Tsutsumu Ishikawa is probably Japan’s premier tech journalist who came up through the traditional print journalism of Nikkei, kind of like Walt Mossberg or Joanna Stern of WSJ. Ishikawa san was also the journalist who broke the Apple Pay coming to Japan story in the summer of 2016 in the Japanese press, which Bloomberg shamelessly reported in English without giving him credit.
Because of his deep connection to Apple Pay, it’s ironic that Ishikawa san is suddenly tweeting that he’s been bitten by the iPhone X NFC Suica Problem:
Japanese media did not take up the iPhone X NFC Suica problem in 2018. I don’t expect them to now. Even journalists who were aware of the problem like Junya Suzuki, kind as he is, told me, “Let’s leave it up to social media channels.” Unfortunately, in this day and age the reality is that working tech journalists have to pick and choose stories that have legs and get clicks. Otherwise they can’t make a living.
Ishikawa san’s sudden iPhone X Suica problem is intriguing, and worrisome. Is it one of the original problem units manufactured before April 2018? I have no idea, but I have always suspected that all iPhone X units manufactured before the Revision B iPhone X April 2018 switchover will exhibit degraded NFC performance over time.
Other iPhone X users are reporting this too. Even iPhone X device owners who have not had NFC problems are suddenly discovering that their iPhone X NFC is going wonky. I hope this is not a new ugly chapter in the iPhone X NFC Suica problem saga:
I wonder if Ishikawa san and Tanaka san will read this blog and get a Rev. B iPhone X replacement? Probably not, but they should. So should everybody with a problem iPhone X device. I’ll update this post with any new information or developments.
Express Transit only works while Face ID/Touch ID is active. Express Transit stops working when Face ID/Touch ID is disabled. It is easy to disable Face ID without realizing it, resulting in a rude passcode request at the transit gate. iPhone X, XS, XR users need to be extra careful if wearing a face mask during a commute, 5 misreads disable Face ID, or putting the device in a fairly tight pants pocket as pressure on the side buttons also disables Face ID. iPhone X, XS, XR users can avoid these issues by turning off Raise to Wake. If you still have problems the last resort is turning off Face ID for unlocking iPhone, be sure leave it on for Apple Pay.
Express Transit works great on Apple Watch, depending on which wrist you use, but in winter when wearing layers of clothes, iPhone is faster to whip out at the gate. iPhone is also free from ‘left wrist vs. right side’ gate reader issues. As one reader points out: “Apple Watch works great for Express Transit except it’s on the wrong wrist in many cities. I’m a broken record at this point but a smart band would be a terrific addition to the lineup (and would solve this problem).” Adding money/reload/recharge to HOP and Suica transit cards with Apple Pay on Apple Watch is also much less convenient than iPhone.
There are many iPhone X owners in Japan with the Suica NFC problem who are simply not aware of it for various reasons (and this blog is far too small to make any difference). And then there are the holdouts: iPhone X owners with Suica problem devices who know what the problem is, know the Japanese language coverage of it on this blog, but refuse to go to Apple for an exchange. To me, the holdouts are the most distressing aspect of the iPhone X Suica NFC problem.
Everything in life is a choice and that is theirs to make. But I do understand the feelings behind that choice. There is no guarantee that any of my iPhone X Suica problem reporting is correct, there is no independent verification out there. Only Apple can do that.
The holdouts feel that Apple, and only Apple, is responsible for going public with the iPhone X Suica problem with an offer to fix it. In other words, Apple should take care of customers who bought an expensive Apple device, Apple should be pro-active about fixing customer problems with those devices. Apple should come to them, instead of them wasting time dealing with the Apple tech support runaround. I completely agree.
One of the iPhone X Suica problem holdouts is moving to Android, there are undoubtedly more. For him, iPhone X has been an endless parade of disappointment. I wish him well and a better NFC experience on his next device. One thing I can say about Japanese customer habits: once they drop something, they never go back.
One year later there are still plenty of defective NFC iPhone X devices out there. I know because the page views for iPhone X Suica Problem Q&A Exchange Guide are consistently high enough to suggest people go out of their way to search the problem online.
My rough estimate is that 40 million iPhone X units were manufactured up to the April 2018 defective free Revision B iPhone X change over. How many of those 40 million are defective? Only Apple knows. My take is that almost all of them are defective but iPhone X owners are not aware of the NFC defect for a number of reasons:
Apple Pay Express Transit use is the easiest way to discover a defective NFC iPhone X unit. Since Express Transit only exists in Japan (nationwide) and China (Beijing and Shanghai), Apple has used this to limit Rev. B iPhone X exchanges to problem use cases from those regions.
Mainstream Apple tech media in America (and Japan) has not reported the problem. I know of only 2: AppleInsider Mikey Campbell was kind enough to report the issue early on because I asked him to. Michael Tsai Blog picked up the issue later in his excellent digest of the iPhone X Suica Problem. Mainstream reporting in America is the best way to spread awareness of the issue because it is picked up everywhere around the world.
iPhone X went on sale November 3, 2017, the AppleCare+ 2 year coverage window for iPhone X starts closing this November. I hope that poor iPhone X users in Portland and Chicago don’t end up stumbling in the dark and can get Rev. B iPhone X replacement units without any hassle, before that window closes.
Until now large scale Apple Pay Express Card use has been limited to Tokyo (Suica) and Beijing/Shanghai (China Transit). Apple Pay Suica is by far Apple’s largest Express Card market since Suica has been in use for transit and store purchases nationwide for over a decade and on mobile phones since 2006. Because of the larger Apple Pay Suica user base and higher use rate, it was possible to identify the iPhone X Suica problem even though it was a NFC problem affecting all NFC modes, A-B-F, and related technologies (FeliCa, PBOC, EMV). Though Apple never publicly acknowledged the hardware problem (sadly, far too common these days), Apple quietly exchanged bad iPhone X devices for Revision B iPhone X devices for pesky, persistent users who had Apple Pay Express Card problems in Japan or China.