The end of just “Apple Pay”: iOS 13 and multiple Express Cards

Express Transit Card for transit cards and Express Mode for Student ID cards in iOS 12 are kind of a mess. They are the same option for the same thing with different names in different places. Express Mode for Student ID is on the card itself, while Express Transit is in Wallet settings.

Express vs Card Clash

Prepaid cards, stored value (SV), present a problem for Wallet. SV cards in Wallet want to be exactly like they are in plastic, tap and be done without any authentication. But what happens when Wallet has multiple SV cards, each one wanting to be an Express Transit or Express Mode card? The fine print on Use Express Transit with Apple Pay illustrates the messy dilemma and limitations of iOS 12 Wallet: you can set one payment card and one transit card per transit network, except for China which doesn’t allow EMV Express Transit at all.

The fine print on Apple Support

In this scenario an Apple Pay user can set both a HOP card and a payment (credit/debit) card to use on Portland TRiMet. What happens at the transit gate if the iPhone user also has a Student ID card in Wallet with Express Mode turned on? Apple Pay HOP and Student ID card are both MIFARE cards, the payment card is EMV. If TriMet has their backend system act together and are using the latest NFC chip sets from NXP, the gate reader will call up the HOP card and ignore the others. Everything ‘just works’, the user is on their way.

If the transit fare system is not configured correctly, or uses outdated technology, the same Apple Pay user ends up with ‘card clash’ at the transit gate. Instead of automatically selecting the HOP card, the gate says, ‘give me a NFC card’ and Apple Pay goes into default mode that completely ignores Express Transit: the user has to unlock the device then manually select and authenticate a card with Face ID/Touch ID.

Multiple Express Cards in iOS 13 Wallet

There are major Japanese eMoney prepaid cards on Android Osaifu Keitai and its candy wrapper cousin Google Pay that are missing on Apple Pay: WAON, Rakuten Edy and nananco. One ‘missing on Apple Pay’ reason is that iOS 12 Apple Pay Wallet lacks a smart way to deal with multiple Express Transit and Express eMoney Cards. Wallet can hold multiple Suica cards but only one of them can be Express Transit. It’s the same deal for every eMoney card.

This started to change in iOS 12.3 with the addition of Express Transit with Payment Cards. The massive rebuilt of iOS 12.3 Wallet means that iOS 12.3 is basically iOS 13 Wallet already, and the heavy work continues with the temporary removal of Payment Card Express Transit in iOS 12.4 Public Beta.

iOS 13 Wallet will complete the journey, hopefully delivering a vastly improved and unified Wallet UI that elegantly solves the multiple Express Transit/Express Card issue, and eliminates card clash. At a transit gate the user should only have to tap, at checkout the user should only have to select a payment logo on a screen or tell the sales clerk Suica, Mastercard, etc., and pay.

The end of paying with just “Apple Pay”?

More payment options in iOS 13 Apple Pay Wallet will present users with a problem: more choices. Telling the sales clerk “Apple Pay” does’t work anymore except in regions where bank cards remain the only Apple Pay option. In Japan, Apple Pay users already say Suica, iD, QUICPay or NFC Pay. Hong Kong Apple Pay users will have the option to use Octopus or bank cards, and so on.

As Apple Pay matures with more payment options and services, it starts to resemble our real overstuffed wallets. 30 years of using a Mac has not organized my work life one bit. In the long run, I doubt Apple Pay will organize my wallet life any better, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun to use.

Full coverage on the WWDC19 iOS 13 Apple Pay Wish List

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EMV Express Transit Missing in iOS 12.4 Beta 1

Developers who installed iOS 12.4 beta 1 after todays’s release are reporting that the EMV Express Transit feature that just went live in iOS 12.3, is missing from iOS 12.4 b1. These kinds of things can happen in early beta test cycles, my guess is this is why iOS 12.4 public beta has not been released.

What this really means is that the heavy construction and under the hood changes in Wallet and Apple Pay that started in iOS 12.2 and iOS 12.3, are still ongoing. It’s one more indication of many new Apple Pay things we’ll hear all about at WWDC19.

It is going to be a fun but hairy ride until Apple Card arrives. Be safe and stay away from iOS 12.4 beta and leave it for professional developers. Stick with iOS 12.3 and enjoy the great Apple Pay Express Transit performance.

iOS 12.3 beta Apple Pay Suica Performance

Despite the wobbly state of Apple Pay Suica card UI design in iOS 12.2 and iOS 12.3, real world Express Transit performance continues to improve. NFC performance is a very subjective thing due of all the constantly changing conditions that come into play: device software and antenna design, NFC chip firmware, reader antenna design and firmware, etc. There are also the different ways that Suica calculates transit fare, stored fare (SF) vs. commute plans. No doubt weather conditions come into play too; I swear that Suica response times are slower on torrentially rainy hot days.

Nevertheless, iOS 12.3 beta (16F5148a) Apple Pay Suica Express Transit performance might be the best Apple Pay Suica ever, and extends the solid performance gains and bug fixes of iOS 12.2. I have only tested iOS 12.3 Commuter Suica but, the UI feels equally snappy on JR gates and PASMO gates now, grumpy old UT1-Neo readers are suddenly happy, the iPhone XS/XR dead Suica UI problem appears to be fixed.

We won’t know for sure until the final release, but I hope the iOS 12.3 performance improvements mean that Apple NFC engineers are hard at work going over Express Transit performance with a fine-tooth comb in advance of the Apple Pay Express Transit HOP and Ventra rollouts this summer. It also means that iOS 12.3 is the last major iOS 12 update. If the beta performance gains are delivered in the final release, iOS 12.3 will be a good curtain call for iOS 12.

UPDATE
iOS 12.3 is out and recommended for Apple Pay Suica users

A12 Bionic Bulletproofed Apple Pay Suica

A12 Bionic powers Express Cards with power reserve on iPhone XS/XR that operate independently of iOS, previous Express Cards require iOS to be up and running to operate

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 Express Card 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 Express Card 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.
iOS Suica Express Performance Timeline
iOS Suica Express Performance Timeline 2

It’s happening again with the iOS 12.0/iOS 5.0 debut release. iPhone 8, Revision B iPhone X, Apple Watch 3/4 users are experiencing unresponsive Express Cards or just good old error flicker (Suica error correction algorithms on JR East transit gates are truly amazing BTW). Apple iOS engineers are on it and Apple Pay Suica performance bug fixes are due in the iOS 12.1 update.

Express Card Power Reserve Mode
Express Card power reserve mode on iPhone XS and iPhone XR lasts up to 5 hours. You can use it for transit, recharge and purchase.

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 XR/XS users do not have Suica problems on 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 superior performance of Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XR/XS suggests that 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.

The iPhone X Suica Problem
Last but not least there is the iPhone X Suica problem which I have covered extensively over the past year and is causing new headaches and confusion as iPhone X users run into new problems after updating to iOS 12.0. This is a completely different beast from all of the above, a unique and rare Apple failure unrelated to iOS or A-Series Secure Enclave architecture. The iPhone X Suica problem is a NFC hardware problem with iPhone X units manufactured before April 2018 and is fixed in Revision B iPhone X units manufactured after that date. Exchanging a problem iPhone X unit is the only way to resolve the problem. Unfortunately Apple is making exchanges very difficult for iPhone X customers with problem devices who need help. I hope Apple will come its senses and issue a repair program for iPhone X customers who really need Apple’s help.

UPDATE
iOS 12.2 improves Apple Pay Suica Express Card performance and fixes issues on non-A12 Bionic devices.

Why iPhone XS/XR have Express Cards with power reserve and Apple Watch Series 4 does not

Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XS and Apple Watch Series 4 are a little different

Have you noticed that iPhone XS and iPhone XR have proper tech spec pages and Apple Watch Series 4 does not? There are lots of pretty pictures though. Apple is not hiding anything but there are some unflattering comparisons: Apple Watch Series 4 does not have Express Cards with power reserve. Why not? The simple answer: A12 Bionic powered NFC. Apple Watch 4 doesn’t have it.

A12 Bionic looks amazing and I really look forward to testing Apple Pay Suica Express Card with power reserve performance on iPhone XS. Apple Watch 4 looks amazing too but there was no way the stellar Apple Chip design team could squeeze the A12 Secure Enclave power reserve features into the Apple Watch S-Series constraints. At least not yet.

Express Cards with power reserve and bulletproofed Apple Pay Suica would be lovely to have on Apple Watch but it is a very different device than iPhone with a very different battery use profile. A dead battery ‘call security so I can get back into the college dorm’ scenario is less likely with Student ID Cards on Apple Watch than it is with iPhone. A dead iPhone battery is the bigger concern. It’s a good reason for iPhone getting Express Cards with power reserve first.

‘The ID card works without the power on’ is a great sales pitch for iPhone XS even though Express Cards are just so much more natural on Apple Watch. I wonder how many college kids will use it to get mom and dad to pop for both devices?

Update: a review of iPhone XS Apple Pay Suica Express Cards with power reserve