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.

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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.

iOS 12 Suica bugs exacerbate iPhone X Suica problems and create confusion

iOS 12 Apple Pay Suica bugs are causing headaches for some users getting exchanges for iPhone X Suica problem devices (a NFC hardware problem across all iOS versions): users find they have the same Suica problems running iOS 12 (iOS 12.0 specific software bugs) on NFC hardware problem free Revision B iPhone X devices. Unfortunately for iPhone X users the 2 issues merge in a perfect storm. It’s confusing and only natural to assume nothing is fixed and yet another Apple Support runaround iPhone X exchange is needed to fix it. If you are using iOS 11.4.1 on Apple Pay Suica iPhone X, I suggest staying with it and not updating to iOS 12 just yet.

Apple Pay Suica users who have updated to iOS 12.0 and watchOS 5.0 report the following problems:

  • Transit gate error flicker
  • Unresponsive Express Transit at transit gates with Face ID/Touch ID/Passcode Apple Pay authentication request
  • Suica card balance doesn’t update
  • Slow or failed Apple Pay Suica Recharge attempts

Affected devices: iPhone 7/7 Plus (JP models only), iPhone 8/8 Plus, iPhone X, Apple Watch Series 2 (JP Model only), Apple Watch Series 3, Apple Watch Series 4.

iPhone XS is not affected by iOS 12 Apple Pay Suica issues thanks to A12 Bionic.

Fortunately iOS 12.1 has Suica bug fixes: Apple Engineering closed my original iOS 11.2.5 Suica error bug report filed in January 2018 saying the issue has been fixed in iOS 12.1. iOS 12.1 developer beta 4 went out earlier this week with 2 more likely to go before the official release. The just announced October 30 Apple Special Event would be a natural iOS 12.1 official drop date.

The iOS 12.1 and watchOS 5.1 updates will hopefully fix remaining Suica issues and provide relief for long-suffering iPhone X users who really need some peace of mind that only Apple can provide.

7-Eleven Japan ATM Suica Recharge Service

7-Eleven ATM e-money recharge

7-Eleven ATM Suica Cash Recharge service started today. I gave it a test run but it’s not as fast or convenient as Smart Charge kiosks at JR stations. The video highlights the user experience and the weak points:

  • 7-Eleven ATM Apple Pay Suica Recharge is not Express Card savvy. You have to use Touch ID/Face ID and put Suica in the manual ready state like an Apple Pay credit card.
  • The reader stand on the right of the touchscreen is designed for plastic cards with the NFC hit area at the bottom of the stand. This means you have to put iPhone on the stand upside down for Apple Pay Suica to work. It’s very awkward.
  • The process is not that fast.

The service is OK but nothing more. Suica cash recharge at the JR station or the convenience store cash register is a faster deal, and the convenience of Apple Pay Suica Recharge always beats cash recharge. The main benefit is that 7-Eleven ATMs are plentiful, open 24 hours and offer Suica cash recharge during the Mobile Suica late night maintenance offline hours 1am~4am.

Apple Pay and the art of 2-way disruption: how Super Suica will change contactless payments in Japan and beyond

Super Suica Card
The new ‘Super Suica‘ card will replace all local transit cards for a single national transit and e-money card but still offer all the local commuter plans and point systems.

Global FeliCa iPhone, FeliCa Pixel, Super Suica and all that
Apple Pay Japan arrived just 2 years ago and has clearly disrupted the Japanese contactless payments market in many important and interesting ways. Things can change quickly and the disruption isn’t one way. Here is a timeline:

As I predicted a year ago, the global FeliCa iPhone with NFC switching took Apple Pay to a whole new level and made FeliCa a de-facto NFC smartphone standard checklist feature that Google Pay could not match unless Google made their own hardware version of it, which they have done with Pixel 3 in Japan, their first official entry with Japanese carriers. If Google continues to follow Apple’s lead then Pixel 4 should be global FeliCa with NFC switching that further divides the ‘pure Google’ Google Pay haves from the have-nots.

The Apple Pay Black Ship
Japanese IT journalist Junya Suzuki wrote that Apple Pay would be the ‘black ship’ that would revolutionize Japan’s contactless payments market. Apple Pay was the match that finally lit the fuse of the huge Japanese contactless transit and payments infrastructure investment and launched it into orbit. In the 2 years since it’s arrival. Apple Pay Suica kicked Japan Transit IC card e-money growth into high gear 20% YOY growth even though most of the action is Tokyo area based: estimated e-money transaction growth rates in Tokyo alone are 40%. The first year of Apple Pay Suica proved that stored value (SV) transit cards, not credit cards, are the golden growth path for contactless payments.

And now because of the success of Apple Pay Suica, JR East and Sony are taking it to the next level developing the next generation Suica container format, which doesn’t have a real name yet (local coop transit smartcard?). I call it Super Suica and it’s due to launch April 2021. Super Suica will change Japanese contactless payments and transplant the Apple Pay Suica transformation from the Suica Tokyo home area to all transit regions nationwide. Everything transit will be on Apple Pay, everybody everywhere can use it for transit and e-money. Google Pay and Osaifu-Keitai will be there too.

But Super Suica isn’t just for Japan, it’s part of the vision JR East unveiled at the July 2016 NFC Forum Japan meeting to have NFC transit payment standards that work everywhere:

With a single seamless NFC standard and certification process in place, JR East roadmap goals are very clear:

  • Japanese customers with Mobile Suica devices can use their devices for public transportation and transit payments abroad.
  • Global specification certified NFC devices from abroad can use Mobile Suica.

Current limitations
NFC certification and global FeliCa smartphones are taking care of the hardware side, but NFC transit payments interoperability isn’t there because there hasn’t been a roadmap. Super Suica is the first step to create one. Japanese transit cards have been compatible with each other for transit and e-money since 2013 but important pieces are missing: commuter passes and point systems are still chained to local transit cards and have to be managed locally. You can travel with Apple Pay Suica anywhere, but you can’t add a commuter plan for an area outside of the Suica transit network.

Because of the costs associated with maintaining local data and account management it’s very difficult and expensive for large transit companies to host systems on mobile digital wallets. Nobody outside of JR East has managed to do it. It’s expensive for smaller local transit companies to issue smartcards and impossible to host them on mobile. Super Suica containers will solve these problems and greatly reduce costs not only for plastic card issuance and operation but also for hosting them on mobile digital wallet platforms.

Super Suica Roadmap

Super Suica Containers
The JR East and Sony co-development announcement of a ‘national’ super Suica card sounds exactly what the Aso government proposed back in 2008: one card to replace local Japanese transit card variations such as ICOCA, TOICA, SUGOCA, Kitaca, PASMO, manaca, Nimoca, Hayaken and others into a single card that does it all. JR East and Sony plan to have Super Suica in circulation starting April 2021.

Development is divided between Sony, JR East and JR East Mechatronics (JREM), the JR East subsidiary company that manages Mobile Suica.

  • Sony: updating FeliCa OS for the new format
  • JR East: coordinating the deployment effort with the other transit companies
  • JREM: physical card development, providing background services for issuance and mobile

The press release is terse and light on details but 3 points are very clear:

  • Cost reduction
  • Support for local commute plans, points, branding and more in addition to the regular stored fare transit and e-money features of current issue cards
  • Everybody on board

The aim is clear: instead of complicated expensive account management systems that babysit all the extra functions the cloud magically attaches to current transit cards, with every transit company doing it differently, Super Suica will be a universal container that takes care of the extras on the card itself. There will be established protocols and one common format with a new FeliCa OS version to handle everything.

Current Account based Mobile Suica

Containers vs account management

This approach will streamline and simplify the entire Japan Transit IC system process for plastic cards and mobile, significantly lowering costs without sacrificing the great things about Suica: blazing speed and local processing without a network.

Functions that are geeky and complex like setting up auto-charge or purchasing Shinkansen e-tickets will become much easier and accessible. Missing functions like discount tickets, special fares, and regular line express train ticketing will be possible on mobile. JR East has talked about raising the current 20,000 JPY Suica balance limit, Super Suica is the perfect opportunity to finally do it.

The outcome for Japan
The change for Japan is obvious: the success of the Suica transit payment platform in the Tokyo region is made available everywhere. Actually it already is available everywhere but Super Suica will supercharge it.  JR East will offer to host everything on mobile so that everybody in Japan can use Apple Pay, Google Pay or Osaifu-Keitai for local transit, purchases, while offering all the local goodies and incentives.

Other big players like JR Central and JR West may not opt-in for hosting on Mobile Suica for political reasons but the incentives are certainly there and the cost of getting somebody else’s cloud service to do it will be much easier and cheaper than it is now. JR East looks eager to go the extra distance to get everybody on Mobile Suica cloud and should make clear that Mobile Suica is only managing containers, not account data.

The outcome outside of Japan
The possibilities outside of Japan are going to be interesting. Could the Hong Kong Octopus system opt for the new format and could it be made cross compatible? It’s nice to think that sister systems like Octopus and Suica could do that some day. Even if that doesn’t happen, the Super Suica container format will offer Octopus the same benefits of lower costs and make it easier to deploy on other digital wallet platforms outside of the currently exclusive Smart Octopus in Samsung Pay.

More than cross compatibility however I think Super Suica will shine a much brighter light on the shortcomings of using ‘Open Loop’ EMV contactless credit card payment networks for transit: non-existent account management, simple fares only, no commute plans, no points that tie in with other transit company services, etc. These are problems that are prohibitively expensive for any transit company to fix on their own and the banking industry payment networks will not.

EMV contactless transit shortcomings

You know things are really bad when 9to5 Mac writes this about using Apple Pay on the Milan Metro:

A handy tip for anyone wanting to get around with Apple Pay without causing a fuss is to authenticate Apple Pay as you approach the gate. Doing it in advance helps remove the awkwardness of holding up other people if your fingerprint or face isn’t recognized first time, for instance.

This is a perfect example of dead-end last century credit card vs. smartcard, open loop vs. closed loop thinking and where it has brought us. Digital wallet platforms like Apple Pay and Google Pay collapse the differences of open loop vs. closed loop and destroy the old arguments while combining different NFC technologies and middleware software into one compelling new whole the creates an entirely new game: Build a transit payment platform instead.

A stored value native transit card on the front end with a credit/debit card on the backend for Apple Pay or Google Pay recharge is the best arrangement that leverages the strengths of both approaches working together instead of the old antagonistic and wasteful A or B arguments. In the long run it’s a win-win for transit companies and the banking industry.

For Asian countries that already have FeliCa transit systems (India, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Vietnam) Super Suica will let them do more. For transit companies in America and Europe, Super Suica will be a great chance to re-examine long-term goals and choose the best mix of technologies in light of the new business opportunities and models that digital wallets and Super Suica roadmap will offer.

One thing is clear: transit companies that stick with the old ways of thinking will miss unique new business opportunities offered by native transit payment platforms hosted on digital wallet platforms, opportunities that build on transit but also extend it into new places.