iOS 12 Suica Performance Issues Update

iOS 12/watchOS 5 Suica performance continues to be a very mixed bag for many as Apple closes in on the iOS 12.1.3 update. There are no showstoppers but glitches are constant enough that there’s even an Reddit thread on the subject, a first. Suica performance glitches fall in 4 basic patterns:

  • Suica Express Card error flicker: occasional error flicker at transit gates with iPhone 7, iPhone 8, iPhone X (Rev. B) and Apple Watch 2~4. This is a completely different issue from the iPhone X NFC hardware defect. There is no workaround and will likely be fixed in an iOS update at some point…we hope.
  • Dead Suica Notifications/No Suica Balance Update: Suica Notifications stop working and Suica Balance fails to update at transit gates, store readers and Suica recharges. This affects iPhone 7, iPhone 8, iPhone X (Rev. B) and Apple Watch 2~4 but is easy to fix by putting Suica in Service Mode for a few seconds.
  • Slow or unresponsive Suica Recharge: this is probably more of a backend system issue between Apple Pay iCloud and Mobile Suica than iOS 12 but Apple Pay Suica recharge fails half of the time on the first attempt. This affects all devices and there is no work around except to try again. The Mobile Suica maintenance this month (January 2019) might help.

Suica Recharge works…sometimes
  • Express Card power reserve mode kicks in with iOS up and running. This only affects iPhone XS and iPhone XR. Express Card power reserve mode kicks in for some reason when it should not. Suica still works fine but the Apple Pay Suica UI stops working. No notifications, no balance update, nada. Service Mode does not revive Suica notifications but the fix is simple: restart iPhone and all is good.
Advertisements

Apple Pay Drove FeliCa Contactless Growth in 2018

The CreditCard no Yomimono site (CCY) has collected and listed all the FeliCa contactless card issued to date numbers released by Japanese companies in 2018 into one convenient table. WAON is missing because AEON didn’t release any numbers this year, CCY estimates WAON card numbers at 70 million . The numbers are fairly recent and roughly inline with the Japanese fiscal year through early 2018. They are very interesting but as CCY points out the number of issued cards does not always translate into actual use: previous surveys indicate that Rakuten Edy is used much less frequently than Suica at the cash register.

Prepaid Transit IC cards (Suica, PASMO, etc.) are by far the largest at 143,700,000 which means that every person in Japan has at least one. CCY also notes the explosive 51% growth rate of QUICPay which they attribute to Apple Pay. This is one half of the story. JCB has certainly done an excellent job of working with Apple Pay but I suspect another reason is that Japanese Apple Pay Suica users switched from using Japanese issue VISA cards that don’t support Apple Pay Suica recharge in favor of QUICPay cards like JCB VIEW that do.

Any way you look at the numbers one thing is clear: prepaid cards are far more popular than credit cards for contactless payments in Japan. The huge installed base of Transit IC cards also bodes well for the Super Suica card that will integrate them into a single format for plastic issue and mobile hosting in early 2021.

Why Apple Pay Suica is a success and Apple Maps is not

Inbound Apple Pay Suica user experiences are endlessly fascinating and occasionally enlightening. This tweet video captures the usual ‘whoa, that’s fast’ first time reaction.

The responses are equally interesting with a few ‘so what? we have that in (London, Moscow, China, etc.)’ which is true but it’s not the same. Almost all of them are slower, don’t have e-money functions, don’t have nationwide coverage and are not hosted natively on pay platforms like Apple Pay or Google Pay. They rely on slow buggy EMV contactless credit card transactions on transit gates instead, in short they are not transit payment platforms.

Apple Pay Suica is clearly a great service and success that has not only changed contactless payments in Japan but changed Apple as well, with Apple incorporating global FeliCa and implementing A-12 Bionic powered Express Card with power reserve technology which matches the performance of dedicated Sony FeliCa Chips on the A-Series.

What makes Apple Pay Suica a success? It is a unique layering of hardware and software that tightly integrates into a single seamless experience. At the core is the basic Suica IC card format and the transit gate system technology created by JR East and Sony in the 1980s to solve a user experience problem with magnetic commuter pass cards. Successive layers were added over time: e-money, nationwide Transit IC card interoperability, and perhaps most important of all, Mobile Suica. The Super Suica additions will further enhance the fundamental technology in 2021.

Apple Pay support arrived in October 2016, global FeliCa was added in 2017. These were 2 layers from Apple that fit perfectly and extended the entire platform with a whole new ease of use service level. The result is a service where each layer builds on and enhances the whole. This is Steve Jobs 101: work from the user experience back to the technology so that the total experience is greater than the sum of the parts.


The Apple Maps problem
Contrast this with Apple Maps. Justin O’Beirne recently published a detailed progress report of Apple’s ‘new’ (in America only) map. There was surprisingly little discussion on tech blog sites, Nick Heer was one of the few to share a few observations. O’Beirne and Heer both focus on data collection and prioritization as the core problem for Apple to fix if Apple is ever going to close the map gap with Google. I think that is a misconception that got Apple Maps in trouble in the first place.

I’ve never seen data collection as the biggest problem that Apple needs to fix. In Japan for example the data collection problem can be solved quickly by swapping out 3rd rate data suppliers with first tier JP suppliers like Zenrin who already field large data collection and verification teams. Google and Yahoo Maps Japan both use Zenrin and build on top of that solid foundation with their own data.

Integration and coordination have been, and continue to be the biggest problem. If Apple cannot do a good job integrating and coordinating different map service layers so that they build on each other, it will continue to be what it is now: a collection of loosely connected technology services that don’t work together very well and tend to pull each other down instead of up. A few examples:

  • Transit
    Apple has a very good Japanese transit data supplier Jourdan, the same one Google uses. Unfortunately the good transit data gets wasted by the limited search and sort App Maps transit UI that is completely manual, doesn’t dynamically update travel times or arrival estimates, or even provide location-based alerts when you arrive. Those kinds of integrated transit notifications on Apple Watch alone would sell a lot more devices.
  • Siri
    Siri is one the most important service layers for integrating navigation, transit and indoor maps. Unfortunately Siri is poorly connected where it should be hooked into every nook and cranny. Japanese Siri can locate the nearest station, usually, but that’s it. Siri doesn’t do transit searches or suggestions.
  • Navigation
    Turn by turn has been offered in Japan for a few years but it still basically useless without traffic information, which is still missing. Lane Guidance was only added just recently.
  • Data Duplication
    This happens all the time as Apple fails at coordinating and verifying data sets from different JP suppliers.

And so on. I included data duplication as it illustrates my basic point that no matter how good the basic data collection is, it’s worthless without a robust integration and coordination process. A smart team of human editors with deep local knowledge understand how services should connect, what works and how it should work. A truly  great team also knows how to focus and do more, much more, with less. This is impossible to achieve with the current one size fits all mentality.

Apple Maps Japan is a classic ‘the total is less than the sum of its parts‘ product. To be sure there are some good parts, but in Japan they don’t add up. The different layers stay separate and never integrate into a seamless whole like Apple Pay Suica does. It’s great that Apple is making process with its map reboot effort in America but the real test will be how well they integrate it all. A laser focus and smart integration is the only way Apple can close the map gap with Google.

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.

Apple Pay Suica Express Cards with power reserve on iPhone XR and iPhone XS

iPhone XR and iPhone XS both have the A12 Bionic powered “Express Cards with power reserve” feature. This feature can be used with FeliCa based Suica and Student ID cards, and China Transit Beijing and Shanghai transit cards. Another bonus of using Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XR and iPhone XS is that A12 Bionic bulletproofed Apple Pay Suica performance is so much better than all other devices.

Engadget JP reporter Takahiro Koguchi did the duty of running his iPhone XR test unit down into Express Card power reserve mode and running it through a transit gate. It works great. I wonder how many hours of Pokemon play it took Koguchi san to run into power reserve mode with the longer battery life of iPhone XR? Even on iPhone XS at 35% battery it took me 2 hours of Pokemon and 4 cups of Beck’s coffee until power reserve mode kicked in.

I covered the iPhone XS Apple Pay Suica Express Cards with power reserve feature in my earlier video. If anything the shorter battery life of iPhone XS means that Express Cards with power reserve might actually come in handy as Apple Pay Suica still works for transit, purchase and cash recharge for up to 5 hours.

Come to think of it the new 7-Eleven ATM Suica cash recharge service might actually work better/faster with Apple Pay Suica Express Card in power reserve mode as the pesky and unnecessary Touch ID/Face ID step is removed. If I have a day of Pokemon and Beck’s coffee to run my iPhone XS battery down and try it out, I’ll let you know.