iOS 12 Apple Pay Suica bugs are causing headaches for some users getting exchanges for iPhone X Suica problem devices (a NFC hardware problem across all iOS versions): users find they have the same Suica problems running iOS 12 (iOS 12.0 specific software bugs) on NFC hardware problem free Revision B iPhone X devices. Unfortunately for iPhone X users the 2 issues merge in a perfect storm. It’s confusing and only natural to assume nothing is fixed and yet another Apple Support runaround iPhone X exchange is needed to fix it. If you are using iOS 11.4.1 on Apple Pay Suica iPhone X, I suggest staying with it and not updating to iOS 12 just yet.
Apple Pay Suica users who update to iOS 12 and watchOS 5 report the following problems:
Unresponsive Express Transit cards at transit gates where Apple Pay requests a Face ID/Touch ID/Passcode unlock
Transit gate error flicker
The Suica card balance doesn’t update
Affected devices: iPhone 7/7 Plus (JP models only), iPhone 8/8 Plus, iPhone X, Apple Watch Series 2 (JP Model only), Apple Watch Series 3, Apple Watch Series 4.
Fortunately iOS 12.1 has Suica bug fixes: Apple Engineering closed my original iOS 11.2.5 Suica error bug report filed in January 2018 saying the issue has been fixed in iOS 12.1. iOS 12.1 developer beta 4 went out earlier this week with 2 more likely to go before the official release. The just announced October 30 Apple Special Event would be a natural iOS 12.1 official drop date.
The most interesting detail is the device eligibility: iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus and later, Apple Watch Series 1 and later and Express Mode isn’t available on iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus. NFC-A/B, definitely not FeliCa powered as some sources were saying and not MIFARE powered either. It looks like Blackboard has something else up their sleeve for middleware but I’m willing to bet you that Student ID Express card performance is slower than Apple Pay Suica Express Card with power reserve even on the same iPhone XS/XR device. The Blackboard card format is FeliCa, the implementation appears to be PassKit NFC Certificate powered card emulation.
A stored value card that opens door locks
A stored value card that opens door locks
The rest of the support doc details confirm the cards are stored value (SV) with Express Mode and students can recharge them with Apple Pay, a credit/debit card in the eAccounts app or cash at the “school’s self-service machines”. In other words it’s just like Suica App and Apple Pay Suica for door locks instead of transit.
There is conflicting information about the Blackboard middleware technology used for Apple contactless student ID cards. The Express Card function is exactly what FeliCa offers and Blackboard supports. On the hardware side iPhone 6/6 Plus and later all have NFC A-B-F chips as do Blackboard NFC readers. There is a (very) remote possibility that Blackboard is utilizing its own FeliCa licensed middleware (and per device unique FeliCa Networks keys) on non-FeliCa devices and Apple built-in FeliCa on global FeliCa devices. I am trying to confirm details and will post developments here.
The Blackboard card format is indeed FeliCa. The implementation appears to be Passkit NFC Certificate powered card emulation used across the board. It’s impossible to confirm if the ID cards are using standard FeliCa middleware on global FeliCa devices and something else on older devices but Apple’s agreement with FeliCa Networks includes a keys server for Apple devices. It’s possible that Apple is activating FeliCa keys on older devices just for Student ID cards.
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.
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.
A12 Bionic NFC powers the new Express Cards with power reserve on iPhone XS/XR
Global FeliCa Apple Pay added NFC-F support as required for NFC Forum certification and FeliCa which powers Apple Pay Suica and the new Contactless Student ID Cards in iOS 12
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.
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:
The iOS Security Guide for iOS 12 shows the A12 Secure Enclave and Secure Element layer residing in the kernel/firmware layer that does not need iOS to be running, it also says “the NFC controller performs express card transactions under the same conditions as when iOS is running.”
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.