Apple Maps Japan Adds Foursquare Data-Updated

Apple Japan 4quareIn an ongoing effort to improve their Japanese product, Apple Maps has added Foursquare to their data supplier mix in addition to Yelp, TripAdvisor for place data, Yahoo Japan’s Tabelog for restaurant data, and Jourdan for transit data.

Foursquare is appearing in station information and other places supplementing areas that Yelp and the other suppliers do not cover. The addition might be from the transit team in order to improve the well received transit service that commenced last October.

Coordinating and vetting various 3rd party data suppliers has been a long-standing weak spot for Apple Maps Japan. Hopefully the Foursquare addition will result in a better product for Japanese users.

Update
The Apple Maps team also seems to be tweaking Japanese transit signage in addition to adding Foursquare information. New train line signage with a simpler but non-standard design is appearing on iPad Maps while iPhone Maps and macOS Maps display previous signage. It can take time for signage updates to populate the entire system and it’s not clear if this is a real update, or a jump the gun glitch.

OpenType Variable Fonts and the UI Challenge

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The good old GX font OpenType variation font slider from Tom Rickner

Adobe Type Senior Manager Dan Rhatigan made a very good point in his TYPO Talk presentation: OpenType Variable Fonts (OTVF) need a UI that replaces the slider. The slider has been the default UI to show off variable font technology since the dawn of QuickDraw GX and Multiple Master fonts.

Sliders have their place but I agree with Dan: there has to be a better UI control concept out there. As he put it, with all that mathematics going on for developers to play with surely they can come up with an insanely great UI that puts all that typographic power and control in the hands of as many users as possible. And make it fun too.

We’ve been here before

This issue, how to make the complexity of advanced typography easy to understand and use for average users, is not new. It was hotly debated in the GX developer community of the mid 90’s because QuickDraw GX delivered many advanced typography features but no real Apple UI guideline to implement them.

I believe this UI issue is make or break for OpenType Variable Font reception in the market. Font wars aside, QuickDraw GX fonts and Multiple Master fonts failed because there was no compelling and consistent UI from operating system to apps that focused the technology to take users new places.

Just like Steve Jobs said back in 1997, it’s all about products that take users to fantastic new places they never imagined. It’s not about marketing cool technology. Start with the user experience and work backwards to the technology.

Buried and inconsistent features 

A quick user experience look of the advanced typography features in Hiragino Japanese fonts that Apple bundles in macOS Sierra illustrates the problem. Here is some simple vertical Japanese text in TextEdit, the only Apple app that supports CJK vertical layout.Hiragino Options Large

Hiragino fonts have many advanced typography features that few users know or use because they are buried away in typography options accessed from the font selection palette. If you take the trouble of selecting it you can access the Hiragino Mincho Pro advanced typography options shown here:

Mincho Pro
The advanced typography options of Hiragino Mincho Pro in macOS Sierra

The dog-eared and clipped off typography options clearly show the ‘buried features’ problem: this UI limits access to users who already know what font options are available, where to find them, and how to use them. But what is the experience for the average user and where does the UI and technology take them? Nowhere.

There is also the problem of inconsistent options. In previous OS X versions kanji glyph variants were accessed in typography options but now this important feature is buried away in the keyboard character palette. Most people know it as the place for finding emoji.

glyph_variants
Watanabe gylph selection then
Watanabe glyph
Watanabe glyph selection now

Different kanji fonts also have very different typography options but the current UI doesn’t give user the user advance information or anticipate selection results. All the user can do is hunt, pick, look at the result and try again until they find what they want.

A new approach
How does anyone go about adding variation font options to this mess? To paraphrase Steve Jobs again: Oh, a slider, we’ll use a slider……..

No.

Sliders are an early 1990’s desktop era UI idea that won’t serve us in the mobile age. It won’t work across macOS and iOS. It’s simple as that.

This is a special problem that demands a whole new approach from all sides: OS engineering, UI design and developers building on top of those high level foundations. And the new approaches have to work across desktop and mobile platforms as well.

OpenType Variable Fonts are a collaboration between Adobe, Microsoft, Google and Apple, but Apple has a very unique position. OTVF is based on Apple’s TrueType GX technology that is already being used in the San Fransisco font deployed on macOS, iOS and Watch OS.

If anyone is in the position of facing the variable font UI challenge across desktop and mobile, it is Apple. I hope they realize the importance of this. The success of OpenType Variable Fonts depends on it.

 

No AirPods For Old Men : the Ugly Truth of AirPods in Japan

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Oyaji AirPods

I have really enjoyed my AirPods. Nothing beats the convenience of going wireless on a daily Tokyo train commute. No matter how careful you are, earphone wires inevitably catch on a handbag or backpack and your iPhone flies out the pocket onto the floor.

A while ago a very observant friend of mine told me about working out at a new gym, “There was this older guy wearing those new Apple earphone things, they look really convenient.” Then he said, “I don’t think young people listen to music like back in the iPod days, they’re too busy doing the social network thing. The only people buying AirPods are older guys.”

I didn’t pay much attention to his comment at the time. Then I noticed that all the AirPods I saw in the wild are on a gentleman over 50. Just like me. Six months after AirPods went on sale I have yet to see a single young person using them in Tokyo. Is this a Japan thing, a young person thing, or an old man thing?

Apple has always successfully marketed their products to young people. In Japan it looks like that message for AirPods, is falling on deaf ears.

Analyzing Apple Pay Japan Results for 2017 Q2 Updated

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Japanese IT journalist Junya Suzuki analyzes Tim Cook’s Apple Pay Japan comment in the 2017 Q2 earnings call for Business Insider Japan.

In Japan, where Apple Pay launched last October, more than 0.5 million transit users are completing 20 million Apple Pay transactions per month.

Apple Pay Japan Market Math
Is this a good result or a bad one? Suzuki san does the math: if you take 500,000 users, multiply that by two (a round trip) and factor in one month of 20 work days you get 20 million transactions exactly.

In other words Tim is talking about Suica Apple Pay commuters who use it everyday.

Japanese government figures estimate smartphone share at 76% of the entire mobile phone market. iPhone share is estimated at 60% of that putting Apple’s Japanese iPhone installed base between 40~50 million devices.

Suzuki san estimates the iPhone 7/7 Plus installed base for Japan between 10~15 million devices. Suica Apple Pay commuters are limited to the greater Tokyo area, 1 out of every 4 Japanese, which gives us 2.5~3.5 million Suica Apple Pay ready iPhones in Tokyo.

Suzuki san thinks 500,000 daily Apple Pay users out of 2.5~3.5 million iPhone 7 devices is a pretty good result. I agree. There are many more casual Apple Pay Japan users out there, but Apple wanted a nice simple marketable info nugget for the earnings call. The big question is where does it go from here?

Breaking the 20% Glass Barrier
The Apple Pay Japan ready iPhone installed base will rise as users trade up to the latest and greatest iPhone but the real test will be if Apple Pay breaks the Japanese mobile wallet utilization glass barrier that has stubbornly remained at 20% no matter how many mobile wallet capable mobile devices are sold, regardless of platform. Mobile payments are still too geeky and difficult for most people to bother with.

The arrival of Apple Pay in Japan has already generated excitement, change and opportunity in a static mobile payments market. The JCB QUICPay network has been very aggressive getting new card partners on board the Apple Pay bandwagon, marketing them heavily to steal what they can from NTT Docomo’s iD market lead. It’s great fun reading Japanese twitter user comments about dumping VISA that don’t work with Apple Pay or switching to a QUICPay card to get better mileage out of Apple Pay.

The challenge for Apple Pay Japan will be how much traction it can capture in the two-year run up to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. It boils down to two essential attack points:

  • More Partners: make the Apple Pay Japan footprint wide as possible.
  • Systems integration: make Apple Pay dead simple ‘it just works’ savvy.

The Japanese payment networks that work currently with Apple Pay are: Suica, iD and QUICPay. Apple needs to add as many transit card systems as they can, along with the major missing payment networks: Edy, nanaco and WAON.

Apple Pay chart 1
The current Apple Pay Japan supported payment/transit systems

Apple Pay Chart 2
This is what Apple Pay Japan needs to look like.
For reference here is a small survey analysis from February 2017 of what payment systems Japanese have:

Transit cards are the easiest way to capture users because the Suica Apple Pay ease of use appeal to commuters, taken nation wide, is a slam dunk entry point: users first sign on to use their commuter pass on iPhone then quickly migrate to using the convenience of mobile purchases.

Systems integration will be the trickier of the two. Apple already deploys the full set of NFC flavors (A/B/FeliCa) on iPhone and Apple Watch but limits them geographically: FeliCa in Japan but not other countries, etc. From a technology viewpoint it should not be hard to make NFC transactions ‘just work’ for Apple Pay Japanese users going abroad and vice versa.

Unfortunately as Horace Dediu pointed out, payments infrastructure is complicated and messy with many moving pieces: banks, credit card companies, merchants, point of sale terminal technology, smartphone platforms and last but not least, the customer.

In Japan for example the customer tells the cashier ‘I’ll pay with Suica (or iD, or QUICPay)’, or selects a payment network on the terminal display screen. Then the customer has to bring up the appropriate Apple Pay card and Touch ID verify it. Some terminals take advantage of Suica Apple Pay Express Transit mode which bypasses Touch ID while other terminals require it. Some terminal readers offer a smooth experience, others do not.

This is not a user-friendly and inviting experience because all too often those messy pieces don’t work as a seamless whole.

Breaking the 20% glass barrier means Apple Pay Japan has to offer a better experience out of the box and across the board without rough edges or gotchas that restrict it to the tech savvy crowd. Suzuki san thinks those fancy new Panasonic JT-R600CR terminals going into McDonald’s and Lawson that handle every conceivable payment method and NFC flavor are a big part of the solution.

I think that’s wishful ‘technology can solve anything’ thinking. Payment technology won’t help much if banks, credit card companies and smartphone platforms do not integrate in a much bigger, and international savvy way. EMV and NFC use the same payment infrastructure, wouldn’t it be nice if it all just worked, all the time, everywhere?

The real solution rests with Apple, or the competition, making all those messy payment pieces fit together and work as one seamless whole. The next two years will be very interesting.

Update 2017-5-11
One thing Suzuki san points out in his piece that I forgot to mention was the automatic selection functionality of the Panasonic JT-R600CR terminals. From his explanation it sounds like the terminal automatically senses and selects your main Apple Pay card, or the most appropriate one for payment transaction.

I have not tested the new Panasonic terminals yet but hope to soon. It should be a smoother and faster experience than it is now. Suzuki san thinks the Japanese payments infrastructure will see a massive rollout of new much smarter terminals in the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Japanese companies want to capture as much ‘inbound’ customer business as they can.

King of the One Screen Map Search: Yahoo Japan MAP v5 Review

YahooJapanMapsReviewing digital maps is really difficult because cartography doesn’t come with version numbers. Apple and Google roll out cartography and service tweaks when ready because it’s all just backend stuff anyway.

So the new version of Yahoo Japan’s MAP app (v5) is a pleasant surprise. Not only is there a reference number to track the new cartography, there are major new features and a well thought out balance of map information while keeping things simple, clean and easy to comprehend. There is a lot that Apple and even Google can learn here.

Cartography
Yahoo Japan has always had better cartography than Apple and Google. The v5 upgrade widens the lead. There are two simple but highly effective design choices that make this happen.

  1. Use real world street signage for the default view.
    This is a smart choice that Apple and Google often forget about: map icons that match what you see in the street: station exits and marquee signage (convenience stores, fast food, major franchises, etc) match their real world counterparts. This is crucial because those are important navigation and meeting points. But wait, don’t Apple and Google do that too? Not as much as you would think and they get it wrong because the secret sauce is….
  2. Only use color coded icons for map search results.
    One of the really bad cartography design choices that Apple makes is keeping all the color coded icons in the default view (orange for cafes/restaurants, yellow for shops, blue for services, etc.). This is not information. It is unnecessary paint splatter on a wall that confuses the user and makes everything hard to find. Google does this too but much less than Apple.

Yahoo Japan MAP banishes all color coded icons to map search where they belong. All default view map icons are either crucial marquee signage or simple white background high contrast designs that don’t get in the way. And when searching they change to the necessary color code you are looking for.

Let’s see how these cartography choices play out in a typical Tokyo “sandwich station” like Gotanda: train station on top, major road in the middle, subway station below. A comparison with v4 cartography shows cleaner design details: slightly toned down road and station colors, toned down building outlines, stylized single color traffic light icons and nice attractive new icon designs for all the basics: banks, hotels, police stations, hospitals, schools, everything.

Also note the yellow station exits, they have migrated from the indoor map view to the default view. Good move: station exits are important navigation information.

Here are comparison views of Gotanda from Apple and Google. No yellow station exit signage anywhere. Yahoo Japan MAP intelligent use of color gives a better sense of layers even without accessing the indoor mapping control.

Digital maps are still young and evolving, incorporating new features all the time, but the job of any map is to orient and connect you with important information at a glance, at any moment. If it can’t do that, the map is a failure.

Search: Yahoo Japan MAP is King of the One Screen Search
The biggest change in v5 is map search. This used to be the weakest part of Yahoo Japan MAP but not anymore.

The Yahoo Japan map team came to the conclusion long ago that color coded icons are the wrong default map view choice for a densely packed Japanese metropolis. Any single building can house multiple cafes, restaurants and shops, multiplied across every building in a small area is serious information overload to fit on a smartphone screen. The trick is not forcing the user to jump through hoops to find stuff.

Here is a comparison of map search screens for Yahoo Japan, Apple and Google:

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The Yahoo Japan MAP search category is extensive and sure beats typing. My only wish it that in addition to the adaptive category at the top there was a row of favorite searches where I could add and edit personal favorite search categories.

Yahoo Japan MAP does the cafe search in one touch and one screen. Apple does the same cafe search with three touches and three screens. Google also does it with three touches and three screens.

Why should it take three actions? This is the kind of detail question that Steve Jobs drove his development teams crazy with all the time. I wonder if the higher ups at Apple and Google pay attention to this kind of thing anymore.

Indoor Mapping

There isn’t anything new in this category other than a slightly refreshed UI icon but it’s worth comparing the simple and practical Yahoo Japan approach with Apple and Google.

Yahoo Japan MAP gives the user a UI control even when zoomed out and treats the entire station structure as one discrete object with different floors. This approach scales well with complex station structures such as Shinjuku.

Google forces the user to zoom in before showing UI controls to access station floor plans in bits and pieces. Apple shows you almost nothing at all:

Other Things
It is amazing how much effort and resources that Apple and Google squander on developing features that don’t add much value. Yahoo Japan MAP does not have 3D mapping or flyover, features I find completely useless.

Far more practical, useful and essential is the Yahoo Japan MAP precipitation live radar with six hour forecast. Apple and Google can tell me it’s raining in Tokyo but Yahoo! MAP tells me where, when and how much it is, or will be, raining at work, the supermarket or on the walk home from the train station. Truly, deeply useful.

Wrap Up
Yahoo Japan has pulled off an amazing update by focusing on and simplifying basic map features. They don’t have the resources or market of Apple or Google but in classic samurai fashion have transformed weakness into strength. The cartography is best of class smart and simple.

Map search has morphed from a jumbled mess that was v4 into a one screen wonder that trounces Apple and Google. The indoor mapping and weather reporting strengths remain in place.

The power of doing more with less is on full display in Yahoo Japan MAP v5. It’s a lesson that Google would do well to remember, and Apple Maps to learn.

Yahoo Japan Maps Refresh Quick Look

Yahoo Japan Maps got a complete refresh with a major app update for iOS and Android. Yahoo! Map (YJM) always has the best cartography of the major Japanese players: Apple, Google, and Yahoo Japan. Now it is even better. I’ll do a full review later but here is a quick look and comparison with Apple and Google Maps.

Basic Cartography
At you can see in the comparison below Yahoo Japan Maps is cleaner and icons match street signage. What you see in the map is what you see on the ground. Google and Apple cartography go in for color coded icons of their own making for restaurants. medical services, public institutions, etc. Apple cartography in particular has a color icon fetish that to me looks like a bad case of chicken pox.

YJM attention to real signage is clear in the close up comparisons of Koenji Station below. YJM shows exit/entrance signage in the actual yellow color you see in stations, something that Apple and Google never do, as well as the Koenji McDonald’s under the train track trestle.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: Google and Apple maps are designed as one cartography fits all solution that discard and ignore local signage conventions. That’s nice for the international crowd but not for locals, the people who actually live and work here.

Yahoo Map designers live and work in Japan and that is reflected in the product detail.

Yahoo Koenji
Yahoo Japan Map Koenji Station, Tokyo
Apple Koenji
Apple Maps Koenji Station, Tokyo: Is this a map or a case of chicken pox?
Google Koenji
Google Maps Koenji Station, Tokyo: Google has been going in for lower contrast and custom color icons recently. Almost as if they were copying Apple’s cartoon cartography.

 

Indoor Mapping
Another area where Yahoo Japan Maps shine is indoor mapping. Google forces the user to zoom in before showing UI controls to access station floor plans in bit and pieces. Apple shows you almost nothing at all. YJM gives you a UI control even when zoomed out and treats the entire station structure as one discrete object with different floors. Of the three major Japanese maps products, YJM delivers floor plan information without unnecessary zooming and scrolling.