Pixel 4 goes cheap instead of deep

As I tweeted earlier today, the updated Pixel Phone Help hardware pages tell the whole story: if you purchased your Pixel 4, 3a or 3 phone in Japan, a FeliCa chip is located in the same area as the NFC.

This is a little misleading because as FeliCa Dude pointed out in tweets, the Pixel 3 uses the global NFC PN81B ‘all in one chip’ from NXP. There is no separate ‘FeliCa chip’:

All the Pixel 3 devices have an eSE…A teardown of the global edition Pixel 3 XL (G013C) reveals a <NXP> PN81B.

FeliCa Dude

Pixel 4 teardowns will certainly reveal a PN81B or similar all in one NFC chip from NXP. Google could have gone global NFC with Pixel 4 and given Android users everywhere access to Google Pay Suica. Unfortunately Google went cheap instead of deep, sticking with the same Pixel 3 policy of only buying FeliCa keys for JP Pixel models.

Why is Google turning off FeliCa on Pixel models outside of Japan? I doubt it is a licensing restriction because the whole point of NXP PN81 is having all the global NFC licensing pieces, NFC A-B-F/EMV/FeliCa/MIFARE, all on one chip, all ready to go. It could have something to do with Google Pay Japan. For Apple Pay Japan, Apple licensed all the necessary technology and built it into their own Apple Pay.

Instead of that approach Google Pay Japan is a kind of candy wrapper around the existing ‘Osaifu Keitai’ software from Docomo and FeliCa Networks, and all of the existing Osaifu Keitai apps from Mobile Suica to iD to QUICPay. That’s why having a ‘Osaifu Keitai’ Android device is a requirement for using Google Pay Japan. Perhaps Google is content in candy wrapping things instead of retooling it all as basic Google Pay functionality and letting Android OEMs benefit from that.

Whatever the reason, the moral of this story is that Google Pay Suica will not be a transit option for inbound Android users during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Unfortunately, the Android equivalent of the global NFC iPhone has yet to appear.

UPDATE
Google might have left a backdoor to activate FeliCa later on non-JP Pixel 4 models

Pixel 3 Global NFC Evolution

Reader feedback and discussion from my earlier post analyzing the fuzzy state of iPhone 7 FeliCa and its possible support of Apple Pay Octopus, resulted in some interesting discussion about the Pixel 3 Japanese FeliCa model. From FeliCa Dude’s epic Reddit Octopus on iPhone 7 post:


<reader comment> Regarding the Pixel though, are you sure that the non-Japanese Pixel 3 models even have an eSE <embedded secure element>? I was under the impression that these were HCE <host card emulation> only.

<Felica Dude answer> All the Pixel 3 devices have an eSE, but it might not be able to be enabled by the end-user, and even if it is possible, it won’t be provisioned. A teardown of the global edition Pixel 3 XL (G013C) reveals a <NXP> PN81B.

The NXP PN81 announced in February is all-in-one off the shelf global NFC chip that includes both the frontend NFC A-B-F hardware and the necessary embedded secure element (eSE) + keys for EMV, FeliCa and MIFARE. The odd thing is that the Google Pixel 3 Japanese model apparently doesn’t use the PN81 for FeliCa, and has a separate FeliCa chip sitting in the fingerprint sensor assembly inside the back case.

Google Pixel 3 JP SKU iFixit teardowns do not exist but I did run across an interesting article from the Keitai Watch site showing a Pixel 3 JP SKU being taken apart for repair at an iCracked repair shop.

Just for kicks, I called the iCracked shop and asked about repairing a faulty FeliCa Pixel 3 device. The Pixel 3 repair technician explained that a FeliCa chip replacement was not expensive because it is not on the motherboard, “it’s attached to the fingerprint sensor assembly.” Look carefully at the picture from Keitai Watch piece and you can see the back case with fingerprint sensor assembly that the technician was referring to.

Disassembled Pixel 3 JP model from Keitai Watch

This presents a very strange situation. All Pixel 3 SKUs have the FeliCa ready PN81 chip but don’t use it, while Pixel 3 Japan SKUs might have another separate FeliCa chip attached to the back case finger sensor assemble. Google alludes to this on the Pixel 3 support page: If you purchased your Pixel 3 or Pixel 3a phone in Japan, a FeliCa chip is located in the same area as the NFC. There is also the recent batch of Pixel 3a Japan SKUs with bad FeliCa chips, but reports of bad NFC (EMV) Pixel 3a international SKUs have not surfaced; this also suggests a separate FeliCa chip. Why have two FeliCa chips in a device when one will do?

My take is different from FeliCa Dude: the Pixel 3 does not use the PN81 eSE or ‘pie in the sky’ HCE for anything. Instead, Google Pixel 3 uses the Titan M chip Secure Enclave as the virtual eSE for EMV and MIFARE, similar to what Apple does with the A/S Series Secure Enclave. Titan M FeliCa support was either not ready, or Google wanted to test the Japanese market before making a custom hardware commitment.

The point of all this is that Google has laid the foundation for a global NFC Pixel 4 made possible by a custom Google chip. The Titan M is Google’s answer to Apple’s A/S Series Secure Enclave that can host any kind of virtual embedded secure element for any kind of transaction technology, from EMV to PBOC.

I might be wrong, but even if my virtual eSE on Titan M take is incorrect, taken all together with the NXP PN81 development, I think Pixel 4 will finally be the global NFC Android device that many have hoped for.

UPDATE: extensive testing by FeliCa Dude did not support my eSE on Titan theory. The chip in question is the FPC1075 chip interface between the fingerprint sensor and the SPI bus. Pixel 4 is not global NFC, which says it all and knocks everything back to square one: there is no separate FeliCa chip, it’s a NXP PN81 chip all the way. Google hardware support page wording is very misleading, nothing more.

Google Pixel 3a has a FeliCa Problem

iPhone X was not the only smartphone to have a NFC problem. Japanese users sites report that Google Pixel 3a models marked G020D have a FeliCa defect. Google Support on Twitter recommends users with affected units update to the latest version of Android and restart the device. It’s not clear if this fixes the issue or not.

The Mupon.net site digs deeper into Pixel 3a NFC issues and has found warped USB-C ports and shutdown during sleep problems as well on certain model numbers. The advice is simple:

G020H:OK
G020D:NG

The site advises Pixel 3a users in Japan with these issues to check the model number and get a replacement.