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.


From TrueType GX to Variable Fonts

It’s great that Tom Rickner shares some of the old QuickDraw GX font demos again.

If you have any interest in OpenType Variable Fonts and their TrueType GX origin, you must read Tom Rickner’s post: Part 1: from TrueType GX to Variable Fonts. Rickner was a member of the TrueType team at Apple in the late 1980’s, he and fellow team members Dave Opstad  and Mike Reed were key engineers that drove TrueType GX font development.

Tom shares a lot of wonderful and fascinating development history. It’s so great that the font technology worked on back then is finally coming out of the wilderness and into the mainstream OpenType specification. A belated congratulations is due to all former TrueType GX font development team members.

Saying Goodbye to Apple Maps Japan

A Buddhist priest friend of mine teaches that Buddhist faith and practice is not a big thing, but a gradual accumulation of small things over time.

That’s a good analogy for digital maps: the total is the sum of many small parts accumulated over time. The total must be greater than the sum of the parts. If it is less than the sum of the parts, the product is a failure. I hate to say this but despite the many improvements over the past year, the total of Apple Maps Japan is still a failure.

Here is a small thing I ran across recently near the battle site of Roshi Hall: Apple Maps lists the Grand Hall of Ikegami Honmonji temple, an institution with over 700 years of history, not as a temple but as an event.

Apple Maps lists the Grand Hall as “Ikegami Honmonji Setsubun” which is a temple event, not a place name.

The Yelp Japan based information shows a photo that is not the listed place but an unrelated area near the train station. This is what the Grand Hall and the February 3rd Setsubun event held there look like:

Ikegami Honmonji Temple Grand Hall
Ikegami Honmonji Temple Setsubun Event

The Holy Relics Hall next to the Grand Hall is incorrectly listed as a Shinto Shrine:

The Holy Relics Hall is not a Shinto Shrine.

By themselves these are small things but they illustrate a very big and broken process. Yelp Japan does not or cannot vet their data, neither does Apple. There is nobody with the minimal cultural knowledge to tell the difference between a place or an event. Apple looks incompetent which it is unfortunate: there are many smart and hard working people there working on maps.

A round trip to the “Report a Problem” system is the normal thing to do but after doing just that several times over the years, the system has a knack of reloading the incorrect information going back to square one.

Using a fly swatter in a plague of locusts is futile. Until Apple figures out how to obtain great quality primary data and accurately supplement it with properly vetted and curated 3rd party data, time to drop the fly swatter and run.

Writing about Apple Maps has been great fun and the deployment of new services such as Japanese Transit fascinating to explore. Until the old broken 2012 launch era parts (place names, roads, cartography, etc.) are cleared away and replaced, it is time to close a chapter and puts things aside until the next step arrives.

John Gruber Loses His Mojo

I love Daring Fireball and John Gruber is one of the best tech writers out there. But since the election Gruber seems distracted. A lot of people probably are…still. He writes more about politics, which is fine, but unless you are a Gore Vidal, writing political stuff is tricky business. And if you are not a Gore Vidal, it is distraction. Witness Gruber’s take of Neil Cybart’s Above Avalon post Apple’s Achilles Heel. Let me explain.

Steve Jobs at his last appearance with the soon to retire Walt Mossberg had some great things to say. Not just about Adobe Flash or words of wisdom, but something from his soul; the essence of all that he had learned.

Apple is a company that doesn’t have the most resources of everybody in the world, and the way we’ve succeeded is by choosing what horses to ride really carefully…
And if you choose wisely you can save yourself an enormous amount of work versus trying to do everything, and you can put energy into making those new emerging technologies be great on your platform rather than just OK because you’re spreading yourself too thin.

Limited time, energy, and resources. Choose wisely and you can put those precious things to the best possible use and make a difference. Gruber:

The iPhone hasn’t suffered because Apple is focused on the Mac. New iPhones come out like clockwork every year. Apple has really gotten it down to a science in recent years. The Mac lineup, however — and the Mac Pro in particular — has clearly suffered from a lack of attention. Where did that institutional attention go? Surely much of it went to iPhone.

I’m not arguing that it’s a mistake for Apple to devote more attention to the iPhone than any other product…. But it’s a mistake to focus so much attention on the iPhone that other important products suffer.

Too much, he says. To paraphrase Jobs, iPhone is still in its spring, the Mac is in its autumn. I agree with Cybart and Jobs. Apple has limited time, energy and resources. Is choosing the Mac Pro the wisest choice? I don’t know. But making a choice means giving up something else. It always does.

TYPO Talks: OpenType Variable Font State of the Union

The 2017 OpenType Variable Font State of the Union Postcard Summary

OpenType Variable Fonts (OTVF) were the hot topic of the annual TYPO conference held earlier this month. If you have any interest in OTVF watch Dan Rhatigan’s progress report. Dan is the new Senior Manager of Adobe Type and had the whole OTVF thing land on his head when joining Adobe less than a year ago.

Given the short notice I think he does a great job of explaining where things are:

  • The OpenType Variation Font spec is already OpenType 1.8.1 and about to be upped again. I think there will be many more revisions before real products ship.
  • I get the sense there are more issues to be fixed on the CFF2 (Compact Font Format 2) OpenType PostScript side rather than the TrueType side, and this applies to both file format and rasterizers. This makes sense as TrueType GX has around since 1993 and never went away despite being completely ignored, even by Apple. Say what you will but TrueType GX is a mature technology, that’s why it lives on in OTVF.
  • Auto-hinting on the CFF2 OpenType PostScript side has to be completely rebuilt to work. No surprise here either and I’ll bet this cannot be delivered by Adobe this year. If simple Roman glyph overalpping outlines are challenging, wait until font teams really start optimizing CJK font data.
  • Dan says there has to be a better UI than the old variation font slider. I agree. QuickDraw GX developers passionatly discussed this back in 1995: Apple had created a wonderful advanced typography feature set with no idea how it should look and work for users. Coming up with a great UI is crucial for selling OTVF outside of the font developer niche it now occupies.

You might think Apple has it easy because they created TrueType GX and seem to be already using parts of it for system font instances. The Hiragino Japanese system font however is not easy: it is a composite of OpenType TrueType San Francisco and OpenType PostScript Hiragino with the New Osaka kana glyphs somewhere in-between.

Optimizing anything OpenType PostScript CFF2 means waiting until the Adobe core font team has finished their work. That will not happen this year.

If you were holding your breath for Apple to announce OpenType Variation Font support at WWDC this year, you can start breathing again.

Suica Apple Pay and Green Car Seats

Green Seat and Suica Apple Pay

green seat suica
The green red LED indicates a vacant Green Car seat all ready for your Suica touch,

One of the cool Suica Apple Pay features shown in the Apple Pay Japan marketing blitz is Green Car “touch and sit” seating. In the JR East ad Ryuhei Matsuda holds his Suica Apple Pay iPhone 7 up to the Suica touch area of the Green Car and boom, he appears all done.

It looks like magic but the actual purchase takes place in the Suica app, which is slightly less cool: input your embark and debark station points, hit the Apple Pay purchase button and you are good to go. The purchase is good for all day between your purchased station points. Get on a regular train, find an empty Green Car seat red LED spot and touch your iPhone 7/Apple Watch Series 2 device just like Ryuhei Matsuda.

suica app green seat.png
The actual Green Car Suica purchase is little more involved than the ad and takes place in Suica app. Why is an unoccupied seat red and an occupied seat green? Only JR East knows.

All things considered, it’s still cool. Now if I only had a generous travel expense account, I would be all set for JR East train travel bliss.