Android users the recent rollout of Google Pay Suica does not let them into the Global FeliCa smartphone party.

Face ID One Month Mark

A useful and hilarious take on how well Face ID works at the one month mark:

Face mask face= no

Sleepy face = no

Toothbrushing face= yes

Suica in a hurry face = meh

Wake up face = no

Nose cleaning face= no

Summary opinion: “I liked Touch ID better.”

JCB J/Speedy Apple Pay Lands in Taiwan

JCB Apple Pay in Taiwan

JCB announced J/Speedy Apple Pay service for Taiwan today. This means any Taiwanese customers with JCB cards can add them to Apple Pay. More importantly this means all those Japanese tourists that Taiwan has been advertising to can now spend money with Apple Pay JCB cards in Taiwan. In short iOS 11 NFC switching for FeliCa QUICPay at home and EMV J/Speedy in Taiwan.

Who says you can’t have it both ways?

iPhone X NFC Problem a Design Flaw?

1️⃣ iPhone X Suica Problem Q&A Exchange Guide
2️⃣ iPhone X Suica問題Q&A交換ガイド (Japanese)
3️⃣ Apple Denial and iPhone X Users
4️⃣ iPhone X Suica Problem Index

I know, I know, John Gruber says question marks in titles are bullshit but Japanese iPhone X Suica users are asking: is the iPhone X Suica problem an Apple design flaw? Is this the iPhone X dirty little secret?

Since covering the issue since December 2017 only one thing is clear: there is nothing clear about the iPhone X Suica Problem. It looks like a software problem but also shows signs of being a hardware flaw. The one consistent aspect is that iPhone X NFC performance is unreliable compared to the rock solid NFC performance of iPhone 8/8 Plus and Apple Watch Series 3.

It’s a problem in Japan because transit cards like Suica require much higher performance than low performance EMV contactless credit cards. Transit gates are not cash registers. EMV was developed for slow pokey credit card payments at your local supermarket, not whizzing through a transit gate at Tokyo rush crush hour. This is why EMV sucks at transit.

iPhone X Suica Problem Solved
yuya-310 is a happy iPhone X Suica user.

I did not give serious thought to the ‘iPhone X Suica Problem is due to an Apple design flaw’ theory until yuya-310 reported that exchanging iPhone X fixed his Suica problem and that Apple Pay Suica performance is suddenly and consistently as fast and responsive as iPhone 8 Apple Pay Suica performance.

In that post I wrote:

A few things to consider:

  • iPhone 8/8 Plus do not have the Suica problem
  • iPhone 8/8 Plus/iPhone X all use the same NXP NFC chip
  • The iPhone X OLED screen and battery are considerably different from iPhone 8/iPhone 8 Plus
  • There are separate iOS 11 builds, one for iPhone 8/iPhone 8 Plus and one for iPhone X

Because they all use the same NXP chip and because iPhone 8/8 Plus do not have the Suica problem, we can eliminate the NXP Chip, Mobile FeliCa stack and Suica stack from the iPhone X Suica problem matrix. This leaves us with the different screen, the different battery and the unique iOS 11 build of iPhone X. The screen or battery or something else might use slightly modified parts and revised drivers that are different from early iPhone X production units.

I asked an NFC expert for an opinion, his answer was very interesting:

I don’t have an iPhone X to test, but since it seems to affect Type A (China Express Transit Beijing and Shanghai) cards as well it sounds like an antenna specification problem, an interaction with other components in the device, or an RF routing issue on the phone’s motherboard, which is considerably more complex than the iPhone 8 models.

Another New Theory
Based on yuya-310’s exchanged iPhone X Suica experience and the above motherboard information, my new theory is that the iPhone X Suica problem is a motherboard design problem that is already fixed with a small but important revision tweak to the iPhone X motherboard. A ‘Revision B’ kind of thing that finally brings iPhone X NFC performance in line with iPhone 8.

I believe that Apple’s inability to fix the iPhone X Suica problem despite multiple iOS 11 updates is proof of a iPhone X NFC related hardware problem: if it was just software it would be fixed by now. I think events will play out in the following ways, in order of possibility:

  1. Short term scenario: Apple will not admit there is a iPhone X NFC hardware issue but will quietly swap out problem ‘Day 1’ iPhone X devices under warranty with a ‘Revision B’ iPhone X.
  2. Best long term scenario for Apple: iOS 12 has a workaround fix for pre Revision B ‘Day 1’ iPhone X devices. After iOS 12 ships the iPhone X Suica error problem is finally fixed for everybody. NFC performance on ‘Day 1’ iPhone X devices remains sluggish and less robust than Revision B iPhone X but is ‘good enough’.
  3. Worst long term scenario for Apple: iOS 12 does not fix the iPhone X Suica problem Apple admits the iPhone X NFC flaw and issues a replacement program. Every Day 1 iPhone X user gets a Revision B iPhone X replacement.
  4. Least likely scenario: iOS 12 or a iOS 11.4.x update fixes the iPhone X Suica problem, everything works great across the board on Day 1 iPhone X and Revision B iPhone X. I don’t see this happening.

When iOS 12 ships the new iPhone models will have been announced and everybody will have moved on from iPhone X. Whatever the outcome, Apple’s complete silence and non-action regarding the iPhone X Suica problem has left iPhone X Japanese customers saddled with an inferior product that does not work with Apple Pay in Japan.

Apple has yet to do right by Japanese iPhone X customers. This is sad, and inexcusable.