Something Went Wrong in Siri’s and Apple Maps Development, Again

Tech writers keep coming back to Siri again and again. The latest being The Information’s scoop on, yet again, what went wrong with Siri’s development.

John Gruber on Siri September 2017:

Siri, as it stands today, is at best a halfway product. Again, I’m pro-Siri in the voice assistant debate, but even so I think it’s generous to describe it as “halfway”. The whole category is garbage, Siri included. And frankly, it just doesn’t feel like Apple has made as much progress in six years as they should have.

Something went wrong in Siri’s development, and it wasn’t the voice quality.

John Gruber on Siri March 2018:

The gist of The Information’s story is that Siri has existed for seven years without cohesive leadership or product vision, and the underlying technology is a mishmash of various systems that don’t work well together.

I wrote back in September that Siri’s and Apple Maps problems are one and the same. Gruber didn’t agree. That’s OK but the approaches and resulting organizational problems, where to focus and execute, really are one and the same DNA.

twitter maps 2

To paraphrase Steve Jobs, yet again, mistakes and problems are not a problem if Apple can find ’em and fix ’em. There is an important point in The Information’s story that Gruber mentions but fails to recognize:

Several former employees said Mr. Williamson made a number of decisions that the rest of the team disagreed with, including a plan to improve Siri’s capabilities only once a year….Team members said they argued in vain that that model was wrong for Siri, which they believed needed to be an online service that continuously improved, not updated annually.

Siri and Apple Maps never learned to walk and chew gum at the same time. Improvements are kept for the annual WWDC rollout, a strategic mistake that only adds to the public perception that Siri and Apple Maps never improve, which is not true.

If Apple simply ditched the annual improvement cycle for Siri and Apple Maps public perception would change for the better. The real work is long term but fixable. Mobile Me was a disaster and iCloud had a difficult birth, but iCloud did eventually learn how to walk and chew gum. Siri and Apple Maps can too.

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Apple Maps Japan Quick Point: Ikebukuro Station Underground

Apple Maps does not offer Indoor Maps for Japan. Tokyo was on the Airport/Mall rollout list at WWDC 2017 but later dropped. Indoor maps for Airports and malls are not what people need or want in Japan anyway. The need to navigate Japanese underground station mazes. Here’s a quick look at Ikebukuro Station underground in Tokyo with Apple Maps, Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps.

A Birds-eye View
All 3 maps show the Ikebukuro station underground footprint in light red / pink. Yahoo Japan Maps is the only one with a indoor maps navigation UI. Apple Maps only goes as far as the station footprint, let’s compare indoor maps views from Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps.

Yahoo Japan Maps offers a master bird’s-eye view of Ikebukuro station underground when zoomed out. Yellow station exits are clearly marked. Store information is only shown when the user fully zooms in.

Google Maps does not offer a master bird’s-eye view of Ikebukuro station underground and forces the user to zoom in to see different parts of the same underground structure and access the indoor map UI. The Google Maps team does not believe that station exits are important information and omits them. Store icons clutter up the view when they are clearly not needed but that pays the bills.

Yahoo Japan Maps is the winner here.

Apple Maps Japan Quick Point: Ikebukuro Station

Tech writers go crazy for in depth digital map comparisons but I think quick glance comparisons are better and tell you more. Here’s a quick look at Ikebukuro station in Tokyo with Apple Maps, Yahoo Japan Maps and Google Maps.

Maps should use ‘on the street’ signage so that users can visually orient themselves. The real world and the virtual world must connect. Everyone in Japan knows that station exits look like this:

Yellow. How much yellow do you see in Apple Maps? The Apple Maps cartography team did not bother matching station exit colors with the real world, stations and exits are purple. The transit team however got the yellow exit color right. Unfortunately the teams did not coordinate the information. A confusing map.

Apple Maps Ikebukuro Station
Apple Maps Ikebukuro Station in transit route mode

What’s shocking is that Google Maps does not bother showing station exits at all. Good luck telling your Google Maps user friend to meet up at Ikebukuro Station East Exit.

As usual Yahoo Japan Maps gets it right again.

Apple Maps Spot Check

Maps tell stories. A simple glance can tell us a lot: what does the map want us to see, what’s important, what’s not, what’s wrong.  Let’s take a look and see what stories Apple, Google and Yahoo Japan maps are telling us.

Yahoo Japan Map Default View

Yahoo Japan Map default view
Yahoo Japan Map Asagaya area

Yahoo Japan Map tells us about transportation. Main routes, train and subway stations are highlighted above everything else. Note that Kanji color is restricted to high contrast dark colors that stand out well against the lighter background, station names are big and bold. ‘Three C’ icons are banished, the cartography is a nice clean balance of a few major labels and icons (7-Eleven, city hall, public school, post office, hospital) that stand out nicely from the background.

Google Maps Default View

Google Maps default view
Google Maps default view Asagaya area

Google Maps has followed the Yahoo Japan Map use of larger Kanji labels for (Google designated) important points: stations, parks, temple, church, hospital, school, but city hall is missing. While the larger Kanji labels are great for Kanji legibility, Google botches it by using low contrast green, gray and blue Kanji colors, a no-no.

Another mistake is that major roads are indistinguishable from side roads, Why does Google think that parks are more important than train stations, main roads and supermarkets?

Last but not least it is unfortunate that Google is using more three c icons in default view. Google cartography was better when they did not.

Apple Maps Default View

Apple Maps default view
Apple Maps default view Asagaya area

Apple Maps does not tell a story because it doesn’t have one. Unfortunately Apple Maps cartography has not changed much from the horrible Justin O’Beirne lead cartography design that dates from the 2012 launch era and is long overdue for a makeover. Until that happens, here is some constructive criticism:

  • The default view is zoomed out too far to be useful
  • Follow Yahoo Japan and banish ‘three c’ icons from the default view. Three C icons clutter and distract instead of relaying useful information. Reserve them for user searches where they work best.
  • Do not use color Kanji labels
  • Increase the contrast on everything. Roads should stand out from background, main routes should stand out from side roads, stations colors should be red.
  • Use larger text sizes for important station labels.

Mr. Apple Maps Japan Real Life Funnies!

Bus route maps,Caption 1: Wow I didn’t realize Apple Maps shows bus routes when you tap a bus stop. This looks convenient!

D626110A-A5D8-4FDA-9CCC-CEAF85B23F0A.jpegCaption 2: Wait a minute Mr. Apple Maps, this # 28 bus route looks really weird.

the number 10bus does not stop here

Caption 3: And the #10 bus doesn’t stop here.

Caption 4: Well showing bus routes is convenient but let’s wait for Mr. Apple Maps to fix it.

Fixing anything Apple Maps is a long wait folks. No joke. While you wait Mr. O’Beirne can do an analysis for you. It won’t change anything but you can impress friends and tech bloggers.