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

Apple Maps Japan Real-Time Transit is fake

I was surprised to see Japan listed for real-time transit in the iOS Feature Availability page. It’s a recent addition but nothing has changed in iOS 15 Apple Maps Japan transit directions, it’s delivering exactly the same transit info since the iOS 15 release, which itself was the same as iOS 14. Apple is slapping a new label on an old product.

It’s helpful to compare Japan so-called real-time transit with other regions that have had it for some time: Boston, New York, Los Angles.

Scheduled vs On-time departure
It’s very easy way to tell when real-time transit is real: upcoming departure time will display a colored network icon, green for on-time, red for delay. There are other real-time departure time notifications for updated departure-times and cancelled trains. This is the basic ‘real’ real-time transit benchmark.

More advanced Apple Maps real-time transit locations also incorporate train positions on the map and in the time schedule sheet but not all real-time listed regions have this (Boston does, NYC does not, etc.).

the most advanced real-time transit regions display train position on the map

Apple Maps JP transit directions only show static scheduled departure times pulled from the transit supplier time table server, the same data since Japan transit launched in October 2016. Static ‘scheduled’ times do not update regardless of delay or stoppage warnings. The result is confusing, unreliable transit information that Apple calls ‘real-time transit’.

Google Maps JP, of course, does it real. Here’s a comparison of the different information presented by Apple and Google for the same delay on the JR Shonan-Shinjuku line. Google updates departure times, Apple does not.

Google incorporates live train positions and also include train car and station crowdedness information…all missing from Apple Maps.

Google Maps Japan real-time train positions

As Apple and Google both use the same transit information supplier Jourdan you would expect them to deliver the same service quality, but this is not the case. Why? Google Maps also incorporate real-time transit information from JR Group companies and private transit operators. JR East for example supplies live train position and individual car information (crowdedness, temperature) that they use for their own app to the Public Transportation Open Data Center (PTODC). Japanese real-time transit information is readily available but Apple Maps does not go the extra step of incorporating this information and advertise static scheduled transit times as ‘real-time’.

Apple Maps Japan faux real-time transit appears to be the same situation for Taiwan and Hong Kong, both listed for ‘real-Time’. Taken together with the Sea of Japan deletion and other indications of (willful?) cultural ignorance, it’s another sign that Apple Maps is lost in Japan.

UPDATE 2022-03-22: Apple has removed Japan from Real-Time Transit. A sloppy mistake or something else? Either way it’s in line with the Apple Maps JP ‘half progress, half incompetence’ experience.