OK, after a long hibernation the once and future Apple Maps cartographer head honcho Justin O’Beirne is trolling his former employer again and posted his analysis of the iOS 12 Apple Maps reboot. It is very long so here is a summary:
The Apple Maps team is collecting lots of data all by itself and processing it in India <everybody knew that already>
Apple Maps still relies too much on 3rd rate 3rd party data supplies like TomTom, Yelp, Foursquare, etc. <ditto>
Apple Maps does a poor job of coordinating, editing and vetting different sets of data. Because of this Apple Maps really sucks at labeling and placing things correctly. <duh and duh>
The most interesting bit is the footnote at the end:
O’Beirne knows his tech audience well. His ‘Google is sucking up ever more information and contributors who know how to label things for AR…how will Apple ever compete?’ line of reasoning is calculated to play well with that crowd because nobody will bother asking questions like ‘how will Google vet all those local map contributions’ and assume machine AI algorithms will take care of that along with geopolitics and human mischief. Who vets the vetters and how?
AI technology has its place of course but will never replace human understanding. A small team of smart editors can tie together maps, transit and booking into a handy service. A real team of local knowledgeable talented editors doing more with less is exactly what makes Yahoo Japan Maps a much better product than Google Maps or Apple Maps for Japanese users. Unfortunately this isn’t sexy or interesting to the Western tech crowd because it isn’t technology. So O’Beirne will continue to get the clicks and the praise. To which I can only say, another hit with the tech blogger crowd for Justin O’Beirne…you go Justin O’Beirne! It’s all great fun.
Before starting let me get this out of the way: indoor mapping on digital devices is in the stone age and basically sucks. It doesn’t matter if it’s Google, Apple or Yahoo Japan Maps. It all sucks, some less than others. That would be Yahoo Japan Maps.
Indoor maps overwhelm the user with mediocre information and detail they don’t need, map vomit, and are more confusing than helpful. Getting intelligently collected human curated high density map information and presenting it in clear, concise user-friendly fashion is a challenge, especially so for indoor maps which have to collapse 3D information into a 2D format.
As usual Yahoo Japan Maps has the most intelligent use of Japanese text, high contrast and different text sizes to emphasize significance but it ends here: Yahoo Japan Maps does not have indoor maps for airports as they have focused efforts on major train station indoor mapping instead. In terms of real everyday use, it’s the smarter choice.
Comparison closeups of Terminal 1 3rd Floor show that Apple Maps still suffers from the same old problems of using 3rd rate 3rd party data suppliers with poor vetting and coordination: some stores are located out on the tarmac. The Apple Maps reboot effort has yet to be felt in Japan.
Google Maps Terminal 1 4F
Apple Maps Terminal 1 4F, a few stores are stuck out on the tarmac.
A comparison closeup view of Terminal 1 4th Floor check in and store areas: Apple has a good idea in offering canned search buttons for Check-in, Restaurants, Cafes, restroom, etc. Unfortunately the iOS UI control puts Japanese names at the bottom of the every list and tapping a canned search button only highlights results that add another layer of visual noise. It would be much better if canned searches also hide or grey out unrelated details and offer Japanese names at the top of every list with alphabetized English names at the bottom. Meanwhile Google Maps uses the same hunt and peck ‘one size fits all’ search conventions for indoor and outdoor maps.
Apple Maps Terminal 1 Check-in, the iOS UI control unfortunately puts Japanese content at the bottom of every scroll list regardless of the Japanese iOS language setting.
Google Maps Terminal 1 Check-in area
Apple Maps Terminal 1 3rd Floor shop area: the canned search buttons are basically a good idea but should filter out unnecessary detail instead of simply highlighting search results.
Google Maps Terminal 1 3rd Floor shopping area
The standard Google area search
Realistically I cannot imagine using any of these indoor maps in real life on an iPhone screen. It’s much easier walking to an information booth or asking airport or station staff for directions. Until indoor maps and Siri get much smarter and tightly integrated with highly reliable information on the backend, I don’t see these solutions solving problems for anybody.
The new emoji coming with iOS 12.1 will make some people happy but to me are more joyless skin tone, hair color and culturally correct western think. I liked emoji when they were more ‘Manga’ and not Unicode Consortium committee product blah but the Unicode Consortium know they have good thing going and will run it into the ground. Emoji are supposed to be fun, remember? Not tiny anatomically correct versions of reality.
Emoji were way more fun when everybody was a manga princess not a Tim Cook Memoji. Let’s face it do you want anatomically correct culturally Barbie with skin tones and hair textures? Of course not, we all want the fabulous Cher Barbie with the Bob Mackie outfit. It’s all Cosplay anyway.
I do my best sleeping in trains and appreciate a transit app with destination alarms
The nightmare of every hard working Tokyo salaryman: missing the last train
Destination alerts are handy when you have a lot of station changes on your trip
Apple Maps Transit in Japan has a great transit data supplier, the same one as Google, but I don’t use it much. It’s just not that handy at finding the fastest route or cheapest route or route with the fewest transfer points, it doesn’t let me sort results or search for different train times on the fly.
For a map app the geosynchronous functions of Apple Map Transit are curiously weak. Even after engaging a route Apple Maps Transit has trouble keeping track of where it is or letting you know. Forget about geo anything if you are riding the subway, you’ll be in the dark the whole way.
Apple Maps Transit is a plodding one trick pony. That’s why everybody in Japan uses dedicated transit apps like Yahoo Japan Transit or the venerable Eki-supato (cleverly combining station-eki + expert = eki-supato, get it?). Not only do these dedicated apps find great transit routes quickly they let you sort results quickly by fare, fast, number of transit points, etc., or just quickly move to earlier~later blocks of departure times.
After you engage a route you have all kinds of granular alerts for transit points and destination points, and great geosynchronous feedback, you are here and your station is coming up. Eki-supato really knows their user base though, I mean a transit app really isn’t a Japanese transit app without “Drunk Mode” to make sure hard-working, hard-drinking salarymen don’t miss the last train home.
Almost a year later than first expected, Apple has finally added indoor maps for Japan on iOS 11 and iOS 12. Narita Airport (Chiba) and Chubu Airport (Nagoya) are the kickoff points for what is hopefully going to be a continuous rollout. Major airports like Haneda and stations such as Tokyo and Shinjuku are still AWOL and the iOS Feature Availability list has not been updated yet.
One of the problems that Apple Maps faces in Japan is that multiple agencies hold different indoor map data sources. Shinjuku station for example is a collection of 4 different railway companies and more than 3 subway lines. Collecting and coordinating a complete robust data set takes time.
Apple Maps Japan is still missing some other major services available in other areas: traffic, lane guidance and speed limits. It will be interesting to see if the Apple Maps makeover gets any mention during the September 12 event.