Apple Maps Japan Reboot Challenge: Real Progress

Now that Apple Maps image collection white Subaru vans are out and about in force with lots of people tweeting about it, it looks like Apple Maps has finally gotten serious about mapping Japan. We hope. I see 3 basic challenges:

Collect Quality Data
This is obvious and the whole point of Apple Maps image collection vans, but it’s not the whole story. Apple cannot do it all and has to rely on quality map data suppliers. Increment P (IPC) supplies Japanese map data to Apple but they are not the best quality provider and seem to collect and package other data sources rather than getting their own. Case in point, it took IPC 2 years to fix the Great Shinbu Hot Spring Data Cutoff. If Apple wants to go toe to toe with Google Maps in Japan, they should sign Zenrin who are the top map data provider for Japan. Google recently dropped Zenrin and Google Maps Japan has been a disaster ever since.

Process Quality Data
This has been the bane of Apple Maps since day one. I see it as Apple’s biggest challenge: if Apple cannot quickly and intelligently process map data from multiple sources, the best quality data collection effort, along with the data, is completely wasted. Let’s take a look at how well Apple processes IPC map data for the Ikegami Hall area and compare it to Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps.

Ikegami Hall

As you can see from the example, Apple isn’t using much of the IPC map detail available to them, including Ikegami Hall. Maybe somebody at the Apple Maps data processing center in India forgot to put it in, or is waiting for an update from an Apple Maps van. Either way, the Apple Maps team has no idea something important is missing and that in itself is a big problem.

Present Quality Data
In short, cartography. Good cartography doesn’t only make maps look good, it directs your attention to what is important to know, filters out extraneous detail so you can find what you are looking for, while showing how to get there quickly. Yahoo Japan Maps has the best cartography by far, Google Maps runs a distant 2nd place. However both of them constantly tweak their cartography and evolve it. Apple Maps has yet to substantially update their Justin O’Beirne 2012 era cartography and they desperately need to. Take a look at the Gotanda station area of Tokyo comparing the default views of Apple Maps, Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps. The quality improves going left to right.

Apple Maps cartography overwhelms the screen with information that doesn’t need to be there. Yahoo Japan Maps is super clean, smartly edited and easy to navigate. The captions explain it all, case closed.

The challenges facing the Apple Maps team in Japan are many. Now that Google has stumbled, Apple has a golden opportunity to create a better map service for Japan and change the market perception of it. I wish them good luck and look forward to seeing what progress they make.

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iWork Pages Celebrates International Haiku Day with Vertical Writing

Today is International Haiku Day and Apple Education is celebrating it in Japan with the new version of iWork Pages that finally supports vertical text layout. In honor of International Haiku Day and vertical text support in Pages, I tried writing a haiku in vertical text using the new version of Pages. This is how it went…

Let’s see, I want to rotate the roman characters to stand vertical like they do in traditional ‘Tate-Chu-Yoko‘ Japanese layout.
Oh wait, Pages vertical rotation only works in groups 2~3 characters. Anything less or more does’t work. How about if I split them up.
Okay this isn’t working, but I have an idea…
I’ll just use egword Universal 2 instead. Problem solved with the Tate-Chu-Yoko setting.

Update: Japanese reactions to the Apple Education ad (top screen shot) now running on Twitter are fun and sarcastic: “Are you serious? Way too late,” “Good thing I didn’t wait and installed egword,” “10 years too late,” “Oh, Pages is finally useable,” etc.

The Apple Stock app widget needs some Japanese localization work

Japanese company names in the Stock app widget

Good localization is never easy, that is to say it’s easy to fuck up, especially when different app pieces come from different companies. I already pointed out that the Yahoo supplied backend Japanese data took a real nosedive after the Verizon purchase, but there is more.

Japanese stock ticker names in the Stock app widget are hideous to look at. They shrink into oblivion instead of intelligently truncating a long name to keep it readable. This is a textbook case of how not to do app internationalization. Nobody at Verizon or Apple evidently cares enough about quality to fix it. It’s another nail in the coffin of Apple’s typography legacy.


Almost Useable: Japanese Vertical Text Support in iWork Pages Update (U)

CJK Vertical Text Layout in Pages and Bashō Haiku

Apple released updates for the iWork suite as promised, the biggest new feature is vertical CJK text support which should have been in place since 2005. Better late than never, here is a quick overview.

I’ll discuss vertical features from the Japanese typography point of view since vertical text is more important for Japan and Pages/Keynote/Numbers CJK vertical text is not offered in Simplified Chinese. In an era of devices where everything is horizontal, younger generations have grow up without the deep connection to traditional vertically written culture. Korea, and to a lesser extent the Traditional Chinese markets in Taiwan and Hong Kong, have pretty much abandoned vertical layout for mainstream newspapers, magazines and books which still flourish in the Japanese market.

Also Japan has the most comprehensive vertical text layout composition rules: the Japanese Industrial Standard typesetting and composition specification JIS X4051, the bible of Japanese composition and the only truly complete specification for vertical text composition in the world. I covered Japanese typography basics in another post but it’s important to remember a few essential differences:

Unlike DTP layout, which is graphics-driven, traditional Japanese text composition, called kumihan, is driven by how much text will fit in a given space. Designers know how many characters (virtual bodies) are supposed to be on a line and on a page before they start composition, and this is how they discuss layout with writers and editors. Western composition is calculated from margins, a wholly different concept.

kanji box 3
A virtual body Kanji with approximate baseline overlay red line.

It boils down to the western typography baseline rules and conventions which is what DTP layout and digital fonts were built around vs. Kanji virtual bodies which were never considered by software programmers back in the early 1980s. All written languages outside of the Roman Empire cultural heritage have been living with the limitations of those computer software decisions ever since. Especially in web browsers.

InDesign J gets around this limitation by creating Kanji virtual body information on the fly along with Adobe proprietary internal font metric tables. Everybody else who do not have their own typography and layout engine have to make do with OpenType baseline font metrics information, the advanced typography layout offered by Core Text, and their programming prowess.

The best Japanese word processing program egword universal 2, the first top to bottom Core Text word processor program, is proof that a focused and talented team can accomplish a great deal. egword universal 2 has grids and a well thought out subset of advanced Japanese typography features that satisfy most needs without overwhelming the user. It’s a testament of the the talent of Norihito Hirose and the Monokaki-do team.

egword universal 2 handles Kanji glyph variations with ease

Unfortunately Pages-Keynote-Numbers CJK vertical takes the low road adding as little as possible:

  • No easy access of OpenType/AAT advanced Japanese type features like glyph variations or proportional Kanji spacing, it’s the usual nightmare of hunting for features in the Apple Font Panel or using the input module
  • Importing Word Docs with vertical layout are not preserved and rendered in very bad horizontal layout
  • Last but not least: no ruby or furigana
egword universal 2 ruby in action, ruby support is an essential feature for any Japanese language document creation

The last feature is so basic for Japanese document creation, it is mind boggling and embarrassing that Apple had the balls to offer CJK support without it. The only CJK advanced typography feature offered is the ability to rotate groups of vertical glyphs horizontally, though it is a very manual one selection at a time affair. Other than that, iWork CJK vertical text is almost exactly the same kind of simple implementation that macOS TextEdit has had for years. Short text strings of vertical text are okay for Keynote but the updated Pages is no replacement for Word or egword universal. And of course vertical text support is completely missing on web versions of Pages/Numbers/Keynote. No wonder Apple snuck the feature mention in a iWork update PR release to select media outlets instead of proper announcement.

Taken together with how many years it has taken Apple to get this simple low level of CJK vertical layout support into their word processor app, it is sad commentary on Apple’s advanced typography priorities in the post Steve Jobs era.

Update
Ruby characters are available via context menu and have been for some time. Apple’s implementation is not very slick or intuitive and there is no manual input option. Rotating vertical glyphs via context menu pop-up is very manual and not productive, but at least it is there.



Update 2
I tried writing a Haiku using Pages vertical text support.

Google Maps experiences a Apple Maps meltdown in Japan

Early this month Google Japan announced new features for Japanese users that would include better map data and easier navigation. Instead of “in 100 meters turn left”, Google Maps now says “turn left at the 7-Eleven.” The rollout however is not going very well and is surprisingly similar to the previous Google Maps meltdown in 2015 when anybody could edit map data directly.

This past week map otaku complained on Twitter that Google had dumped premier Japanese digital map data supplier Zenrin for in-house data and weird things were happening. Japanese Twitter is now full of screenshots of parking lots transformed into roads, mountains into lakes and railroad lines suddenly gone missing. It’s like zooming back to the 2012 Apple Maps launch with underwater subway stations in Yotsuya Tokyo or the infamous Gundam Pachinko JR train station. Things came to a head when Zenrin’s stock price crashed today based on speculation that Google had dumped them, though neither company commented. Bloomberg ran the story in Japanese and English, which is unusual, and local IT press coverage has been brutal.

I have seen the Google mapping van and the Google mapping backpacker in the neighborhood occasionally, but one problem seems to be that Google replaced Zenrin data, which has a large field verification team behind it, with in-house map data automatically extracted from satellite images.

I’m sure Google will fix most things, eventually, but there is a growing consensus that Zenrin quality cannot be replaced with in-house AI created data and Google Maps in Japan is destined to become an also-ran service like Apple Maps. Time will tell, but taken together with the recent claims of a growing reverse vishing problem in Asia, the Google Maps reputation in Japan is taking a big hit.

If Apple were smart they would use the opportunity to sign Zenrin and finally get their hands on top rate Japanese map data instead of the 3rd rate Increment P. Until then stick with Yahoo Japan Maps who not only has the superior Zenrin map data but the best cartography too, which they constantly tweak and improve. Take a quick look of the same Shinjuku area in Apple Maps, Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps and see how many train and subway stations you can easily pick out of the stew at a glance. Yahoo Japan Maps wins every time.