Apple Maps has settled into a comfortable glacial groove. Improvements are announced at WWDC but actual service rollouts are literally all over the map. Smaller markets like the UK get improved services long before larger markets like Japan. The identity of Apple Maps in Japan is, at best, 2nd rate with most users long since settled on top tier ‘free’ map services like Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps.
What new tentpole Apple Map features can we expect when iOS 15 is announced at WWDC21? In a word crowding information, for transit certainly, and perhaps crowd heat map overlay similar to what Yahoo Japan Maps have. I also think Apple will probably leverage their Dark Sky weather prediction assets directly in Apple Maps, again similar to what Yahoo Japan Maps do. An hour by hour local precipitation map overlay is extremely handy to have, I rely on it all the time. Indoor Maps needs an overhaul. Airports and malls are one thing but Apple Maps has yet to address the train station problem. It’s a glaring feature hole.
What’s missing locally?
Since every country has different Apple Map services, the rest of this post will focus on Japan, what’s missing and what needs to be improved. The basic problem Apple has is poor map data suppliers and poor verification, specifically: (1) Map data provided by IPC, (2) Point of Interest (POI) data provided by a host of 3rd party suppliers (Tabelog, Jalan, Foursquare, Tripadvisor, Yelp, open sources).
IPC data is crap, there is no other way to say it. Outside of metropolitan areas it is worthless. On the POI side Tablog and Jalan are decent but the rest are marginal or worthless. The Apple Maps system has never been good at coordinating various POI sources, duplicate POI are a never ending problem.
One component of New Maps, Look Around for Tokyo, Osaka/Kyoto and Nagoya launched in August 2020. Fukuoka, Takamatsu and Hiroshima were added in December though the latter has been problematic. 2021 should see rollouts for the Ishikawa and Sendai areas though overall additions will continue to be slow. New Maps cartography has yet to appear in Japan, given the slow data collection pace limited to metropolitan areas, I’m beginning to suspect it never will.
Transit • Cycling
Transit is a very important service item for the Japan market, competition is fierce. Compared to Yahoo Japan and Google, Apple Maps has yet to incorporate any transit data providers beyond Jourdan. Real-Time Transit requires data directly from transit operators which Apple has signed up. For that reason I don’t think Japan will be getting real-time transit during the iOS 15 cycle. Ditto for cycling routes.
Of course there is one thing that Apple could do to fix most of their JP map service problems: dump IPC and sign with Zenrin. Like all things Apple Maps, any dramatic improvement seems unlikely.