iOS 15 Apple Maps JP quick review

There are a number of Apple Maps improvements in iOS 15 but the features you get depend on the region and the device. Only A12 Bionic devices and later display the full glory of iOS 15 Apple Maps new cartography. Only San Francisco and a select few cities will have the full range of new cartography features at iOS 15 launch. A quick overview.

New Views
iOS 15 Apple Maps has a new general use Explore view in addition to the previous views: Driving that highlights roads and traffic, Transit that highlights transit routes, and Satellite. Explore is where most of the new cartography really shines but there will be a lot of view switching. You would think that after all these years of clumsy view toggling there would be tap and hold toggle view shortcut for fast easy access, but there isn’t.

Justin O’Beirne’s iOS 15 Apple Maps screenshot page helpfully lists the new cartography features and divides them by region into different detail zones: 3-least, 2-some, 1-most. His zone 2 is a vague middle category that includes the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Japan though the last one doesn’t really belong. All zone 2 counties but one have Apple mapped cartography, Japan does not. Apple Maps image collection in Japan is considerably smaller compared to other zone 2 countries and the data is only used for Look Around, not for improving Japanese cartography details. Because of this Japan belongs somewhere in-between zone 2 and 3 as ‘Areas of Interest’ and some other details are either missing or spotty.

Justin O’Beirne categorizes the new Apple Maps cartography details into zones

The big iOS 15 Apple Maps feature, by far, is the improved cartography. The contrast is better, the Point of Interest (POI) clutter has been minimized, city maps differentiate business and residential areas by color. I think the biggest improvement is Dark Mode maps. It simply blows the old Dark Mode maps away and is, dare I say, almost better than light mode.

The new design does a great overall job of clearing up the ‘death by POI’ clutter. Japanese POI text labels remain a problem. All Kanji writing cultures have an innate ability to efficiently abbreviate long names, the genius of Kanji culture. Unfortunately Apple Maps doesn’t make use of it and clutters up precious screen real estate with unnecessarily long unabbreviated text labels. Japanese typography color Kanji use is still a problem as well especially in light mode with color text over similar color background. The low contrast is hard to read.

Beneath the new skin old problems remain. 3rd rate Japanese map data supplier IPC is still there, warts and all, actually it’s nothing but warts. And there is new twist: IPC was 100% owned by Pioneer but was sold to Polaris Capital Group effective June 1 with a new CEO (ex Oracle Japan) named the same day. For some reason IPC doesn’t reveal this on their corporate website. The IPC problem can only be fixed by (1) dumping them for Zenrin, or (2) Apple mapping all of Japan themselves. Apple doesn’t seem to be pursuing either option, expect more of the same old map problems in iOS 15.

Last but not least we now know why the Sea of Japan doesn’t exist in Apple Maps: all place names are tappable in iOS 15. Apple doesn’t want people tapping Sea of Japan and are playing a geo-political game here that Google does not. Google Maps simply use language/country naming conventions for the corresponding region setting. Apple’s memory hole stunt here is a disgraceful one they wouldn’t dare pull in any other market.

Transit Improvements
iOS 15 Apple Maps also has a few new transit tweaks. The biggest ones are disembark notifications and nearby transit.

Unfortunately not all transit improvements are the upgrade I was hoping for:

  • Static Transit on route directions: unlike dynamic on route driving and walking, once transit routes are set and engaged they do not update transit times or routes according to changing time and location conditions. Transit would be much more useful if estimated transfer and arrival times updated dynamically. Another gripe: walk to/from station routes in transit don’t employ the same information system used in regular non-transit walk routes. Transit walk routes are static and sometimes use longer routes.
  • Disembark notifications are short ‘in app’ notifications that are not very noticeable and easy to miss. Disembark notifications display and sound as the train pulls out of the previous station before the disembark point. Because on route transit uses GPS, it is not very accurate. It works well enough on surface transit but based on my testing disembark notifications are unreliable when: (1) riding the subway, (2) you are using another app in the foreground with Apple Maps app in the background. The old reliable stand alone Yahoo Japan Transit app has much more robust disembark notifications.
  • Train car exits positions are now showing on some transit route directions, unfortunately real time transit and crowdedness information are still missing despite being standard in Google Maps and Yahoo Japan maps for some time now.
  • Nearby Transit is my favorite new feature. It’s simple, clear and fast location based transit info at your fingertips. Very handy.

A short list of missing features in Japan includes indoor station maps, immersive walking instructions and new driving features. I think we can be sure these won’t make the iOS 15 cycle. There is a lot to like in iOS 15 Apple Maps, unfortunately the feature reality for users in Japan will only be the new cartography.