Word about Revision B iPhone X is slowly getting around in Japan. Appreciative readers taking the iPhone X replacement challenge are saying things like, “now that I have a iPhone X that works right I’ll stick with it for another year and forgo upgrading to iPhone XS.”
Good choice but that’s not exactly what I call customer satisfaction. Apple really needs to issue a proper exchange program or their reputation and iPhone market share in Japan will go down the drain. There’s darker side appearing too: I’m seeing more Japanese tweets of iPhone X NFC suddenly failing dramatically. I’ll keep tabs and report new developments. I hope this is not going to be yet another bad turn in an already ugly drama.
If we are seeing failed logic boards for iPhone 8 and iPhone X within the first year after manufacture, I’m seriously thinking we could be seeing the downside of Tim Cook’s long term ‘put all the supply chain and manufacturing eggs in the China basket’ strategy. That era might be ending. It might be time to spread the risk, the supply chain and manufacturing.
Many people were disappointed at WWDC18 when Apple did not announce any changes to Core NFC. What people really wanted was all 3 NFC Forum defined NFC Modes: Card Emulation, Reader/Writer and Peer to Peer. iOS Apple Pay supports Card Emulation and Reader/Writer but severely limits Secure Element access necessary for Card Emulation. Core NFC is just a limited Reader/Writer Mode sub-set. Only developers with hard to get Apple issued NFC Certificates could do more.
Suica App is a good example of an extremely rare 3rd party app with NFC Certificate access to the A-Series Secure Enclave (SE) because Apple implemented a ‘virtual FeliCa SE’ in the Apple A-Series chip. This allows Suica App to recharge Suica card directly without going through Wallet, one of the very few apps that can. But there are limitations to this virtual approach: iOS has to be up and running for virtual FeliCa to work and Apple Pay Suica cannot do what FeliCa does on Android which is still work on transit gates when the device has run out of battery.
There are limitations of case-by-case NFC Certificate special access: slow expansion of new NFC service partners. The lack of established public frameworks is one reason native transit card support in Apple Pay has been expanding so slowly with big established NFC Middleware players such as MIFARE still missing from the Apple Pay platform.
One new thing that did come out of WWDC18 was NFC Certificate powered NFC Wallet Passes for iOS 12. Apple previewed the feature to media and guests entering the Steve Jobs Theater at the September 12 event. NFC Certificate enabled technology is being used for Student ID Cards, NFC Tickets, NFC Rewards Cards and more. If Apple is allowing more developers to get PassKit NFC Certificates with the iOS 12 release, I hope we’ll see new updated Apple Pay pages highlighting these new NFC features and partners.
A12 Bionic powers the new Core NFC Background Tag Reading
A12 Bionic NFC
One of the fascinating aspects unveiled on September 12 are new NFC features that A12 Bionic enables on iPhone XS and iPhone XR: Express Cards with power reserve for transit and Student ID Cards and Core NFC Background Tag Reading.
FeliCa Reserve Power Express Transit has been on Android Osaifu-Keitai smartphones forever and Japanese feature phones before that. This feature mimics a physical smartcard so that users can make it through transit gates even when their device has run out of power. As long as there is just a little residual current left in the battery, it works.
Super Powered Apple Pay Suica
As explained in the iOS 12 Security Guide, A12 Bionic has a special new residual low power state that allows virtual FeliCa implemented in the A12 Bionic Secure Enclave to support transactions without iOS up and running, similar to what exists on Android Osaifu-Keitai: no fancy stuff but enough to get the FeliCa Networks keys out of the A12 Secure Enclave and get you through the transit gate.
This ability of A12 Bionic to handle SE transactions without iOS running sets Global FeliCa on iPhone XS and iPhone XR apart from Global FeliCa on iPhone 8, iPhone X and Apple Watch Series 3/4. Apple Global FeliCa finally matches the performance of the Japanese Osaifu-Keitai standard with dedicated Sony FeliCa chips, on Apple hardware.
This ability of A12 Bionic Secure Enclave to function without iOS has other benefits as well: much better Apple Pay Suica performance. Apple Pay Suica on pre-A12 devices works great but never quite achieves the magic bulletproof performance of a plastic Suica card on transit gates. With Suica essentials running on A12 Bionic with no iOS overhead, Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XS really shines and is finally bulletproof. iPhone XS puts the disgraceful scandalous iPhone X NFC problem device where it belongs, the trash bin of Apple shame history alongside the Apple III.
FeliCa for Student ID Cards
The iOS 12 Security Guide also makes clear that Student ID Cards are Express Cards with power reserve just like Suica transit stored value (SV) cards that open door locks instead of transit gates. Blackboard is using FeliCa technology to power those and are running the backend system that handles account SV ‘recharge’ from Apple Pay, similar to what Mobile Suica cloud does. Apple has not licensed MIFARE yet, though the same technique can be accomplished with other Middleware stacks that support it.
A12 Bionic is also powering the new Core NFC Background Tag Reading feature. I suspect Apple’s aim here is similar: they don’t want people to be locked out their smart home just like they don’t want students with NFC Student ID Cards to be locked out of the dorm when iPhone runs out of battery. It’s all about capturing what is great about smartcards on a smartphone: they don’t need a battery to work. It’s also a strategic win for Apple Wallet in the contactless turf wars as A12 Bionic NFC effectively destroys all rational for QR Codes, especially for transit, as they are less secure and can never work without power and a network connection.
It will be interesting to see what developers do with the new A12 Bionic powered NFC features.
An earlier edit suggested MIFARE based cards for UK and Taiwan transit were coming to Apple Pay. Apple initially limited mention of ‘Express Cards with power reserve’ to iPhone XS and iPhone XR specs in certain countries. Apple has updated spec pages worldwide to include ‘Express Cards with power reserve’. iPhone XS and iPhone XR sold anywhere can use Apple Pay Express Transit Cards with power reserve in Japan and China. I have yet to find out if this also means that Apple Pay is adding support for more transit systems that can use Express Cards with power reserve in other countries.
Apple is taking a very long time to refresh the Apple Pay Japan page with new iPhone related Apple Pay information. It may be a long shot but we could see some minor NFC related announcements later this morning after Japanese companies open for business: NFC Passes, NFC Reward Cards, etc.
The iOS 12 golden master lists the new Contactless Student ID Card feature in Japanese but Student ID Cards are only for America at this point.
Apple has still not updated any of the Apple Pay or related support page information yet and may be until the iOS 12 launch before we see anything.
Apple clearly wants to promote NFC Passes in Wallet over clunky QR Codes. Apple also wants to promote NFC Passes on Apple Watch over iPhone: NFC Passes are gorgeously displayed exclusively on the watchOS 5 page so expect them during the Apple Watch segment. Assa Abloy and Blackboard are working with Apple to make those happen. You might remember Assa Abloy from The Information rumor piece about door locks and ID Passes coming to Wallet.
Contactless student ID cards are Stored Value (SV)
Because they are SV cards, they can be recharged
Since they will reside in Apple Pay Wallet this means NFC Student ID Cards can be ‘recharged’ with Apple Pay credit cards instead of running to the nearest ‘refill/recharge’ station. Anytime, Anywhere Recharge.
Sound familiar? My goodness it’s just like Apple Pay Suica that you can recharge on the go and use for Suica coin lockers. The only real difference is that Apple Pay Student ID Cards cannot be used for transit. At least not yet.
An interesting aspect of implementing NFC Passes in Wallet is the PassKit NFC Certificate requirement issued by Apple to the developer and strictly controlled for security purposes. If Apple wants to open up NFC access to more developers, wider NFC Certificate distribution should be the ticket for developers to gain NFC access that was not possible up to now. The Apple Pay Developer page seems to back this up: “discover how to create contactless passes for rewards cards, gift cards, tickets, and more.”
NFC Reward Cards, Gift Cards, Tickets and more?
It would be in line with expectations if Apple announces NFC reward cards and gift cards alongside NFC Passes and Student IDs. It would be beyond expectations, but not far-fetched, if Apple also announces Apple Pay Transit for MIFARE based Taiwan transit cards, FeliCa based Octopus Hong Kong transit cards or perhaps something else…like Apple Pay PASMO. We won’t know until the event as Apple certainly cut code references out of the iOS 12 beta mix to keep code spelunkers at bay.
More Global FeliCa iPhone
The new iPhone models and Apple Watch Series 4 will certainly have Global FeliCa, hopefully free of the NFC hardware issues that plagued iPhone X production. The more important question for the Japanese market however is not the top-tier models but the iPhone 7 replacement aka iPhone SE 2 as tweeted by Guilherme Rambo.
SE 2 should have Global FeliCa as well and will make a great entry-level Apple Pay Suica device, not only for Japanese students on a budget but older Japanese who don’t need or want the latest bells and whistles. An entry level Global FeliCa iPhone has been missing from the JP lineup and will certainly help Apple hold onto Japanese market share. It will certainly help too if Apple throws in important Apple Pay Transit additions such as Apple Pay PASMO.
Long term I think Apple Watch will be next revolution thing for transit but only when transit cards and credit cards can be loaded directly to Apple Watch without an iPhone. When that happens, and it eventually will, watch out.
Hopefully it will not be long before the other shoe drops and Apple issues a iPhone X Logic Board Replacement Program for the “very small percentage” of iPhone X units with defective NFC. The iPhone 8 Replacement Program came first because its logic board is much easier to replace, not so for iPhone X which is considerably more complex, and costly.
Until then, this will have to do for wrangling a Rev-B iPhone X from Apple.