Apple’s cultural values, fantasy vs reality

We live in a strange time where cultural values have replaced morals. Perhaps people are more comfortable with ‘values’ because they seem removed from any religious context. Yet morals are the timeless innate recognition of good vs bad from within, while values are expedient and change with the times, influenced by internal desires and the perceptions and pressures of outsiders, which is why the concept of value is associated with money and barter.

Apple promotes privacy, security and equality as their cultural values but revelations regarding Tim Cook’s five year agreement with China authorities throws cold water on this warm fuzzy ‘we stand by our users’ fantasy. Some users, like markets, are more important than others. In Tim Cook’s Apple, users and markets are just interchangeable cogs. John Gruber quotes the eye opening piece from The INFORMATION:

Sometime in 2014 or early 2015, China’s State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping told members of the Apple Maps team to make the Diaoyu Islands, the objects of a long-running territorial dispute between China and Japan, appear large even when users zoomed out from them. Chinese regulators also threatened to withhold approval of the first Apple Watch, scheduled for release in 2015, if Apple didn’t comply with the unusual request, according to internal documents.

Some members of the team back at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., initially balked at the demand. But the Maps app had become a priority for Apple, so eventually the company complied. The Diaoyu Islands, when viewed in Apple Maps in mainland China, continue to appear on a larger scale than surrounding territories.

THE INFORMATION: ‘INSIDE TIM COOK’S SECRET $275 BILLION DEAL WITH CHINESE AUTHORITIES

Note that The Information writer Wayne Ma never uses Senkaku Islands, the Japanese name for islands, only the Chinese Diaoyu name. I’ve already posted about Apple Maps removing the Sea of Japan name, both in English and Japanese. Let’s compare Apple Maps search results based on language names.

An Apple Maps search for ‘Sea of Japan’ in English and Japanese completely ignores geography, the result is business listings, but searching the Korean ‘East Sea’ shows the area and coordinates with no name. Searches for Senkaku and Diaoyu in respective languages both show area and coordinates with no name.

In an Apple world where some markets are more important than others, I guess the conclusion is that Korean trumps Japan because Apple needs Samsung more than they need Japanese suppliers. And of course China trumps everything else because Tim Cook’s Apple gambled everything on China, production-wise and market-wise. In this world Apple loves Taiwan for Taiwan Semiconductor, but not the Taiwanese flag Emoji which was silently dropped into the Apple memory hole, just like the Sea of Japan.

I don’t think many Japanese users care, simply because they use Google Maps or Yahoo Japan Maps that are much better products for Japan and show everything properly without fear or favor. Google doesn’t do business in China so they don’t have to cater to Chinese demands for doing business.

Nevertheless Apple doesn’t have a good image despite the popularity of iPhone in Japan. Among Japanese suppliers, working with Apple is known as the kiss of death because Apple has a nasty habit of switching suppliers, and taking the manufacturing expertise that they gained to Chinese suppliers. The Tim Cook supply chain model.

Apple likes to portray their cultural values as nurturing the next generation of software programers. Those purported values certainly don’t apply to nurturing the next generation of manufacturers. As Tim Cook’s China agreement shows, Apple cultural values are something to barter for something they value more.

UPDATE
Gruber and friends see all this as just ‘diplomacy’:

The whole situation is a fascinating study in diplomacy. As Heer observes, it’s wrong to look at it as a one-sided relationship — that China makes demands, and Apple acquiesces. Apple certainly gets a lot from China — they assemble the vast majority of their products there, and it’s their second biggest consumer market for selling those products. But China gets a lot from Apple. Apple is arguably the most prestigious corporation in the world, and inarguably one of the most prestigious. China benefits from that relationship on the world stage. As Ben Thompson wrote yesterday in a subscribers-only Stratechery update:

Apple remains the most visible and most impressive example of China’s manufacturing prowess. That is extremely valuable both in terms of China’s image and also its capabilities: Apple doesn’t just benefit from China’s capabilities, it also enhances them, in a virtuous cycle.

This isn’t diplomacy, it’s slimy corrupt ‘realpolitik’ that would make Henry Kissinger proud, but with corporations acting like nations. On one level any win-win ‘virtuous cycle’ analysis is arrogant big-time tech blogger fools fooling themselves. On a deeper level it’s deceitful geopolitical discussion. They refuse to acknowledge the ugly reality for what it is.

Apple Maps Japan mislabels cemeteries, digs own grave

Dear Apple Maps JP team: this cute rabbit stone lantern in front of Myohoji temple main hall is not the cemetery

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.

Final thoughts on iOS 15 Apple Maps

Reviewing Apple Maps is impossible because it’s not the same product everywhere. The iOS 15 Apple Maps users get in California is completely different from the Apple Maps users get in Japan. The vast collection of services under the Maps umbrella is such that a comprehensive overview would require separate reviews of each category and country: (1) Basic Directions: driving, transit, bike, walking, (2) Search: pre-canned Nearby, Point of Interest, etc., (3) Two different versions of Look Around, (4) Guides, (5) Last but not least: cartography design and map data quality.

The reason for this of course is that much of Apple Maps is outsourced, very little is collected in-house and created by Apple. Apple uses many different local data suppliers of varying quality to deliver most map services for each country. Regions outside of major metropolitan areas only have a small sub-set of those services.

Nobody has mapped the vast Apple Maps effort better than Justin O’Beirne but even he limits his analysis to cartography comparisons and listing feature availability rollouts. His useful availability table illustrates the dilemma, as you can see Maps feature availability is all over the place.

Justin O’Beirne Apple Maps Feature Availability (4/2022) shows Apple Maps as a very western-centric product, far larger Asian cities have far fewer features and the Guides category are only available in English certainly not Japanese

For this iOS 15 Apple Maps non-review, I’ll limit observations to a few features in Japan, or lack thereof. Before diving in it is important to be acquainted with the basic longstanding quality problems that Apple Maps Japan has suffered from:

  • Poor quality map data from supplier Increment P (now called GeoTechnology), especially weak in rural areas. Apple could easily and greatly improve their map product by switching to outstanding Zenrin data, but they have not taken the opportunity.
  • Extremely uneven quality from various Point of Interest (POI) data suppliers
  • Poor vetting and coordination of 3rd party supplied data on the Apple Maps system side (duplicates, missing localization, etc.) with no viable way to report many kinds of errors.
  • Poor Japanese typography, specifically unfamiliarity with or unwillingness to accommodate and optimize non-roman character sets like Kanji that have special rules and needs for legible display.
  • No real-time transit schedule data integration, weak rural area transit direction support

I created a similar feature availability chart to O’Beirne’s one, focusing only on Japan and clearly separating out Apple in-house and 3rd party supplied data. Transit directions are the only nationwide available feature beyond fundamental drive and walking directions.

iOS 15 New Cartography
All countries, more or less, get the Apple Maps ‘new look’ cartography (but not the ‘New Maps’ Apple collected data) which everybody seems to either love or hate neatly summed up in the above Twitter timeline screenshot. O’Beirne never delivered his long promised, repeatedly postponed iOS 15 cartography review opus. This limited overview will have to do.

Let’s start with the basic new UI elements. iOS 15 Apple Maps has 4 views compared with the 3 views of previous iOS versions: Explore, Driving, Transit, Satellite. Explore is new and serves as the default view for exploring details and Points of Interest (POI) in full glory, or drowning in gory details…depending on your point of view.

Explore attempts to limit POI clutter with a new map design element: the ‘micro POI’. Micro POI are textless small dots using the same POI color scheme that tells the users there is more information available by zooming in. It’s a nice idea that Google Maps cribbed and implemented in better (bigger, higher contrast, easy to see) fashion that Apple.

The micro POI failure in Apple Maps is due to another new map element: highlighted commercial areas. Google Maps has highlighted commercial areas with a slightly different background color for some time. Apple Maps now highlights these areas with a pale orange background color that separates it from the standard grey background of non-commercial areas. Unfortunately the commercial POI color is also orange…so you end up with orange text on orange background. Micro POI look better in Dark Mode because the different background color adds most contrast. Hopefully Apple will continue to improve their new design to match the clarity and high contrast readability of Google and Yahoo Japan.

Japanese typography problems remain
The new cartography is a mixed bag on the colored Kanji typography front. Dark mode has improved dramatically but regular light mode still suffers from low contrast where the text color is almost the same as the background color. And Apple Maps still does ‘fukuro moji‘ wrong, there are too many times where there should be a black outline instead of white to make the text label readable. This issue is the perfect opportunity for AI that intelligently delivers the best display typography whatever the background is. Google Maps is remains miles ahead here and also respects user dynamic text size and bold text settings which Apple Maps completely ignores.

Transit Improvements
En-route disembark notifications are finally here but in my extensive testing, I found the design strangely inconsistent and disembark notifications unreliable. First of all Transit directions take over the screen like driving directions but only when set in iPhone but not, Apple Watch. Transfer and destination notifications are non standard app only banners that are also work differently on Apple Watch: they only show when Apple Maps is in the background.

The notification mechanism itself is GPS based and doesn’t work well in subways or big stations like Shinjuku that have notoriously bad GPS reception. Most of the time I get ‘next station disembark’ alerts after the train pulls out of Shinjuku. It’s the same story for Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Shibuya, and other major stations.

Transit directions now includes train car exit information, but real time transit and train crowding information is still missing. All of these have been on Google Maps Japan and Yahoo Japan Maps for some time and the UI is much more useful for searching transit route options.

One last time
I’ll close out this post and Apple Maps coverage with some final thoughts on the Japan product. Apple Maps reaches the 10 year mark in 2022, the ‘New Maps’ effort will be 4 years old. Things have improved for some regions but the overall level of fit and polish feels the same because the same old iOS 6 era problems lurk under the new candy coated surface. The more I use iOS 15 Apple Maps, the less I like it.

The basic malaise of Apple Maps in Japan is focus. The product team thinks that throwing questionable new features into the mix, the new cartography design, Look Around, etc., make a better product. They don’t. They don’t because each new feature is not best in class and/or doesn’t address the needs of the region. The result is a highly integrated collection of mediocre mini products and services. It doesn’t add up…the total is less than the sum of the parts.

Look Around for example: Tokyo data is from 2019 and has not been updated since then (as of this writing in October 2021) and it’s a confusing mix where some Tokyo Look Up areas incorporate POI information and some don’t. Tokyo and other major cities change quickly but the image collection effort remains very limited compared to America, Europe and Australia, Look Around isn’t keeping up, expansion is extremely slow. Guides remain an English only option, Indoor maps don’t include stations…and so it goes.

Compare that to the success of the highly focused Apple Pay Japan, a product that changed the Japanese payments landscape. Jennifer Bailey’s team built a very strong foundation and improved it from there. Instead of spreading themselves thin, Apple would do better to put new features on hold and focus on the basic foundation. Because until that happens, Apple Maps Japan, a product that refuses to name the Sea of Japan, is going nowhere.


iOS 15 Apple Maps User Reaction Gallery


Previous Apple Maps JP coverage:
iOS 15 Apple Maps wish list
Apple ‘Look Around’ Japan launch
iOS 14 Apple Maps wish list

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 more 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.