iOS 12 Apple Pay Wallet pulled a MIFARE and nobody noticed

The Apple Wallet Ponta card launch at LAWSON presents another dilemma: just what exactly is Apple using for iOS 12/watchOS 5 Apple Wallet Passes and Student ID cards? Student ID cards and Apple Wallet Ponta have the same device eligibility specs: iOS 12/watch OS 5 running on iPhone 6 and later/Apple Watch Series 1 and later.

You might assume that Apple Wallet Ponta is FeliCa but the eligible device list tells a different story. You might also assume that everything in Japan is FeliCa but this is also not the case. Doutor Coffee shops sell a handy little Doutor pre-paid card that is MIFARE and it works flawlessly side by side with FeliCa flavored Apple Pay Suica on the same NFC reader.

Altogether we have an interesting spec list for Student ID and Mobile Ponta cards.

  • The same eligible device specs that only support NFC A-B across all devices
  • Stored value
  • iOS 12 PassKIT NFC Certificates
  • Express Card capable
  • Local offline transactions

I’m calling it (again): the only technology that fits this profile (for Student ID cards but not Ponta) is MIFARE iOS 12 PassKIT Wallet passes are simply MIFARE. Only Apple could pull this kind of ‘under the hood thing’ off in iOS 12 without anybody suspecting and it neatly puts all the major NFC technology pieces on Apple Pay: EMV, FeliCa, MIFARE and China Transit.

Blackboard supplies the technology and backend services for Student ID cards on iOS 12. I contacted Blackboard PR to confirm if the card technology was FeliCa or MIFARE but did not receive an answer. However I did run across an interesting Blackboard press release from 2015 Blackboard and NXP Semiconductors Collaborate to Strengthen Campus Card Technology:

Blackboards’ push to adopt NFC in addition to their existing MIFARE-based solutions, back in 2012 showed incredible insight into the potential of this technology. The security, convenience and flexibility that NXPs NFC and MIFARE solutions bring truly reflect the student lifestyle. Now access to campus services can be simply enabled via a smart watch or smart phone.

Based on this and the fact that it came 2 years after a FeliCa demo of Blackboard Student ID cards with a rumored migration from FeliCa to MIFARE, plus the eligible device specs, my conclusion is that Student ID cards on iOS 12 are MIFARE HCE (Host Card Emulation) which is NFC-A.

Apple Wallet Ponta cards on iOS 12 are VAS protocol contactless passes outlined at WWDC18 , WWDC16, and in the Contactless Passes section of the iOS Security Guide:

Wallet supports the value added service (VAS) protocol for transmitting data from supported passes to compatible NFC terminals. The VAS protocol can be implemented on contactless terminals and uses NFC to communicate with supported Apple devices.

This is also NFC-A. Contactless passes have been around for a while on iOS but adoption has been slow. With iOS 12 PASSKit, Apple is encouraging developers to migrate from QR Codes to NFC contactless passes and hopefully lowering the NFC Certificate requirement bar a little. Part of the reason for the slow uptake is poor NFC reader support. LAWSON has a new POS system built around Panasonic JT-R600CR readers which are Apple Pay savvy and Apple Wallet Ponta cards only work correctly when you tell the LAWSON cashier to use “Apple Pay”.

Update: A highly trusted NFC engineering source contacted me that I got it partly wrong. The correction edit above explains that Wallet Ponta cards are Apple’s implementation of the VAS protocol and not MIFARE. Student ID cards are almost certainly MIFARE/PASSKit NFC Certificate Host Card Emulation (HCE), Apple has not publicly announced MIFARE support but it is the only technology compatible with Blackboard IC card formats that could power the express card features of iOS 12 student ID cards across all eligible devices. Research and confirmation efforts are ongoing.

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Apple Wallet Ponta contactless rewards card at LAWSON

Ponta Apple Pay launches at LAWSON
Ponta Apple Pay launches at LAWSON with 4X points for Apple Pay Purchases

The Ponta rewards card for Apple Wallet launched at LAWSON Japan right on schedule and without a hitch.  iOS 12/watch OS 5 users with any Apple Pay capable device: iPhone 6 and later, Apple Watch Series 1 and later can add the Ponta rewards card operated by the Recruit Group to Apple Wallet and automatically earn Ponta points with Apple Pay purchases at LAWSON without having to use an app or show a bar code. Apple Pay purchases earn 4X Ponta points during the launch campaign running through March 6, 2019. You can also make purchases with Apple Wallet Ponta points.

NFC Apple Wallet passes are a new feature of iOS 12/watchOS 5. Apple is encouraging developers to use NFC instead of QR or bar codes for Apple Wallet passes, and has been showcasing contactless NFC passes at recent Apple Events. Ponta Apple Wallet hopefully marks the beginning of other NFC enabled reward cards such as JRE POINT joining Apple Wallet.

Create a digital Ponta card with iOS Ponta Card App then add it to Apple Wallet as shown here and in the above screenshots. Say “Apple Pay” to the LAWSON cashier and use Face ID/Touch ID with the card you want to use. Ponta automatic points don’t register with Suica Express Cards, iD or QUICPay, be sure to say “Apple Pay”. The reader does a double read, first for Ponta then for Apple Pay, so hold iPhone to the reader until it gives you a transaction complete sound, the linked Tweet video below gives you the idea. It’s slower than a regular FeliCa transaction because of the double read and the poky Ponta NCF-A protocol.

With a successful Apple Pay transaction the Ponta logo flashes briefly confirming purchase reward points, shown in the GIF Tweet, followed by a Ponta Wallet point summary notification. If you pay close attention to the GIF you’ll notice that LAWSON accepts NFC Pay in addition to FeliCa, iOS NFC switching in action again as Apple Wallet Ponta uses NFC-A. Whatever the NFC flavor is Apple Pay takes care of it, just as it should be.

Update: the LAWSON POS is built around Panasonic JT-R600CR readers which are Apple Pay savvy and Apple Wallet Ponta cards only work correctly when you tell the LAWSON cashier to use “Apple Pay”. Apple Wallet Ponta is Apple’s implementation of the VAS protocal for contactless NFC passes, reward cards, etc. and is NFC A. The Panasonic reader reads Ponta then selects the correct FeliCa payment method (Suica, iD, QUICPay). Users are complaining that LAWSON did not train store staff well but are getting up to speed quickly.

Tokyo Disneyland goes FeliCa…Finally

Tokyo Disneyland goes FeliCa today accepting Suica, iD and QUICPay payments at shops, restaurants and hotels. Apple Pay Japanese users can now keep wallets closed and still get fleeced.

It nice that Tokyo Disneyland finally accepts FeliCa payments in addition to EMV, but why did it take so long?

Lawson launches first Apple Pay NFC contactless rewards card in Japan

Payment acceptance marks at Lawsons 2
The Lawson POS screen will add Ponta NFC contactless to their ever-growing collection of acceptance marks

Lawson Japan announced NFC contactless support for the popular Ponta rewards card operated by the Recruit Group starting nationwide on November 7. The Lawson press release explains that iOS 12/watch OS 5 users with FeliCa capable Apple devices: iPhone 7 (JP)/iPhone 8/iPhone X and later, Apple Watch 2 (JP)/Apple Watch 3 and later can add a Ponta card to Wallet and use Ponta points for NFC contactless purchases.

Purchases made with Apple Pay Suica or Apple Pay credit cards automatically earn Ponta points without having to open the Ponta App or show a bar code. This is exactly what Apple was selling to developers in the WWDC18 Apple Pay session: no more messy QR or bar codes for Wallet cards and passes. Apple has also been using contactless NFC passes at recent Apple Events.

Neither Ponta Web or Ponta App can add Wallet passes right now so this means updates are due before the November 7 launch. Ponta rewards are issued and used by a large number of stores, hopefully the Lawson announcement is the start of a larger rollout and a mention on the Apple Pay Japan site. The less rummaging around to dig out a rewards card, all the better. It means I might actually use it more.

iOS 12.1 Apple Pay Suica performance issues (U)

Apple engineering closed my January 2018 iOS 11.2.5 Suica error flicker bug report with the release of iOS 12.1 beta 1: “We believe this issue is resolved in the latest iOS 12.1 beta.” Based on this iOS 12.1 includes bug fixes and performance improvements for Apple Pay Suica Express Card issues that users have experienced on iOS 12.0:

  • Express Transit Card transit gate error flicker
  • Unresponsive Express Transit at transit gate with Apple Pay authentication request
  • Suica Notifications stop working/Suica card balance doesn’t update
  • Slow or failed Apple Pay Suica Recharge attempts

Affected devices: iPhone 7 (JP models only), iPhone 8, iPhone X. Some Apple Watch users have complained of similar Suica problems with watchOS 5.0, the watchOS 5.1 update will hopefully address those as well. iPhone XS/XR are not affected by iOS 12 Apple Pay Suica issues thanks to A12 Bionic NFC features. Be on the safe side and backup your device before updating. See updates below for the latest information.

iPhone X Suica issues on iOS 12
The iPhone X Suica performance situation remains complicated due to the long running iPhone X NFC hardware issue and Apple‘s refusal to acknowledge it publicly. As previously reported, software updates do not fix the NFC hardware issue with iPhone X problem units manufactured before April 2018, the only fix is getting an exchange from Apple Support for a Rev-B iPhone X. See the iPhone X Exchange Guide for details. Rev-B iPhone X users who never had Suica problems on iOS 11.x report regular error flicker on iOS 12.0.

iOS 12.1 beta Suica performance
Reader reports of iOS 12.1 beta Suica performance were few but mixed. One reader reported that all versions of iOS 12.1 beta did not fix Suica error flicker problems on his Rev-B iPhone X. Another user also reported Suica error flicker with the iOS 12.1 beta, device unknown.

My experience with iOS 12.1 beta on iPhone XS was a positive one but as I wrote earlier, Suica on A12 Bionic is a whole new thing. Suica on A12 does not use iOS for basic operations. One strange episode with iOS 12.1 beta 5 proved this: Suica Express Card went dead, Suica notifications went dead but Suica kept silently working on every reader anyway. The closest thing to describe it is that the Express Card power reserve feature kicked in with iOS still up and running with plenty of battery power, and completely bypassed it.

Summary
I hope that the Apple engineering resolution of my iOS 11.2.5 Suica error flicker bug report means Apple Pay Suica performance bugs are fixed for everybody in the iOS 12.1 update. I’ll be in contact with Rev-B iPhone X users who experienced daily Suica error flicker on iOS 12.0 and will report their iOS 12.1 Suica experiences ASAP.


Update
Early feedback is not good: Rev-B iPhone X users are still experiencing transit gate error flicker with no apparent change from iOS 12.0. It looks like that issue has not been fixed for iPhone X Suica users. I will post updates as reports and details come in.


Update 2
Unfortunately some Apple Pay Suica Express Card performance issues are not fixed in iOS 12.1: regular error flicker continues to be a problem especially for iPhone X users on transit gates with some users even having troubles with convenience store readers. Meanwhile iPhone X users everywhere are reporting battery issues with the iOS 12.1 update. I wouldn’t be surprised if the issues are related. Apple clearly needs to keep working on Suica Express Card and battery bug fixes.