In the latest Apple Maps Japan installment of how not to run a digital service, we can now add graveyards to the long list of things done poorly or incompetently. About a month ago I noticed new Point of Interest icons appearing on temple buildings close to traditional ‘manji’ Buddhist temple Point of Interest icon marks. The new POI is a western style gravestone with a flower, but the new icon names are in English, not Japanese. As they appeared to be duplicate Point of Interest information I reported them as duplicates which is not easy to do in the current Apple Map problem report mechanism.
Soon the new icons were everywhere and I realized that Apple Maps was attempting to mark cemeteries inside temple compounds but making a mess of it: randomly labeling temple halls as cemeteries instead of correctly identifying cemetery areas in temple compounds or nearby in separate plots of land. As you might expect there are also problems with the POI information, web links don’t always work, addresses are incorrect for contacting cemetery offices, etc. And then there are user ratings.
As a rule Apple Maps locks user ratings for public and religious institutions, limiting them to places of business (restaurants, etc.). This is the sensible and right thing to do. Unfortunately the new cemetery POI allows user ratings. I can only imagine this is a system error that needs to be fixed.
The whole affair is classic Apple Maps Japan: Apple signs up a new POI data provider but doesn’t vet any of the data quality, loads it into the system and boom. Duplicates and mistakes all over the place, literally, that can stick around for years. Currently Myohoji temple in Koenji has: 2 manji POI, one from Recruit Jalan that marks the temple office, one from another public based source that marks the cemetery, and 1 new English only cemetery POI icon that marks a nice little stone lantern in front of the main hall.
It’s a mess that could have been avoided with a minimal amount of data verification and vetting, not even checking to make sure the data is localized for Japanese. Wasn’t the new Apple Maps supposed to fix this? I guess Apple doesn’t consider it a problem. I say it again, the more I use iOS 15 Apple Maps, the less I like it.
Apple flipped the switch for Apple Maps Japan ‘improved maps’ with Look Around for Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, and new map details nationwide. Initial navigation tests indicate turn by turn incorporates the new date for better directions. Siri also seems to have gained improved guidance with finer details: turn left, walk over the bridge, etc. Taken altogether, improved maps, improved Siri guidance, the new higher quality Japanese Siri voices and other Siri improvements will make iOS 14 a nice upgrade.
Tokyo area parks like Shinjuku Gyoen and Yoyogi are packed with new Apple Maps 2.0 details. A quick examination reveals Look Around is pretty much limited to roadside views. Major pedestrian data collection efforts are still ongoing across Japan through October and will be very important in rounding out both the feature set and improving navigation in later updates.
The Tokyo Olympics Update The Apple Maps team worked to get this major update ready in time for the, now postponed, Tokyo Olympics. It’s great that Apple Maps Japan users can enjoy the benefits of the effort and the fact Japan is the first country outside of the USA to get Look Around and Apple Maps 2.0 improved map data.
Look Around Impressions and Reactions The Japanese online reaction to Look Around has been largely positive. People seem impressed with the quality, the level of detail and the ease of use compared with Google Maps Japan Street View. The biggest complaints are, ‘I want it in my area too’, a good complaint to have, and ‘this street data is already out of date’, which is not. Things move quickly in Tokyo, the Look Around imagery is from spring~summer 2019 and people already notice the age.
Tokyo in particular has a lot of rebuilding going on in residential areas. I don’t know if this is because of the Olympics or cheap interest rates, but everywhere I see yet another building with scaffolding going up around it for demolition or makeover. Keeping Look Around up to date in Tokyo will be a challenge.
While main streets are covered well, the vast maze of Tokyo side streets have yet to be mapped and pedestrian maps are missing altogether for public areas like parks, shrines and temples all of which Google Street Maps comprehensively covers. Use Look Around on iPhone for a bit and you soon feel the ‘you can’t go there’ haptic feedback bump. Look Around Tokyo is off to a good start but has a long way to go.
And I still see evidence of long standing Apple Maps Japan data problems, in particular the weak Increment P supplied data. Even with all the great new image collection, ground truth checks will be a problem: it can’t be done with AI or from a car, and Increment P simply does’t have the quality manpower to do it.
This is where Zenrin would be a huge help, as they field a ground truth human team with no equal. Having Zenrin on board instead of Increment P would really truly make Apple Maps Japan, the dope choice.
Apple Maps Japan 2.0: New Improved Maps is not new Apple Maps Japan 2.0 is a tossup. Look Around is off to a good start but limited, and people complain about mislabeled places from poor quality 3rd party data suppliers which drags down Look Around quality. The more you use it the less it looks or feels like a comprehensive update. Justin O’Beirne posted a before and after collection of Apple Maps Japan screen shots.
As I have pointed out in many posts over the years, and as an Apple Maps team member admitted to me, there were two basic long standing problems:
Despite being a subsidiary of Pioneer, the P in Increment P, IPC data has never been a strong 1st tier quality map data supplier like Zenrin. Japanese users have complained that IPC takes years to update road and train station information. The further out from metropolitan areas, the weaker IPC map data becomes. This is something Apple can only fix by using a new supplier which they have not done.
Apple only used a subset of IPC map data mixed with OpenStreet map data. For years IPC pushed Apple to integrate all available IPC supplied data more effectively, it seems they finally worked things out and did this.
Apple Maps Japan 2.0 Summary The Apple Maps Japan update consists of: (1) the Apple created Look Around and, (2) finally incorporates the full set of IPC map data that Apple should have been using all along. Even though the map data and cartography is not Apple collected, they consider this a full blown ‘Improved Map’ update:
Look Around and a map refresh add up to a big update for Apple Maps Japan but it’s really just a new starting point. Apple image collection vans and walkers can only do so much and are hamstrung by the weak points of the Apple Maps team itself, in particular the poor integration of local data suppliers.
What is Apple aiming for in the long run? To equal or better Google Maps Japan and Yahoo Maps Japan? Or just be a better me-too map? Time will tell but the seven year 2012~2019 run suggests the latter. The Apple Maps Japan makeover challenge is just beginning.
Apple Maps Japan can’t catch a break. Traffic has been available since September 2019 but only got listed on the feature availability page last week, June 2020. Handa International Airport is currently listed for indoor maps but the data isn’t there. And so it goes for the Apple Maps 2.0 reboot. Here is a quick list of missing features along with some new feature requests.
There are several iOS 13 Apple Maps features that have not made it to Japan:
More accurate detail is always welcome but I don’t think Apple can ever get the whole picture by themselves especially with the 2nd rate Japanese map data supplier they currently use. Google Maps real genius is it’s deft ability to synthesize disparate data suppliers in a seamlessly whole service. Apple Maps biggest single failure, from day one to today, is it’s utter inability to synthesize various data suppliers into a solid service.
It’s a chunky clunky Japanese product, from eternally 2nd rate map data from Increment P (IPC) on down to 3rd rate Foursquare JP. Top Japanese map data supplier Zenrin is the logical choice especially since Google dropped them, but Apple doesn’t seem inclined to switch, nor could they intelligently integrate it.
August 2020 UPDATE Apple Maps updated Japan maps with Look Around for the greater Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya areas, and a full set of IPC data which has been available all these years, but Apple didn’t, or couldn’t, integrate it for some reason until now. Whether Apple call this ‘new maps’ or not isn’t clear. And at any rate it is not Apple collected map data.
Real-time Transit Another no-brainer transit feature for Japan, but Japan is a low priority and the transit system is complex. There are plenty of transit data suppliers but given Apple Maps limited ability to integrate different transit data sets, I think it will be a long time before we see the addition of real-time transit in Japan, if ever.
There are small tweaks Apple could make to transit directions that would make them much more useful such as transfer station platform numbers and crowd conditions, features that Google and Yahoo Japan have offered for a long time.
Junction View Navigating complicated elevated expressways in urban areas isn’t just in mainland China, it’s been a fact of Japanese urban driving since the 1960s’. Junction View like navigation has been standard in Japanese navigation systems for a long time, it should be standard in Apple Maps too.
Adaptive transit times: car and walk navigation is adaptive: if you take a different road the navigation route updates automatically. Transit directions need to be adaptive too.
Crowding information: Yahoo Japan offers crowd heat maps for locations, both Yahoo Japan and Google Japan maps offer rudimentary transit crowd information. In the COVID era crowd information for transit and locations is a must have feature.
Improved Apple Watch transit integration: Apple Watch turn by turn navigation integration with iPhone is excellent but transit integration is weak and passive. The current iOS 13/watchOS 6 version ‘sits on the wrist’ without alerts, haptic feedback or much interaction, and it’s brain dead after switching to another watch app.
Indoor/Underground Station Maps: Last but not least real indoor maps for vital station hubs covering Tokyo, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Osaka, Namba, etc.
Offline navigation: Apple Maps turn by turn won’t be completely reliable unless it navigates in expressway tunnels instead of dying.
Some Japanese Twitter users have noticed and are complaining (tongue in cheek faux “how dare you” angry Greta style) that Apple Maps no longer displays the Sea of Japan name in English or even Japanese language settings. It may be connected with recent South Korean moves to get international recognition of ‘East Sea’ instead of, or in conjunction with Sea of Japan, which failed. For reference, Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps display the Sea of Japan but Google uses different place naming depending on the device region setting, a realistic and user friendly compromise.
Some suggested that Apple might be preparing to follow the Google Map naming method with updated map assets, but after more than a year of no name instead of Sea of Japan, that isn’t the excuse. This is Apple playing international politics. Removing a place name altogether is a boneheaded move that appeases nobody. It is the worst kind of big tech censorship we don’t need.
Yahoo Japan Maps has the best cartography in Japan in comparison with Apple and Google and remains the local leader. They are the only major map that gets notoriously difficult map places like Shinjuku station just right for road and rail navigation. No fuss, no layer on/off nonsense. And they keep improving things like the latest cartography tweaks. Compare today’s Shinjuku station screenshots at the same zoom level and see for yourself: