It’s official: Face ID sucks with face masks

I was disappointed when Daring Fireball finally checked in on the Face ID face mask problem in the iPad Air w/Touch ID power button review. It summed up western tech journalist ignorance and indifference to a big problem that Face ID users in Asia have been dealing with since iPhone X day one. DF’s latest take on the issue in ‘Unlock With Apple Watch’ While Wearing a Face Mask Works in iOS 14.5 is even more disappointing, finally admitting that, “Prior to iOS 14.5, using a Face ID iPhone while wearing a face mask sucked.” This is pure ‘let’s not admit a problem until there’s a fix’ Apple apologia that is all too common on tech sites. DF hasn’t played straight or gotten it right when it comes to the big picture of Face ID. Then again the site is more into politics than tech these days.

Twitter followers pointed out that Apple went with Face ID knowing the trade-offs they were making in Asian markets but it was the right choice. I don’t know how much the Face ID face mask problem was on Apple’s radar during iPhone X development. But there was some arrogant, ‘we can blow off a few Asian customers’ attitude in that choice that Apple is paying for now. Face ID iPhone was quietly removed from how to videos on the Suica•PASMO promotion page in October. Face ID iPhone 12 sales might be driving 5G growth in the USA, but Tsutsumu Ishikawa reports that Touch ID iPhone SE sales in Japan are stalling the 5G transition.

I say this because there was certainly plenty of Apple arrogance when they blew off iPhone X Japanese users suffering from the notorious iPhone X NFC Suica problem. It didn’t matter because it was a iPhone problem…in Japan. It took me 3 exchanges to finally get a NFC problem free iPhone X revision B unit and I was one of the lucky ones. There were, and still are, plenty of iPhone X users fumbling in the dark. To this day iPhone X NFC problem search hits are the #1 hit on this site. Years later I am still outraged by Apple’s secrecy and denial of the issue. There was no excuse hiding the problem so that people would keep buying a defective top of the line product.

So no, I don’t think iOS 14.5 Unlock with Apple Watch is a solution for the Face ID face mask problem. It’s a stop gap until we get an ‘Apple finally figured it out’ iPhone that reviewers will gush over. And it performs like a stop gap: even in iOS 14.5 beta 2, one out of three Face ID with face mask attempts fails for me and performance is often sluggish, particularly glitchy when listening to Apple Music and using Apple Pay Suica transit.

iOS 14.5 Face ID sucks less for Apple Watch users, that’s all. People who make excuses for Apple’s hardware mistakes and missteps aren’t helping people make the right choice before plunking down hard earned money on expensive devices. Nothing is worse than having to live with somebody else’s mistake, except for having to live with somebody else’s deception.

When iPhone X NFC stops working

A while ago Apple Pay just stopped working on my iPhone X. My phone simply hasn’t been detected by any NFC readers I’ve tried. At this point I finally have some spare income and would like to invest in fixing it. I don’t particularly care how involved it is, but I just can’t find any information on where the actual NFC antenna is and if it has the same lock that the face ID sensors do. I’m sorry if I’m just missing some fairly obvious information here. I would just like to be able to use Apple Pay again.

Reddit post

Express Transit has become standard in the US with the rollout of Apple Pay SmarTrip, Apple Pay TAP and Apple Pay on OMNY. Some iPhone X users invariably discover that iPhone X has problems using Express Transit or NFC fails altogether, and consider getting it repaired. iPhone X AppleCare is expired for most people at this point, getting iPhone X NFC repaired isn’t cheap…or easy.

I ran across a Reddit post asking about the self repair challenge. iPhone X has a unique volume button / NFC antenna cable design. I suspect this volume button / NFC antenna cable is the culprit behind the infamous iPhone X NFC problem. Some repair forums report that the volume button / NFC antenna cable is serialized and simply replacement may not work.

I’ll cut to the chase: unless you love spending time and money repairing the notoriously difficult to repair iPhone X, I strongly urge you get a replacement from Apple if you can, or better yet upgrade to iPhone SE. The NFC just works and Touch ID is much better than Face ID when navigating the outside world wearing a face mask. You also get A13 Express Transit power reserve and background NFC tag reading that works great with iOS 14 App Clips. Altogether a much better Apple Pay package for our COVID face mask era.

For more details see the iPhone X NFC Problem Q&A

Tweet of the Day: iPhone X user kisses NFC problem goodbye with iPhone 11

Well that’s a nice way to solve a iPhone X Suica NFC problem: upgrade to iPhone 11. Suica performance on Apple A12 Bionic and A13 Bionic iPhone models is a whole new level over previous models thanks to the Secure Enclave design that bypasses iOS for transactions and also gives us Express Cards with power reserve. I love that he loves Suica again and says goodbye to QR too.

Apple Pay Suica Needs a Inbound PR Campaign, in English

Apple Pay Suica Inbound first time user experiences are endlessly fascinating and educational. What’s obvious and works for people who live in Tokyo, isn’t the case for visitors. The Cup of Tech podcast from July 16 highlights the frustration of not being able to pay for everything with credit/debit cards, and a positive first time Apple Pay Suica use experience.

The 5 minute mark is the tech low point: the state of cashless payments in Japan, but there is no color on what kinds of stores or businesses did not accept credit cards, and the comment about using PASMO and Suica for payment is weird: “It’s usually one or the other, it’s not both…. so I guess you have to have both.” I guess Zach never figured out that Japanese transit cards are compatible with each other.

The 6 minute mark is the tech highpoint: using Apple Pay Suica which Zach assumed he could not use because he read somewhere that, ‘you could only do this on phones sold in Japan.’ Fortunately he found out that his Apple Watch works with Apple Pay Suica and discovered the joys of using Suica Express Transit and recharging with Apple Pay on the go.

Both experiences make it clear that most people visiting Japan with global NFC iPhones are completely unaware of Apple Pay Suica and the ease of adding it to Wallet with the super simple SuicaEng app (which Zach highlights in a later podcast). I know because in 2 years of hosting a Apple Pay Suica guide, the page view analytics show that not many people are actively searching for Apple Pay Suica information in English.

JR East has done many Apple Pay Suica campaigns aimed at Japanese commuters, it is time that JR East and Apple create an English language Apple Pay Suica campaign for tourists that covers the ease of adding it and using it. Plaster the stations, wrap the trains. Waiting to do everything in 2020 for the Tokyo Olympics is waiting too long.

Update: I forgot to mention that a campaign from JR East and Apple can also help counter the 7pay QR Code security meltdown scandal that has poisoned contactless payments for everybody, even for FeliCa NFC, which has a long successful security track record and absolutely nothing to do with QR.

The Mystery of Apple Pay Octopus and iPhone 7 FeliCa Support

There are a few remaining fuzzy spots in the Apple Pay Octopus saga. The story I broke back in December from trusted sources clearly had a Chinese New Year release target. The story went dark but busted wide open again with the Apple Pay JSON server code leak on June 25 that made it absolutely clear Apple Pay Octopus would finally arrive with iOS 13. Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) had no choice but to issue a premature press release stating ‘Apple Pay Octopus is coming, more details soon’ and nothing else.

Why the delay? It clearly was not the Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay exclusivity window that ended in December 2018. We may never know the whole story but I suspect that iPhone 7 FeliCa support is one reason for the delay, but certainly not the only one.

It makes sense for Apple and OCL to release Octopus that can be used on as many Apple devices as possible, the bigger the potential user footprint, the better. Octopus will work on Apple global NFC devices: iPhone 8/X/Apple Watch 3 and later. The important question is how badly do Apple and OCL want to add iPhone 7/Apple Watch 2 to the supported device list?

I previously wrote that Apple announced iOS 13 Core NFC enhanced tag support (FeliCa, etc.) for (all) iPhone 7 devices and later at WWDC19, but this does not sync with Apple Pay Suica device requirements: Apple is telling developers that all iPhone 7 models are good for NFC Read/Write FeliCa but telling customers that only iPhone 7 JP models are good for NFC card emulation FeliCa.

In a later post I quoted FeliCa Dude:

There are millions of NFC-F phones and devices outside Japan. That is because Type A and FeliCa are core requirements for NFC certification. If a phone supports NFC, it supports FeliCa.
What is required to be compatible with most payment terminals in Japan is an Osaifu-Keitai provisioned secure element: that can be a SWP-enabled SIM card (not available yet), the Mobile FeliCa chipset with embedded SE, or an iPhone 7 provisioned for Osaifu-Keitai.
The international iPhone 7s can do basic FeliCa read/write without encryption, because they embed a FeliCa-capable CLF <contactless frontend>. Apple has chosen not to provision them with Osaifu-Keitai keys, probably to avoid paying royalties to FeliCa Networks for each device.

This sparked some fascinating comments from Twitter user Lukas and, lo and behold, the very FeliCa Dude himself, an unexpected and pleasant surprise:

As always, the Dude delivers. Abide in the Dude, his knowledge and keen insight on all things NFC contactless and FeliCa is without peer. In a nutshell this means that OCL could offer Apple Pay Octopus on all iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 devices and add them to the Global NFC Apple device list…but will they? If OCL and Apple can supply the necessary keys in the over the air (OTA) iOS 13 release via the in-house Apple FeliCa keys server, all the better. Either way I think we will find out very soon, possibly as a ‘Apple Pay Octopus coming to Hong Kong’ side mention in the Apple Card release press kit.

Now that the FeliCa Dude has checked in, I hope he can find an appropriate outlet, blog or otherwise, to enlighten us, whatever the occasion. He is a far better writer than I will ever be. I’ve learned a lot from his writings, I know a lot of other people can too. The world needs to hear from the FeliCa Dude, not my cheap imitation.


UPDATE
FeliCa Dude has answered and posted the definitive take of iPhone 7 FeliCa support for all things from Octopus to iOS 13 Core NFC. We own him thanks for taking the time to cover all the angles in such detail.

The crucial section: “In my opinion there are only three reasons that Apple should not be able to bring Octopus emulation to iPhone 7:

  • If they are unable to allocate IDm (card unique ID) values to these non-blessed devices because that process is tangled up with FeliCa Networks
  • If they shot themselves in the foot and disabled their ability to interface their secure element to the FeliCa CLF (contactless frontend) in the PN67V on those non-Japanese iPhone 7 devices because they didn’t see Octopus coming.
  • They don’t feel like supporting iPhone 7 at all, not even the Japanese models: each device has a different generation of secure element, and additional development/testing/certification work may be required for them. This is again a combination of what Apple is willing to do and on which hardware platforms OCL is willing to authorize Octopus to be emulated on. It’s nothing to do with FeliCa Networks or Sony.”