Apple Maps Japan is Dope?

My site doesn’t get many hits from Reddit but I always check new incoming ones just to see what the conversation is. Reddit is a parallel universe. Sometimes it intersects with my reality, most of the time it’s a distant unfathomable body. The latest ripple is about Apple Maps Japan cartography and how dope the detail is compared to the US version.

A closer reading reveals it is not the generic Point of Interest (POI) details so much as the company logo POI used for store chains, convenience stores and such. Those poor Reddit kids don’t know what they’re missing: they don’t have a Japanese App store account and cannot download and use Yahoo Japan Maps which is the real dope. Yahoo Japan Maps smooth clean uncluttered cartography pioneered the company logo POI thing and does it way better than Apple and Google ever will.

A kind note to Reddit map commentators: Apple Maps Japan, especially Apple Maps Japan dark mode, is not dope. It is death by Point of Interest. The same is true for the US version of Apple Maps 2.0. Justin O’Bierne, not my favorite cartographer by a long shot, has a very valuable observation in his review of the Apple Maps 2.0 USA reboot: the new detail is great, but it’s all surface. Dig into the Point of Interest information and it’s the same hot crappy mess of bad unvetted 3rd party data you find in Apple Maps Japan.

Until Apple fixes the POI mess, which Apple could easily do in Japan by hiring Zenrin, Apple Maps 2.0 will just be a pretty postcard with illegible scribbled crap on the back.

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iOS 13 Apple Maps Japan: Move along folks there’s nothing to see here yet…

I’ve been wanting to write about iOS 13 Apple Maps Japan since beta 3, but the big marquee features that really matter, New Maps and Look Around, won’t be coming to Japan until very late in the iOS 13 release cycle. They’ll arrive just before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for which Apple has promised to deliver a good map product. Other major map parts, like the redesigned Nearby and Point of Interest (POI) icons, are not fully deployed for Japan yet, so a review at this point is out of the question.

Fortunately, Ryan Christoffel of MacStories has published a helpful review of iOS 13 Maps USA, where most of the map parts are actually working. Please read his review and I’ll comment on the sections he outlines that make sense to comment on, given the unfinished state of iOS 13 Maps.

New Maps/Look Around
Apple is working hard to deliver these to Japan. I look forward to seeing and reviewing them in 2020. I hope for the best but given Google Maps Japan meltdown experience after dropping JP map supplier Zenrin, I have serious doubts Apple can deliver a consistently good map product that covers all of Japan in detail. We shall see.

Favorites/Collections
Anything would have been an improvement over the iOS 12 style Favorites/Recents list, and iOS 13 Maps is a definite improvement that I look forward to using more. Problems remain however, adding train lines so that transit updates appear in the Maps transit widget are still a complete mess, and favorited stations labels remain too vague to be useful. Which Shinjuku station are we talking about here: JR Shinjuku, Seibu Shinjuku, Keio Shinjuku, Metro Shinjuku, and so on.

Real Time Transit
Google Maps Japan and Yahoo Japan Maps have had this forever, and continue to evolve their features. Apple is just adding this basic service now, almost 3 years after Japan transit arrived in Maps. iOS 13 Maps Japan offers real time transit, while Google Maps Japan offers real time transit, platform numbers and boarding positions. The sad part is that Apple, Google and Yahoo Japan pull data from the same source, but Google and Yahoo Japan make far better use of it with constant incremental upgrades and improvements. And iOS 13 Maps transit widgets remain as useless as always.

The takeaway here is that Apple needs to decouple map service improvements like transit from the annual iOS development cycle. This is killing product evolution.

What’s Missing
Christoffel covers missing pieces that are different from Japan map needs, some of them covered in my WWDC19 wish list: Traffic, Junction View, Share ETA. There are also important things that Chirstoffel doesn’t cover at all: good quality indoor/underground station maps that are critical for Japan and a must have for the Tokyo Olympics.

Dark Mode Apple Maps

iOS 13 Apple Maps Japan: Death by Point of Interest in the dark

Christoffel doesn’t mention dark mode maps at all. On purpose? Smart people like Howard Oakley and Michael Tsai question the current implementation of iOS 13 Dark Mode. From the perspective of the current beta Apple Maps Japan dark mode I can only say this: the Apple designers who think this looks good enough to be useful should be banished to a life where the only map they are allowed to use is dark mode Apple Maps.

Google Maps Japan Auto Landfill

Google Maps Japan continues its downhill slide to the bottom of the maps barrel. Now that Apple Maps Japan is serious about collecting quality map data, how strange it would be if Apple wins the upper hand. That would only happen if Apple hurries to sign on Zenrin, the very same premier Japanese data supplier Google Maps dumped with dire consequences that are still playing out.

The latest Google Maps machine learning gaff is what Japanese map otaku are calling ‘auto landfill’. Instead of showing bodies of water seen in the satellite view, the regular map view auto-fills them with land. Japanese tweet comments are dry and drool as you’d expect, “Great! My construction job got so much easier with Google Auto Landfill,” kind of thing.

Tokyo Olympics Apple Maps: Death by Point of Interest

Apple tells Engadget Japan reporter Masaichi Honda that Apple Maps Japan will be ready for the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2020. Apple Maps will have robust indoor maps for tall buildings and underground station malls in Tokyo, and Real-time transit for better transit route searching and transit updates. That is exactly one year from now, far into the iOS 13 life cycle. Honda san also reports that Apple is not ready to show Japanese reporters a demo yet, not an encouraging sign.

In addition to the Apple Maps image collection vans combing Japan right now, WWDC19 unveiled the Indoor Maps Program for registered developers and building owners to map indoor areas and encode the data using (Apple’s ?) Indoor Mapping Data Format (IMDF). Once the data is encoded in IMDF, surveyed and validated, developers and building owners can use the data in their apps and designate indoor areas to share on Apple Maps.

That’s great for building owners to indoor map their own building. What about shared public places like Shinjuku Station which is spread out and shared by 8 different owners? There is also the localization problem. It’s one thing to indoor map for Japanese users, but who’s going to localize all those Point of Interest (POI) icons and information sheets in English, Chinese, Spanish, etc. That costs serious time and money.

Let’s take a comparison look at indoor maps of the primary entrance gate for inbound visitors coming to the Tokyo Olympics next year: Tokyo Station, and compare Yahoo Japan Maps, Apple Maps and Google Maps.

Yahoo Japan Maps
Yahoo Japan Maps only offers Japanese language but it has best cartography and attention to small details that matter, like yellow station exit signage colors that exactly match what you find on the ground. Apple and Google don’t.

Yahoo Japan Maps Tokyo Station Indoor mapping

Apple Maps Japan
Apple Maps does not offer indoor station mapping in Japan. It does offer multilingual support but judging from the English Point of Interest information, it’s not robust. As usual Apple Maps Japan overwhelms users with Point of Interest icons. It’s map death by Point of Interest. There’s a lot of fixing Apple needs to do if they want to present a good map product in time for the Olympics.

Apple Maps Japan Tokyo Station (as yet no indoor station mapping)

Google Maps Japan
Google Maps offers indoor mapping for Tokyo Station in multiple languages. For all the detail Google offers here, it’s much less helpful than Yahoo Japan Maps. For high density areas like Tokyo, good cartography and smart editing makes all the difference between a good map and lousy one.

Google Maps Japan Tokyo Station