I have reviewed Apple Maps, Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps extensively, but finding a simple and easy to understand comparison that elegantly summarizes the differences of the three Japanese map products is difficult, almost impossible.
Recently I found one. Three actually, that say it all and neatly show the vastly different cartography principles and map priorities of Apple, Google and Yahoo Japan.
Finding Places in Japanese Cities
Navigating Japanese metropolitan areas is always a challenge. Building names are a crucial piece of address information that helps users find and investigate places. Digital map designers too easily fall into the trap of thinking that GPS, Wi-Fi triangulation and drop-pins solve everything. They don’t.
Physical addresses that directly correspond to the written addresses in digital maps are the last best resort when all else goes wrong, or when a user is in a hurry to a business appointment and needs to find “Maruichi Biru (Bld)” right away. Here are three screenshots, one each from Yahoo Japan Map, Google Maps and Apple Maps that show how each product handles this important information.
Yahoo Japan Map
Yahoo Japan Map has building name details cleanly arranged with highly readable text size and contrast. Yahoo Map is a good balance of important information, marquee signage (Mos Burger, Natural Lawson, etc), icons for food and shopping with matched slightly colored text.
Google Maps is a little more garish with triple c (color coded custom) icons and 3D outlines. 3D outlines look ‘cool’ but are not so helpful as you might think: they get in the way when viewing dense locations.
Notice the building name placement: differently sized text labels, wildly inconsistent text positions. The Google mapping algorithm squishes building names were they can fit, legibility be damned. I’ll bet the bigger text labels are businesses that buy Google advertising.
Google doesn’t have as much data detail as Yahoo Japan either. Here is a closeup comparison of a building arcade the houses many small shops. Google is missing a lot.
There isn’t anything to say. Apple Maps isn’t even in the game of providing or labeling building names in Japan.