It is hard to be enthusiastic about this year’s WWDC when Apple’s entire integrated software/hardware business model is coming under attack. With so much distraction these days there’s not much of a wish list, just a few observations for Apple Pay, Apple Maps and Text Layout.
First up of course, is Apple Pay. After Jennifer Bailey’s WWDC21 appearance where she announced keys and ID for iOS 15 Wallet, and the separate Tap to Pay on iPhone announcement in January, I don’t think Jennifer will be in the WWDC22 keynote. She’s not going to appear just to explain that Apple Pay is not a monopoly, that’s Tim’s job with CEO level pay grade, nor is she doing to appear to just flesh out details of what’s already there. That’s what sessions are for, explaining things that I have been wishing for these past few years: an easier, more open Secure Element Pass certification process and/or new frameworks for developers to access the secure element for payments or use Tap to Pay on iPhone. There needs to a clearer path for developers who want to use the secure element for payments (Wallet) or iPhone as payment terminal (Tap to Pay on iPhone).
The only possible ‘new’ Apple Pay Wallet feature I can think of is the ‘so long in the works it has gone moldy’ Code Payments. Lurking in the code shadows since iOS 13 or so, it has been around so long that Apple legal inserted official mention in a recent Apple Pay & Privacy web page update: “When you make a payment using a QR code pass in Wallet, your device will present a unique code and share that code with the pass provider to prevent fraud.” If Apple Pay delivers native device generated QR code payments without a network connection, just like all Apple Pay cards to date, it would be quite a coup but by itself, is not worth a Jennifer Bailey appearance. Other future goodies like passport in Wallet or My Number ID in Wallet are too far out to merit mention.
The only new Apple Maps feature that suggests itself is Indoor Maps for stations. That’s the conclusion I come up after examining the current (February ~ May 2022) backpack image collection in Tokyo, Osaka/Kyoto and Nagoya. It is highly focused on centrally located above ground and underground station areas. Stations like Shinjuku and Tokyo are entirely underground surrounded with extensive maze like malls.
This means Apple image collection backpacks are going inside for the first time. They are either collecting data instead of images, or doing it at pre-arranged times when people are scarce. This is hard to do at a place like Shinjuku station as there are multiple companies collectively managing the entire site (JR East, Odakyu, Keio, Seibu, Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation, Tokyo Metro, just to name a few).
So far Apple has only used their image collection in Japan for Look Around, but the current version of Look Around doesn’t make sense for station interiors unless it is heavily modified with augmented reality place labels, directions for exits, transit gates and so on. The Apple indoor maps model for airports and malls is outdated and impossible to retrofit for information dense, tightly packed Japanese stations.
Apple needs come up with something new for indoor station maps to be successful on any level. The current version of AR walking guidance only works outdoors as the camera has to scan and match surrounding building profiles. A hybrid of stored Look Around images and AR walking guides that work indoors and outdoors might be a way forward. Station maps have special needs to seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor guidance modes as users leave or enter stations on their walking route to the final destination. A new and improved, AR enhanced “Look Around” style indoor map for stations would be far more useful for Japanese iPhone users than airports or shopping malls. If Apple succeeds in delivering new AR enhanced indoor maps that can do this, it could finally set Apple Maps apart from Google Maps in a big way. Nobody does indoor maps well by the way, including Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps.
As most readers of this blog already know, I am not optimistic that Apple Maps in Japan can become a top tier digital map service. The local 3rd party map and transit data suppliers that Apple depends on to make up the bulk of the Japanese service are certainly not top tier and old problems remain unfixed. In the case of the main Japanese map data supplier things have deteriorated.
IPC was 100% owned by Pioneer supplying their car navigation system data, but was sold to Polaris Capital Group June 1, 2021 with a new CEO (ex Oracle Japan) named the same day. In January 2022 IPC was renamed GeoTechnologies Inc. Under hedge fund Polaris Capital Group management, GeoTechnologies has been busy inflating the number of cushy company director positions, never a good sign, and pushing out shitty ad-ware apps like Torima. The focus is leveraging assets not building them.
Apple’s Japanese map problem can only be fixed by dumping GeoTechnologies for Zenrin, or Apple mapping all of Japan themselves. Apple is not pursuing either option, the image collection effort in Japan is limited and its use remains restricted to Look Around. Until this changes, expect more of the same old Japanese map problems in iOS 16 and beyond. Apple Maps is a collection of many different service parts. Some evolve and improve, some do not. Let’s hope for a good outcome with the data Apple is collecting for indoor station maps.
Apple Typography TextKit 2 migration
WWDC21 saw the unveiling of TextKit 2, the next generation replacement for the 30 year old TextKit, older than QuickDraw GX even, but much less capable. TextKit 2 marked the start of a long term migration with most of TextKit 2 initially ‘opt in’ for compatibility. We’ll find out how much of TextKit 2 will evolve to default on with an ‘opt out’. There are holes to fill too: the iOS side didn’t get all the TextKit 2 features of macOS such as UITextView (multiline text), some of the planned features like NSTextContainer apparently didn’t make the final cut either. We should get a much more complete package at WWDC22. Once the TextKit 2 transition is complete, I wonder if a Core Text reboot is next.
watchOS 9 Express Cards with Power Reserve?
Mark Gurman reported that watchOS 9 will have “a new low-power mode that is designed to let its smartwatch run some apps and features without using as much battery life.” While this sounds like Express Cards with Power Reserve (transit cards, student ID, hotel-home-car-office keys) and it might even mimic the iPhone feature to some degree, I doubt it will be a full blown version. Power Reserve is a special mode where iOS powers down itself down but leaves the lights on for direct secure element NFC transactions. iOS isn’t involved at all.
Real Power Reserve requires Apple Watch silicon that supports the hardware feature, it cannot be added with a simple software upgrade. Until that happens, a new watchOS 9 low-power mode means that watchOS still babysits Express Cards, but anything that gives us better battery life than what we have now is a good thing.
Enjoy the keynote and have a good WWDC.