When will Japan get Apple’s new map? Part 1

Now that new maps for France and New Zealand are in final public testing and almost certainly to be mentioned at WWDC22, there is speculation that Japan is next in line for Apple’s “built from the ground up” new map.

In my opinion, we must not forget Japan. Moreover, I find it difficult to understand the situation in this country. Certainly, Apple has updated this country with very accurate third-party data but it remains a very important country for Apple and still does not have the new map data. So, my list of countries will be Japan, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein or Sweden.

Reddit user/Apple Maps subreddit

After all, Japan is high on Justin O’Beirne’s list of countries that Apple cares about:

This suggests that Apple’s expansions over the next couple of years are likeliest to include Austria, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and smaller countries immediately neighboring them.

With Germany, Singapore, France and New Zealand out of the way is Japan really next in line? Based on Apple’s image collection effort in Japan so far the short answer is no, maybe never…at the current pace. Indeed the situation is difficult to understand.

Image collection in Japan kicked off seriously in April 2019 with the big 1st wave covering cities in the Kanto region (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki) Nagoya region (Nagoya City with a tiny bit of Mie prefecture) and the Kansai region (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hyogo, Shiga). Mapped cities are listed in the screenshots below. These were the regions of the Look Around Japan launch on August 5, 2020 JST.

At the time Apple Maps showed a splash screen announcing new features for Japan: Look Around, Improved Map, Landmarks

Indeed the cartography was improved, especially in park areas that finally showed paths and other details instead of big green shapes. However, as Justin O’Beirne pointed out, improved map for Japan was only improved cartography of Apple’s primary map data provider Increment P (IPC), not Apple’s new map (confirmed at WWDC21). Apple was doing a better job with IPC Map Fan data but why did they put so much effort into a short term solution? The answer: the 2020 Tokyo Olympics that were originally scheduled July 25~August 9 before COVID hit.

People outside of Japan think Apple’s 3rd party map data for Japan is “very accurate”, but Japanese do not and neither do I. IPC was sold by Pioneer to a hedge fund in 2021. They changed the company name to GeoTechnologies, stuffed the board with cushy director positions and now market the awful click-bait for points Torima app. The focus of the company is leveraging assets not building them.

The hallmark of GeoTechnologies map data is the blocky ‘swiss cheese’ look of rural areas and the sloppy mismatched cartography of areas mapped at different intervals badly spliced together. Rivers disappear and reappear, wide roads suddenly become goat paths then roads again, half towns disappear along a mapped region ‘fault lines’. Many problems, never fixed.

Nevertheless the Apple image collection beat goes on with annual mapping sweeps, all for Look Around, now also for AR walking guidance. The 2020 run mapped extensions for Hiroshima, Sendai, Takamatsu and Fukuoka cities, the 2021 run mapped the just released exertions for Sapporo, Niigata, Shizuoka and Akashi cities. The 2022 run is the most extensive yet, half refresh of 2019 mapped areas and half new with Okayama, Kita-Kyushu and Kumamoto cities being mapped for the very first time. Unlike the early runs, the later mapping runs are covering entire listed cites instead of limited central areas.

By the end of 2022 Apple will have completely mapped 5 prefectures: Osaka, Chiba, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Kanagawa, and Tokyo Metropolis. It’s very odd that Apple is mapping huge swathes of rural Shizuoka ahead of important population areas like greater Nagoya. I lived in the central Shizuoka region for 10 years and cycled everywhere. The Shizuoka mapping priority to cover so much rural area doesn’t make sense. Whatever the reasons, we have 6 prefectures in 4 years…1.5 prefectures a year with 41 prefectures to go. That means Japan will be completed mapped and ready for new map in 2049.

In other words, unless things change in a big way, Japan will remain the Apple Maps outliner it is now and new map will remain elusive as Apple’s map label for the Sea of Japan.


Continued: When will Japan get Apple’s new map? Part 2: the private road problem

Big week for Apple Maps Japan: AR walking directions, cycling directions, more Look Around

I should have guessed that when I found the ‘Refine Location’ icon looking at me this morning, something else was up. Indeed, a closer inspection revealed that Apple Maps activated step-by-step walking guidance in augmented reality for the Tokyo area. AR walking guidance has apparently been added for other Look Around mapped regions in Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Yokohama. There may be others but AR can only be confirmed on site.

It’s good that Apple is finally doing something more with their Japanese image collected data than just Look Around as AR walking guidance needs to be in place for iOS 16 indoor station maps to happen. As Google Maps Live has shown in Tokyo station, AR walking guidance is the perfect fit for a new kind of indoor maps that navigate users through intricate, information dense underground station mazes like Shinjuku, Tokyo and Ikebukuro, the very places where Apple Image Collection backpacks are busy collecting data. Apple is clearly up to something new, we’ll find out at WWDC22.

Impressions
The video at the bottom gives an idea of using it. It certainly has entertainment value but for me there are too many left and right ‘look this way’ prompts to find the AR ‘walk this way’ arrow, even when the route is a simple straight ahead. Even so I can see how AR would be much more helpful than 2D walking guidance. Bad thing: AR guidance is limited to Look Around areas and there are many side streets not covered where AR guidance stops working in the middle of a route. Good things: location recognition is fast, guidance quickly switches back to 2D when iPhone is horizontal and toggles to AR when vertical.

2022-05-27 Update: cycling directions and Look Around expansion
A busy week for Apple Maps Japan, first AR walking directions, 2 days later we got cycling directions and long awaited Look Around expansions to Sapporo, Niigata, Shizuoka and Akashi. Cycling directions are confirmed for greater Tokyo, greater Yokohama, Kyoto and work nation wide. Google Maps Japan cycling directions do not work nation wide and are limited to specific regions.

No guarantee for cycling route quality however as Apple Maps image collection cars have not gone many places yet and image collection in Japan is very limited compared to American and European regions. The 3rd party data Apple uses for cycling has routes on streets clearly not mapped for Look Around yet offers detailed choices for fastest routes, less trafficked routes, routes with no walking sections and so on. One thing’s for sure, Uber Eats delivery part-timers will be happy to have another route direction tool for their work.

This leaves Real-Time Transit, Detailed City Experience and New Apple Map Data as the last big iOS 15 marquee features still missing from Japan. Real-Time Transit has been offered by Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps for a while now, and there are plenty of data suppliers too, so it’s likely coming considering the recent false announcement. A detailed city experience for Tokyo is certainly doable but there are deep, long running problems with the basic Japanese map data supplied by GeoTechnologies. Until Apple lines up a new major map data supplier, or seriously ramp up their own data collection and use it beyond Look Around, new maps and detailed city experiences for Japan will remain an elusive goal.

Apple Maps says you can cycle from Kagoshima station to Ibusuki…but would you really want to?

Apple Maps adds cycling directions for Japan, Look Around expansion (redirect)

This post has been combined into Big week for Apple Maps Japan: AR walking guidance, cycling directions, more Look Around and redirects to it.

WWDC22 Wish List

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.

Apple Pay
First up of course, is Apple Pay. After Jennifer Bailey’s WWDC21 appearance where she announced home keys, hotel keys, office keys and ID for iOS 15 Wallet, and the separate Tap to Pay on iPhone PR announcement release 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, it’s unlikely she’s doing to appear to just recap details of what’s already been announced.

Bailey’s job is to announce new features, and I don’t think that after the big iOS 15 rollout of new Wallet features and Tap to Pay on iPhone there’s nothing really new. And it’s not her job to announce new frameworks, that’s what the sessions are for. Things that I have been wishing for these past few years such include easier, more open NFC 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).

Apple needs to open up the NFC/Secure Element Pass certification process and clarify the process

The only possible ‘new’ Apple Pay Wallet feature I can think of is the long in the works Code Payments. It has been lurking in the iOS shadows since iOS 13, 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, but probably not worth a Jennifer Bailey appearance. Other future goodies like passport in Wallet or ID in Wallet for other countires are too far out to mention, at least in the iOS 16 time frame.


Apple Maps
The only new Apple Maps feature that suggests itself is AR enhanced ‘Look Around’ indoor maps for stations. That’s the conclusion after examining the current (February ~ May 2022) backpack image collection in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya. It is highly focused on stations, and stations such as Shinjuku, Tokyo, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, etc., are mostly underground, surrounded with densely packed extensive maze like malls.

This means Apple image collection in Japan is going indoors for the first time, likely at pre-arranged times when people are scarce. This is hard to do at a place like Shinjuku station as multiple companies collectively manage the entire site (JR East, Odakyu, Keio, Seibu, Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation, Tokyo Metro, just to name a few).

Apple needs something new with indoor maps as the current incarnation is inadequate for stations. As Google Maps Live has shown in Tokyo station, AR walking guidance is a good fit for indoor maps that navigate users through intricate, information dense underground station mazes, though Google’s version has its problems. New and improved, AR enhanced “Look Around” style indoor station maps with walking directions that seamlessly guide users from transit gate to final destination would be far more useful than they are now.

Recent image collection suggests Indoor Station Maps might be coming in iOS 16

Overall, 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 decidedly not top tier. Old problems remain unfixed. In the case of the main Japanese map data supplier things have deteriorated.

Increment P (IPC) was 100% owned by Pioneer but was sold to Polaris Capital Group in June 2021 with a new CEO (ex Oracle Japan) who quickly changed the name to GeoTechnologies Inc. Under hedge fund Polaris Capital Group led management the company 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 low quality GeoTechnologies for a top quality digital map supplier like Zenrin (the amateurish UK backed Open Street Map effort in Japan is not worth serious consideration) or Apple aggressively mapping Japan themselves. Apple has not pursued either option: the image collection effort in Japan is leisurely and limited, its use remains restricted to Look Around. Until this changes, expect more of the same old fundamental 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, it will not be the real thing. Power Reserve on iPhone 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 an Apple silicon design that supports the hardware feature on Apple Watch, 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. We’ll find out later this year if Apple Watch series 8 is the real Power Reserve deal.

Enjoy the keynote and have a good WWDC.

Comparing Apple Maps JP Look Around pedestrian additions

One of the side benefits when digging into the mysterious disappearance and reappearance Look Around in Hiroshima back in March 2021 was that I copied the links for listed pedestrian image collection points for March 2021~October 2021. The links are neat in that they preciously show what map points were collected. The links can no longer be accessed from the Image Collection page but still work.

Most, but not all, of the pedestrian image collected areas were added to Look Around recently. Public places such are as parks are there, but university campuses, shrines and temples are not. Shinto Shrines and Buddhist temples are officially public property in same category are parks but it’s not clear why Apple does not include there in Look Around when Google Maps includes them in Street View. Another mystery for another day. In the mean time have fun exploring Look Around in big grassy areas in river parks:

Miyagi
Sendai
Tomiya

Tokyo
Shinjuku
Chiyoda
Machida

Kanagawa
Yokohama
Fujisawa
Zushi
Yamato

Ishikawa
Kanazawa
Hakusan
Nonochi
Kawakita

Hiroshima
Hiroshima City
Nisogi
Hatsukaichi
Yano

Fukuoka
Fukuoka City
Kasuga
Itoshima
Kasuya-gun

Kagawa
Takamatsu
Sanuki