Apple Maps Flashes Some Pink

I don’t know why, but all three major Japanese map products use the same color to indicate large underground structures: pink. It’s a perfect slyly perverse color choice for Shinjuku, a place that Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki called ‘the lucky hole of Tokyo.’

Yahoo Japan Map and Google Maps have offered detailed indoor mapping for some time. After vamping with “carefully curated navigation instructions so it’s easy to get around Japan’s extensive underground tunnel networks.” Apple Maps is about to get serious with indoor mapping and flash some real pink in iOS 11 as Tokyo is one of the launch cities for indoor mall maps.

Tokyo malls are underground shopping arcades attached to the large private rail train stations and department store retail empires of Keio, Seibu, Odakyu, Tokyu, etc. JR East only got started with the privatization of JNR in 1987 but has furiously rebuilt Tokyo station underground into a formidable retail area.

Shinjuku is the world’s busiest station and the most complex. The core JR East station is surrounded by multiple onion-like layers of  private line stations and subway lines interlaced with mazes of underground shopping malls. Here is a quick comparison of the big three Japanese map products focused on Keio Mall in the Shinjuku underground west exit side.

Apple has not uploaded any indoor map data for iOS 11 developer beta yet, I suspect it will come late in the beta cycle. Here is the current Apple Map view of Shinjuku west.

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Apple Maps view of Shinjuku station with pink underground structure outlines added in iOS 10.1

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Close up of Keiko Mall underground (pink) west exit of Shinjuku station (purple). The small round green Family Mart icon is roughly center point of Keio Mall
Here is the same Keio Mall area in Yahoo Japan Map:

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Yahoo Japan Map view of Shinjuku west Keio Mall underground. Nice clean detail that is a hallmark of Yahoo Japan cartography. The different connecting station parts are clearly shown with platform stairs and exit signage exactly matching what you find on the ground. Store backgrounds are color keyed without icons and labeled clearly. The square green Family Mart icon is the same store as the round green icon in the previous Apple Map screenshot.

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Larger view of Shinjuku station clearly shows how everything connects which Google Maps does not. Again, note that exits are clearly marked in yellow.
Here is Google Maps view of Keio Mall:

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Google and Apple both have a cartography obsession with three C icons that distract and clutter up information. Notice that Google Maps simply places text labels where they fit with no attempt to align anything, also Google does not display any of the surface exits clearly marked in Yahoo Japan Map.
Here is the indoor Apple Maps image from the iOS 11 preview page:ios11-indoor-maps eidt.png

Even with just the sample we can already see that Apple’s indoor maps will look a lot more like Google than Yahoo Japan: lots of ‘triple C’ (custom color keyed) icons though store background colors remain neutral grey with tiny colored dots indicating store type. The sample shows promise but we won’t know until we see it in action as indoor maps are incredibly difficult to do well.

It will be fascinating to see how it all works in Apple’s take of Shinjuku station, the world’s most complex indoor mapping challenge. If Apple Maps can crack it, or even just match Google, Japanese users will certainly see it as another success following the well received launch of Japan transit.