The iPhone X Suica Problem

The iPhone X Suica problem is an issue that causes transit gate errors when using Suica Express Transit on iPhone X. Errors occur with any transit gate or any reader device. Overall iPhone X Suica transit gate performance is sluggish. iPhone 8 / 8 Plus and Apple Watch Series 3 are free of the Suica problem and work reliably. It’s not clear what the cause of the problem is: iOS software or a iPhone X NFC related hardware flaw. As the issue drags on it looks to be the latter, if it was just software it would be fixed by now.

It’s a problem in Japan because transit cards like Suica require much higher performance than low performance EMV contactless credit cards. Transit gates are not cash registers. EMV was developed for slow pokey credit card payments at your local supermarket, not whizzing through a transit gate at Tokyo rush crush hour. This is why EMV sucks at transit.

There are 2 basic error patterns:

  • Error Flicker: the transit gate flashes an error but the gate opens and the error instantly clears automatically without a reread.
  • Full Error: the transit gate flashes an error and the gate stays closed, the error does not clear automatically forcing the user to try again. The second read is always successful.
  • In all gate error cases the iPhone X shows Done and a checkmark on the display
  • Error Ratios: approximately 1 in 3 gate transits is an error flicker, 1 in 7 gate transits is a full error but some iPhone X users experience higher error ratios.

This video shows regular Suica Express Transit performance, Suica error flicker and a full error:

Timeline
iOS 11.1 (October 31): The official iOS 11.1 release on iPhone X was unreliable from the start: Suica Express Transit performance was so poor that JR East issued a Apple Pay Suica system notice on November 8 just 5 days after the iPhone X launch.

iOS 11.2 (December 2): The Apple Pay Cash release broke Apple Pay Suica and Apple Pay Suica notifications stopped working. Sluggish Suica performance and frequent iPhone X Suica Express Transit gate errors became a real problem.

iOS 11.2.5~11.4.1 (January 23~July 9): the Apple Pay Suica notification bug was fixed in iOS 11.2.5 unfortunately Express Transit error problems and Suica sluggishness were not and continue to be an ongoing issue with the current iOS 11.4.1 release.

Complaints on Twitter and Japanese blog sites have been constant. Japanese iPhone X customers who experience it regularly on their daily commute are frustrated with Apple’s lack of action:

Summary
The iPhone X Suica problem is irritating especially at rush hour packed station gates. The more Apple Pay Suica is part of your daily transit routine the more frustrating the iPhone X Suica problem will be. Occasional transit users won’t notice it as much.

Suica Express Transit works most of the time. Transit gate error flicker clears automatically. When you experience the full error that does not clear automatically simply wait for the gate reader to reset and try again, or go through another gate. The second try is always successful.

Apple needs to fix iPhone X Suica Express Transit issues that have plagued users since iPhone X went on sale.

Recent developments are covered here.

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