The iPhone X Suica NFC Problem One Year Later

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 has not publicly admitted there is a problem, they admit it internally however.
  • 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.

I think it’s going to be a fascinating time when Apple Pay Express Transit finally goes live in America with HOP and Ventra this summer. Some iPhone X HOP and Ventra transit users will undoubtably discover that their iPhone X Express Transit card does not work right at the transit gate.

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.

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Help for iPhone X NFC Problem Devices (U)

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.

The upcoming launch of Portland’s HOP card and Chicago’s Ventra card on Apple Pay Transit will be the first large scale deployment of Apple Pay Express Card use in America. This raises a very interesting question. Will Apple exchange bad iPhone X devices for those users who will undoubtedly experience transit gate/transit reader errors in Portland and Chicago? I certainly hope they do but we won’t know until the services go live on Apple Pay. Judging from Apple Pay Transit day 1 user reactions in Singapore, there are plenty of bad iPhone X NFC devices out there waiting to be discovered.

Meanwhile here is a iPhone X Suica Problem Exchange Guide to help you understand the problem.

Unbundled World

Tim Cook on the 1Q 2019 iPhone sales decline in Japan:

In Japan, iPhone purchases were traditionally subsidized, bundled with carrier contracts. Today, local regulations have significantly restricted those subsidies as well as related competition. We estimate less than half of iPhones sold in Japan in Q1 this year were sold via subsidy.

That and the battery replacement program were the official reasons. The unmentioned unresolved iPhone X Suica problem was another.

UPDATE
Tim told Reuters that, ‘Apple is rethinking how it prices the iPhone outside the United States after largely setting the price in U.S. dollars, which made the phones more expensive in local currencies as the dollar strengthened.’ Hopefully Japan is one of the markets that could see iPhone price adjustments. There are also other things Apple can do in Japan to help offset the iPhone sales decline.

Title of the Year: the iPhone X Suica Problem

The one issue that refused to go away this year was the endless parade of “iOS x.xx Update Does Not Fix The iPhone X Suica Problem” posts. It was a strange journey stretched over a period of 8 months: an endless loop of frustration, hope for a fix, dashed hopes when an update failed to deliver a fix, until finally stumbling on an iPhone X NFC hardware problem with the help of readers and fellow iPhone X Suica users.

I am deeply grateful for all the advice, guidance and insights from many individuals who took the time to answer my questions. I learned a lot and sincerely hope the gathered information was of use to other iPhone X users struggling with the issue. Nothing is worse than dealing with a problem alone in a vacuum. I wish everybody a very happy holiday, a wonderful New Year and flawless Apple Pay Suica performance whatever your device may be.

Holding onto iPhone sales in Japan

note: this post has been incorporated in a separate summary post

The iPhone XS Japan launch was muted with none of the lines of the 2017 iPhone X launch. But as of last weekend the local Docomo store was completely out of iPhone XS stock, this weekend was the same. The store doesn’t list iPhone XR stock. It’s all you need to know which iPhone model is selling: people who want to upgrade their iPhone are choosing iPhone XS. iPhone XR is nice but the price is not nice enough to drive iPhone upgrades for people on the fence. If the WSJ iPhone XS price cut in Japan story is correct we should start seeing iPhone XR specials from Docomo, au and SoftBank this week.

I suspect there are lots of iPhone users on the fence, a XS price cut for JP carriers makes sense but as outlined earlier it won’t be enough. The Japanese government is pushing for market changes and Apple needs to change with it and do more if they want to hang onto iPhone market share. In order of importance these are:

  • Issue a iPhone X Suica problem repair program
    This is essential. As I have written many times before Apple really damaged their reputation in the Japanese market by sweeping defective NFC iPhone X production under the carpet. Apple can repair some of the damage by replacing iPhone X Suica problem devices and agressively fixing iOS 12 Suica Express Card performance issues.
  • Extend Apple Pay Japan and lower transaction fees
    Include important missing pre-paid cards that are on Osaifu-Keitai and Google Pay: nanaco (7 Eleven), WAON (AEON), Edy (Rakuten). Nanaco and WAON are particularly important in areas rural outside of the JR transit hubs. It’s said that Apple Pay Suica transaction fees are 3.75% while Google Pay Suica is 3.25%. The Japanese government pushing for a card transaction fee cap of 3.25% plus contactless payment incentives as part of the sales tax increase in 2019. Apple would be smart to lower Apple Pay transaction fees inline with proposals now instead of later.
  • Add TV content and improve Apple Music services
    Japan is the 2nd largest music market after the United States. Japanese TV content is missing on the Apple content platform that everybody else has (Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc) and can bundle, Apple cannot. If Apple waits for their subscription service rollout, it may be too late. With big bad Dentsu, the Imperial Death Star of Japanese media as the power driving Spotify in Japan, Apple Music also has to work overtime to keep up: hire the best Japanese music curators, create some cool J-Pop Beats 1 programs instead tired old UK content and fix the iCloud Music Library Japanese music metadata mess so Apple can sell HomePod.
  • Fix Apple Maps and Siri
    This is a given that has been covered before: the total experience needs to greater than the sum of the parts.

There isn’t much time, the 10% Japanese sales tax is due to start October 1, 2019.