Apple Maps Japan Reboot Challenge: Information Density

Asagaya Pearl Center Arcade Roof

Now that the Apple Maps reboot has been announced and is starting a slow rollout in America, I want to highlight some of the challenges Apple Maps Japan faces in an ongoing quick point “Reboot Challenge” series. The first topic is information density.

Google Maps and Apple Maps are good at some things, but presenting complex information-dense localities like Tokyo in a consistent user-friendly way is a perpetual weak point. Even local champ Yahoo Japan Maps does not do it well.

Here is a quick point comparison of a location in Tokyo, the Asagaya Pearl Center covered shopping arcade that basically runs from JR Asayaga Station to City Hall. The challenge is how to present stacked information on a flat map. In this example there is a large Matsumoto-Kiyoshi Drug Store on the 1st floor and a large Saizeria Restaurant on the 2nd floor.

Asagaya Pearl Center

Let’s compare the usual suspects: Apple Maps, Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps, and see how they stack up.

Apple Maps does surprisingly well listing both drug store and restaurant but not geographically correct: they are on top of each other not side by side. It also lists the nearby 7-Eleven, again geographically incorrect as it occupies part of a 1st floor with 2 store entrances on either side. Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps simply show the 2nd floor restaurant, delete the 1st floor drug store and don’t bother with 7-Eleven.

Indoor mapping isn’t necessarily the best solution. Detailed indoor maps easily overwhelm the user with too much detail. We don’t need more map vomit. The trick here is to come up with a simple intuitive UI that quickly shows stacked information then gets out of the way. Unfortunately nobody has come up with an elegant solution yet. It’s a good challenge for any digital map cartography team.