iOS 15: A12 Bionic fine print features

Japanese media reaction to Apple’s WWDC21 Keynote was a big ‘meh’. Not surprising as many iOS 15 features won’t be available for Japanese iPhone users who are well acquainted with being a 1st tier market for selling Apple hardware but a 3rd tier market afterthought for Apple services. They also probably read the iOS 15 preview website fine print at the bottom of the page, every other line reads: available on iPhone (XS/XR) with A12 Bionic and later. Bottom line: to run all the iOS 15 bells and whistles you need iPhone XS and later. Here’s the list of iOS 15 features that require A12 Bionic and later:

  • FaceTime: Spatial audio, Portrait mode
  • Wallet: Car keys, Home keys, Office key, Hotel key and ID in Wallet (listed as iPhone XS and later instead of A12 Bionic for some strange reason, Home key and Office Key ‘coming in a software update to iOS 15’)
  • Maps: Interactive globe, Detailed new city experience, Immersive walking directions
  • Live Text
  • Siri: On-device speech processing, On-device personalization, Offline support, Fast on-device processing,
  • Dictation: On-device dictation, Continuous dictation
  • Weather: New animated backgrounds
  • Health: walking Steadiness

There appears to be a mistake that lists iPhone XS for UWB car keys. It should read iPhone 11 and later for UWB Car keys with remote keyless entry controls.

The A12 Bionic and later requirement for Wallet keys is easy to understand: Express Cards with power reserve. It is vital that people can unlock car and home doors even when their iPhone battery is out of juice. Up to 5 hours of power reserve makes a huge difference and it even works with UWB car keys, a surprising new development I hope to examine in the next post. Note the plural name difference: Home keys can be shared like Car keys. Hotel key and Office key are only for one.

The new Wallet car keys feature is rumored to be coming from Toyota, Honda and Nissan but nothing has been announced even though NTT Docomo demonstrated UWB car keys in action last January. Likewise there are no local 3rd party announcements regarding home keys and office key but the FeliCa and MIFARE support that comes standard in iPhone 8 and later makes it easy to implement local digital key services for Wallet. The Japanese My Number ID digital card is due to launch on Android Osaifu Keitai smartphones in 2022. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications who oversee the project have said they are in discussions with Apple to bring My Number ID card to Wallet.

For Japanese iPhone users however there are many features that just won’t matter because they won’t be available. The gap between services announced for USA/Europe/China is wide and can take years to make it to Japan. For iOS 15 a comparison looks like this:

Live Type for Japanese will be sorely missed, Weather maps is a tossup, Apple Maps JP is the usual mess. However even Japanese locations get the completely new cartography design unveiled in iOS 15 beta 1, the first real makeover since the 2012 launch. Only A12 Bionic and later devices get the full range of redesigned cartography but even on older devices iOS 15 new city maps do a nice job of minimizing the previous mess of orange, blue, red, brown Point of Interest clutter. Unfortunately the new cartography also has some major weirdness:

The new iOS 15 map cartography touched off an interesting Twitter thread:

A: Maps are supposed to be a reflection of reality. I’m sure they wouldn’t show a curve in a road that is straight in real life, so why put curves on square buildings? How can someone at Apple look at this and think “These curves sure do make usability better!”

B: As a counterpoint for discussion, where does “reflection of reality” fit with tube/metro/underground rail maps (eg. London, Tokyo)? I think ‘realistic’ and ‘accuracy’ are two different things for maps. As for thinking the style choices are useful and aid comprehension, well🤔

C: With iOS 15 emphasizing 3D/AR viewfinder navigation for pedestrians, I’m definitely expecting my square buildings to stay square and round buildings to stay round. Otherwise the feature will be useless for me!

B: Ok, now this is a use case that demonstrates the problem in the design choice🙇‍♂️👍

I plan to cover iOS 15 Apple Pay and Apple Maps in detail after WWDC21 wraps this week.

Look Around expands, Guides, Indoor maps for Haneda and Fukuoka Airports

Apple Maps Japan was all over the place this week with Look Around expansions, Nearby Guides, and airport Indoor Map additions. Did Apple do all this for WWDC21 keynote bragging points?

It was clear that Look Around was coming to Kanazawa and Sendai any day, and it finally did. A lot of holes are still there such as the famous Kanazawa Kenroku-en gardens which are being pedestrian mapped right now through June. The same goes for Sendai. Greater Tokyo area Look Around gained some coverage in the Hachioji region, Osaka/Kyoto/Nara has gained some coverage in Otsu City Shiga Prefecture, the same probably applies to other Look Around cities. This time lets hope Look Around doesn’t mysteriously disappear and reappear like it did with Hiroshima.

In other fun Nearby search has been revamped (iPhone but not iPad apparently) and now show Guides. Unfortunately they are not location aware, most of them are in America. Readers in different countries are seeing the same American recommendations and scratching heads. Last but not least, Haneda and Fukuoka Airport gained Indoor Maps. Haneda was listed in the iOS Feature Availability page over a year ago and removed, but never showed in Apple Maps. It finally made it…for real. Now all we need are Indoor Maps for major train stations. Apple Maps won’t be real for many until it does.

WWDC21 Apple Maps Japan Wish List

Apple Maps has settled into a comfortable glacial groove. Improvements are announced at WWDC but actual service rollouts are literally all over the map. Smaller markets like the UK get improved services long before larger markets like Japan. The identity of Apple Maps in Japan is, at best, 2nd rate with most users long since settled on top tier ‘free’ map services like Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps.

iOS 15
What new tentpole Apple Map features can we expect when iOS 15 is announced at WWDC21? In a word crowding information, for transit certainly, and perhaps crowd heat map overlay similar to what Yahoo Japan Maps have. I also think Apple will probably leverage their Dark Sky weather prediction assets directly in Apple Maps, again similar to what Yahoo Japan Maps do. An hour by hour local precipitation map overlay is extremely handy to have, I rely on it all the time. Indoor Maps needs an overhaul. Airports and malls are one thing but Apple Maps has yet to address the train station problem. It’s a glaring feature hole.

What’s missing locally?
Since every country has different Apple Map services, the rest of this post will focus on Japan, what’s missing and what needs to be improved. The basic problem Apple has is poor map data suppliers and poor verification, specifically: (1) Map data provided by IPC, (2) Point of Interest (POI) data provided by a host of 3rd party suppliers (Tabelog, Jalan, Foursquare, Tripadvisor, Yelp, open sources).

IPC data is crap, there is no other way to say it. Outside of metropolitan areas it is worthless. On the POI side Tablog and Jalan are decent but the rest are marginal or worthless. The Apple Maps system has never been good at coordinating various POI sources, duplicate POI are a never ending problem.

New Maps
One component of New Maps, Look Around for Tokyo, Osaka/Kyoto and Nagoya launched in August 2020. Fukuoka, Takamatsu and Hiroshima were added in December though the latter has been problematic. 2021 should see rollouts for the Ishikawa and Sendai areas though overall additions will continue to be slow. New Maps cartography has yet to appear in Japan, given the slow data collection pace limited to metropolitan areas, I’m beginning to suspect it never will.

Transit • Cycling
Transit is a very important service item for the Japan market, competition is fierce. Compared to Yahoo Japan and Google, Apple Maps has yet to incorporate any transit data providers beyond Jourdan. Real-Time Transit requires data directly from transit operators which Apple has signed up. For that reason I don’t think Japan will be getting real-time transit during the iOS 15 cycle. Ditto for cycling routes.

Of course there is one thing that Apple could do to fix most of their JP map service problems: dump IPC and sign with Zenrin. Like all things Apple Maps, any dramatic improvement seems unlikely.

iOS 14.5 Apple Maps Japan in-house place ratings

In advance of a rumored iOS 14.5 rollout of Apple Maps in-house point of interest (POI) ratings for the USA, the feature went live today in Japan for iOS 14.5 RC users (and iPadOS•macOS devices logged in with the same Apple ID). Once past the introductory slash screen prompt in Maps app, various POI such as parks, restaurants, cafes, stores show the ability to rate and add photos. Based on limited checks it appears possible to rate and add photos to most 3rd party supplied Japanese POI data: Foursquare, Tabelog, Tripadvisor, but not Recruit’s Jalan, and not Yelp which is being phased out (good riddance). Hotels, Shinto Shrines, Buddhist temples, etc. are off limits, another good thing.

Poor quality 3rd party POI data has long been the bane of Apple Maps in Japan, and most other countries. I have doubts about Apple’s ability to filter and verify Apple ID user uploaded photos and ratings…but it’s probably better than the junky POI data Japan has now.

The POI rating and photo upload intro screen, tap continue to add the Maps service.

UPDATE: the feature has gone live for all users with the official iOS 14.5 release.

Look Around for Hiroshima Pulled (Updated)

Now you see it, now you don’t. The Apple Maps Japan story has been consistent…consistently flawed and second rate. Look Around was rolled out for the (now postponed) Tokyo Olympics in August 2020 covering greater Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya but it hasn’t expanded much. A December 2020 update added Fukuoka, Hiroshima and Takamatsu but over the past week of March 8 or so, Hiroshima Look Around has disappeared. That nobody seems to have noticed or cares is all that you need to know about Apple Maps use in Japan.

This is the first time that Apple has pulled a Look Around region after the official rollout, why they would do so is a mystery. It may be temporary until Apple improves the quality and extends coverage (new pedestrian and car JP data collections starts this month) as the quality for December Look Out Japan additions is spotty. But I am not optimistic and even Justin O’Beirne thinks Japan is not a candidate for the next big update. Put another way, this just proves that Apple isn’t serious about their map product in Japan, after all Apple Maps refuses to even acknowledge the Sea of Japan.

Meanwhile Google Maps JP and Yahoo Japan Maps are pulling way ahead in transit directions that include real time transit and crowding information…and acknowledging the Sea of Japan. If the Tokyo Olympics goes ahead this year those will be the go-to solutions. Apple Maps Japan doesn’t offer it and has not signed on any transit company that provides real time transit and crowding information to Google and Yahoo Japan.

UPDATE
Tested Look Around on 4 devices with different network connections with Hiroshima missing from them all. The iPad had not been used for 2 weeks and briefly showed it for a split second until the Maps screen refreshed as the cache updated. An iOS user in Okayama confirmed it. One interesting bit about the Apple Maps Japan pedestrian image collection 2021 schedule: if you click on the link you can see exactly what areas are being mapped.

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

UPDATE 2
Look Around for Hiroshima was restored on March 19 but coverage is problematic, there are areas which do not display as Look Around coverage but work anyway. Hit and miss as to what works and what doesn’t.