New maps nowhere in sight amid Look Around expansion in Japan


Significant Look Around expansions for Tokyo, Chiba, Shizuoka, Kyoto and Osaka covering most if not all of the public roads in those prefectures are coming this spring (2023). There are also select city and district Look Around additions for Gunma, Okayama, Fukuoka and Kumamoto prefectures. Yet after 5 years of Apple Maps image collection in Japan, brand new revamped maps similar to recent European rollouts remain an elusive goal. There has been some interesting discussion on Reddit and other sites about when revamped Apple Maps are coming to Japan. Even Justin O’Beirne initially listed Japan as a 2023 new maps candidate but wisely removed it.

Many people assume entire prefectures have been mapped when this is not the case, easy to do if you don’t live here. Apple has a simple formula for image collection in Japan: Cities + Districts = Prefectures. That is to say Apple has never mapped an entire prefecture in one concentrated sweep: they started with select large cities and districts then gradually added less populated areas over several mapping seasons. Yamanashi Prefecture will be the first prefecture Apple is mapping in one season (February~November 2023). Perhaps this is a new strategy. I have tried to come up with (what else?) a map that hopefully explains the complicated situation with easy to understand terms of what’s mapped and what’s not.

  1. Mostly Mapped Prefectures
    I say ‘mostly mapped’ because Apple only maps public roads (city, district, prefecture, national). There are plenty of publicly used local community maintained ‘private roads‘ in urban areas that Apple does not map (nearly 40% of all roads in my city), that Google does. This means there are significant Look Around and AR Walking Direction dead spots in areas after Apple Maps image collection vans and backpacks have ‘completely covered’ them, and this has major implications for creating Apple proprietary ‘New Maps’.
  2. Partially Mapped Prefectures
    Major metropolis areas that include suburban parts of multiple neighboring prefectures: Greater Tokyo (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Ibaraki), Greater Osaka (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Shiga, Hyogo), Greater Nagoya (Aichi, Mie). For some reason Apple has not mapped traditional greater area regions like Gifu (Greater Nagoya) and Wakayama (Greater Osaka).
  3. Selectively Mapped Prefectures
    One or two of the biggest cites in select prefectures: Miyagi, Niigata, Ishikawa, Kagawa, Ehime, Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kumamoto.

In short Apple Maps Japan continues its gradual measured expansion which means no proprietary New Maps, detailed city experiences or 3D landmarks, etc., are coming in 2023 or 2024. I still think Indoor Station Maps with AR directions are in the works (WWDC23 maybe?) but for regular maps Japan is stuck with the very mediocre GeoTechnologies cartography…and will be for some time to come.


Look Around #1 August 2020: Greater Tokyo, Greater Osaka, Greater Nagoya
Look Around #2 January 2021: Fukuoka City, Hiroshima City, Nara (Greater Osaka), Takamatsu City
Look Around #3 May 2021: Sendai City, Kanazawa City
Look Around #4 May 2022: Sapporo City, Niigata City, Shizuoka City, Akashi City

2022 mapping season: the basis for Look Around #5 expansion

2023 mapping season seems for Look Around #6

Fixing the Apple Maps Point of Interest content problem with Apple Business Connect

One of the long term challenges with Apple Maps is improving the Point of Interest (POI) content. It’s a problem that remains even as Apple rolls out ‘New Maps’ based on their proprietary collected image data. Justin O’Beirne has covered it from the US angle, I have posted about the messy Japanese POI situation many times. Despite the Apple Maps image collection effort around the globe, the quality of POI content has not improved. It is all over the map compounded by the inability of the Apple Maps system to filter and intelligently juggle multiple POI sources. Apple is stuck with 3rd party POI content from Yelp, Foursquare, TripAdvisor, Tabelog and countless others that Apple doesn’t ‘own’: they don’t collect it, they don’t edit it. Until now.

Today Apple rolled out Apple Business Connect. Eddie Cue:“We created Business Connect to provide Apple users around the world with the most accurate information for places to eat, shop, travel, and more.” Whew, good thing because people who use Apple Maps always complain about Yelp: the content is out of date, ancient reviews don’t reflect reality, or worse, the reviews are gamed by bots, hacks or ‘kakikomi butai’ (post entry battalions) in China or North Korea.

Don’t laugh, a Japanese Korean friend once told me about the computer class curriculum at his Korean school in Japan. The teacher would announce the class assignment of the day: writing and posting glowing product reviews of Korean products on various review sites. The old Unification Church in Japan was notorious for employing a virtual ‘post to order’ kakikomi butai operation that paid by the character. This is why I never believe in crowdsourced anything. To me it’s mostly fake or manipulated, with little oversight by stupidity or design. Most Americans seem to believe in it still but crowdsourced content is risky and trouble prone: Yelp and even Tabelog have had to address periodic content scandals online and in court.

So Apple is taking charge of its own POI content. Over the past year Apple Maps has rolled out POI ratings and picture uploads linked the user Apple ID, wisely omitting reviews and limited to places to eat and drink, places to shop and places to stay. So Apple now controls both the POI upload content pipeline and the ratings pipeline. The biggest challenge will be how well Apple manages the POI content swap out process. Is 3rd party POI content automatically swapped out when Business Connect POI is uploaded and Apple verified? More importantly, how exactly does Apple verify Business Connect content? There certainly isn’t an Apple army of ground truth experts roaming around. The proof will be in the content verification and management, and will take time to find out the results. There is also the Eddie Cue mentioned ‘places to travel and more’ stuff that isn’t addressed by Apple Business Connect. We’ll find out about that in time as well I guess, but at least the Apple Maps team finally has a game plan to solve their POI content problems.

The curse of Japanese PostScript fonts will live on: outline your outlines

I have not used Adobe Illustrator much the past few years and certainly don’t use it enough to justify buying a Creative Suite subscription that only lasts 12 months. Recently a localization project came in where I needed to edit the original Illustrator file data text. The printer sent me their Illustrator print files and I blithely opened the file with a name that ended with ‘OL’.

As soon as I clicked the body text I realized what OL meant: outline. All the text in a 2 page document with lots of text had been converted to outlines via the Illustrator convert text to outline feature. I couldn’t edit anything. I contacted the printer and received a backup file with the text intact that had not been converted to outlines.

I reflected on this basic Japanese designer practice of converting all Illustrator file text to outlines before sending work files to the printer. It took me back to my days setting up some of the first Japanese PostScript DTP production lines for print companies in Shizuoka. Any printer or high end print service like Lithmatic (a great service company by the way) always requests designers to submit Illustrator work files with all the text data pre-converted to outlines. I hate doing this because it strips away all the font hinting. Font hinting is now only thought of as a screen display thing, but printer font hinting was necessary back in the days of 300~600 DPI PostScript laser printers.

Maybe printer font hinting is no longer necessary in this era of high resolution CTP (computer to plate) on-demand small print runs. Even so, to my eye, stripping out the font hinting reduces the Japanese typographic quality of smaller printed kanji text with their complex glyph strokes. Why is it necessary in this age of PDF workflows to even bother converting text to outline anymore?

It all goes back to the many original sins of the first Adobe Japanese PostScript fonts, the biggest sin being they could not be downloaded to the printer on a job basis…they had to reside on the printer. And they were not cheap: ¥300,000 a pop (back in 1990 when that kind of price was a lot heavier on the wallet) for a single unlimited resolution Japanese PostScript printer font. Not only that, early Japanese PostScript print drivers sucked. They were slow and print jobs would often trip up the RIP job with a memory error or something arcane. Like it or not, print job managers learned to read voodoo tea leave PostScrip error codes to decipher problems, fix the Illustrator file and run the job again. Late work nights were common for production staff.

Usually it was just easier to convert text to outlines which was the godsend feature that arrived with Illustrator v5 along with Japanese Adobe ATM. Instead of buying expensive printer fonts and dealing with incomprehensible PostScript output errors, it was easier (and cheaper) for print service bureaus to require all Illustrator file text data be converted to outlines. This was a time when Illustrator was the workhorse choice for DTP designers in Japan.

All of the PostScript problems were eventually fixed with OpenType fonts and PDF workflows, PostScript fonts themselves will officially die on January 2023. But the PostScript font damage done in Japan will never be fixed. There’s just too much legacy data out there, both in data files, and printer fonts still installed on high end output devices. And Morisawa will always provide legacy OCF fonts for their Passport customers that need them, no matter what Adobe says.

PostScript fonts may be going away, but the ghosts of PostScript fonts, the fine art of outlining Illustrator text data, will be haunting Japan for a very long time.

iOS 16 Apple Maps Quick Look

In 2018 Eddie Cue said, “We have been working on trying to create what we hope is going to be the best map app in the world, taking it to the next step. That is building all of our own map data from the ground up.” After 10 years of Apple Maps, 7 years of rebuilding it and 3 years after the all-new map launch…are we there yet?

As I said last year, reviewing Apple Maps is impossible because it’s a very different service in different regions, with Japan an outliner in many ways. All that follows is from a Japanese market perspective that does not apply to using Apple Maps in other places.

In the run up to WWDC22, the Apple Maps team rolled out new features:

If there is one Apple Maps take away from WWDC22 it was the focus on Apple Maps services and leveraging Apple created, Apple proprietary Look Around and detailed 3D city experience in developer apps. For developers using MapKit there is a lot of new stuff to access all new map details. They have access to the entire Apple Maps stack and can incorporate Look Around and the detailed 3D city experience in their apps.

Apple also has a new web service called Apple Maps Server that allows 3rd party app backends to do georelated searches directly with the Apple Maps Server which promises to increase performance instead of wasting mobile bandwidth and battery. It seems like a small step but I’m intrigued if Apple has bigger Apple Maps Server plans later on. Also this:

Old is New
What’s on the slate for the iOS 16 Maps app? With the focus on services i.e. features Apple can add without a new app, not much. We have a refreshed Maps UI that adds multi-stop routing with much better start point~destination point selectors, and condenses various route and guidance options into a single slide-able menu selection row.

For some bewildering reason Apple touts transit cards and fares in Maps as new. They are not. The features have been there since the October 2016 iOS 10.1 Apple Pay Suica launch update, they also come with the same old limitations in iOS 16, like ignoring your transit cards installed on Apple Watch. And it won’t work with transit cards that don’t support Wallet recharge, like Ventra and HOP. Apple is either hard up for showcasing new Maps features or it counts as new because it is new for America.

In field tests there are some nice new little touches. Walking directions now include elevation information, Point of Interest (POI) cards are better arranged, Siri suggestions seems a little more with it (the new high quality Japanese voices are nice too).

I was hoping for some tweaks to transit directions with better transfer and final destination notifications but there is no apparent change from iOS 15, and transit directions remain hopelessly lost on subway routes. No changes either for Japanese cartography and Japan focused Guides remain English language only.

In sum it will be a quiet Apple Maps year for Japanese users. The iOS 16 UI tweaks are nice to have, Look Around will get the new extensions currently being mapped (minus private roads), maybe Real-Time Transit will get real. Definitely no new maps for Japan and the big indoor station mapping effort remains a mystery. Perhaps we’ll find out what Apple is up on that front at WWDC23, but that’s another story for another time.


iOS 16 Apple Maps Gallery (b1)

The Point of Interest card UI is tweaked and more compact.
June 2022 feature availability for Japan

When will Japan get Apple’s New Maps? Part 2: the private road problem

In part 1 we examined Apple Map Japan Image Collection for 2022 and concluded that all of Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, Kyoto and Osaka prefectures will have been ‘completely mapped’. But this isn’t really true: yes official public roads will have been mapped but not private roads…and there are lots of those.

If you examine the current coverage of Look Around in Tokyo carefully you notice that many side streets are not mapped. These are private roads. Private roads in Japan look just like regular roads, and are used like regular roads but they are owned and paid for by the residents who live there. It is a traditional cultural institution of local community building before there was a local government to take care of such things. It’s also one of the reasons why undergrounding is difficult to do even on public roads as utility poles are ‘owned’ by the residents.

When the private road is a thru street connecting public roads, it’s really more of semi-private community road, and the area residents who “own” it as a collective get tax cuts or local government subsidies to help cover road maintenance.You can usually tell a private road from official ones as they have no pavement markings or signs. Everybody uses them and they are ubiquitous. In Tokyo/Suginami City where I live, the breakdown of Suginami roads is as follows:

Road typekm%
Total All (Public~Private)1,107.4100
Public (National, Tokyo Metro, local city)688.762.2%
Private418.737.8%
Suginami City

What Apple had done in Japan for their Image Collection is only map public roads, and not all of the those either as I spot a few missing ones in Suginami City. The general rule of thumb is that narrow side roads in older cities and neighborhoods are private roads. It’s safe to assume that Apple Image Collection vans have only mapped 60%~70% of the cities they have traveled. Google Maps Japan, has you would expect, have extensively mapped private roads.

What are the implications? Can Apple launch new maps or detailed city experiences for with only 60~70% of the total road area mapped? I doubt it. They’d have to get the missing data from somewhere and Apple’s go to map data supplier GeoTechnologies certainly isn’t up to the job. Believe me, they are not. Apple Maps Japan will gradually get more Look Around, but new maps and detailed city experience won’t be coming soon, if ever, not unless Apple tackles their Japanese private road mapping problem.