Apple continues their slow rollout of Indoor Maps for Japan. Tokyo Narita and Nagoya Chubu Airport indoor maps were added in September (Haneda and Kansai are still missing). Indoor Mall Maps have been added for a few Tokyo locations. So far I have identified Kitte, the old post office site next to Tokyo station, Ginza Six, Roppongi Hills and Omotesando Hills. There are probably more in other metropolitan areas but we won’t know until Apple updates the iOS Feature Availability page which can take forever. Underground station mall maps for important places like Tokyo, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro are missing, unfortunately. Good luck navigating those monster mazes on your own.
Apple has obviously gone for indoor mapped areas where the data is readily available from a single 3rd party source. Underground station areas have multiple sources and agencies to deal with and Apple doesn’t do much data collection in Japan yet . Until they do it will be a slow go.
It’s not clear who is supplying the data as Apple Maps Japan has only started mapping Tokyo and Increment P is still the only Japanese map source listed. Traffic has yet to be implemented so Apple Maps Japan is still very limited compared to mature full featured navigation systems which are standard equipment in almost all Japanese cars. I don’t have a car to test it right now but look forward to giving it a try on my next business trip.
OK, after a long hibernation the once and future Apple Maps cartographer head honcho Justin O’Beirne is trolling his former employer again and posted his analysis of the iOS 12 Apple Maps reboot. It is very long so here is a summary:
The Apple Maps team is collecting lots of data all by itself and processing it in India <everybody knew that already>
Apple Maps still relies too much on 3rd rate 3rd party data supplies like TomTom, Yelp, Foursquare, etc. <ditto>
Apple Maps does a poor job of coordinating, editing and vetting different sets of data. Because of this Apple Maps really sucks at labeling and placing things correctly. <duh and duh>
The most interesting bit is the footnote at the end:
O’Beirne knows his tech audience well. His ‘Google is sucking up ever more information and contributors who know how to label things for AR…how will Apple ever compete?’ line of reasoning is calculated to play well with that crowd because nobody will bother asking questions like ‘how will Google vet all those local map contributions’ and assume machine AI algorithms will take care of that along with geopolitics and human mischief. Who vets the vetters and how?
AI technology has its place of course but will never replace human understanding. A small team of smart editors can tie together maps, transit and booking into a handy service. A real team of local knowledgeable talented editors doing more with less is exactly what makes Yahoo Japan Maps a much better product than Google Maps or Apple Maps for Japanese users. Unfortunately this isn’t sexy or interesting to the Western tech crowd because it isn’t technology. So O’Beirne will continue to get the clicks and the praise. To which I can only say, another hit with the tech blogger crowd for Justin O’Beirne…you go Justin O’Beirne! It’s all great fun.
Before starting let me get this out of the way: indoor mapping on digital devices is in the stone age and basically sucks. It doesn’t matter if it’s Google, Apple or Yahoo Japan Maps. It all sucks, some less than others. That would be Yahoo Japan Maps.
Indoor maps overwhelm the user with mediocre information and detail they don’t need, map vomit, and are more confusing than helpful. Getting intelligently collected human curated high density map information and presenting it in clear, concise user-friendly fashion is a challenge, especially so for indoor maps which have to collapse 3D information into a 2D format.
As usual Yahoo Japan Maps has the most intelligent use of Japanese text, high contrast and different text sizes to emphasize significance but it ends here: Yahoo Japan Maps does not have indoor maps for airports as they have focused efforts on major train station indoor mapping instead. In terms of real everyday use, it’s the smarter choice.
Comparison closeups of Terminal 1 3rd Floor show that Apple Maps still suffers from the same old problems of using 3rd rate 3rd party data suppliers with poor vetting and coordination: some stores are located out on the tarmac. The Apple Maps reboot effort has yet to be felt in Japan.
Google Maps Terminal 1 4F
Apple Maps Terminal 1 4F, a few stores are stuck out on the tarmac.
A comparison closeup view of Terminal 1 4th Floor check in and store areas: Apple has a good idea in offering canned search buttons for Check-in, Restaurants, Cafes, restroom, etc. Unfortunately the iOS UI control puts Japanese names at the bottom of the every list and tapping a canned search button only highlights results that add another layer of visual noise. It would be much better if canned searches also hide or grey out unrelated details and offer Japanese names at the top of every list with alphabetized English names at the bottom. Meanwhile Google Maps uses the same hunt and peck ‘one size fits all’ search conventions for indoor and outdoor maps.
Apple Maps Terminal 1 Check-in, the iOS UI control unfortunately puts Japanese content at the bottom of every scroll list regardless of the Japanese iOS language setting.
Google Maps Terminal 1 Check-in area
Apple Maps Terminal 1 3rd Floor shop area: the canned search buttons are basically a good idea but should filter out unnecessary detail instead of simply highlighting search results.
Google Maps Terminal 1 3rd Floor shopping area
The standard Google area search
Realistically I cannot imagine using any of these indoor maps in real life on an iPhone screen. It’s much easier walking to an information booth or asking airport or station staff for directions. Until indoor maps and Siri get much smarter and tightly integrated with highly reliable information on the backend, I don’t see these solutions solving problems for anybody.
I do my best sleeping in trains and appreciate a transit app with destination alarms
The nightmare of every hard working Tokyo salaryman: missing the last train
Destination alerts are handy when you have a lot of station changes on your trip
Apple Maps Transit in Japan has a great transit data supplier, the same one as Google, but I don’t use it much. It’s just not that handy at finding the fastest route or cheapest route or route with the fewest transfer points, it doesn’t let me sort results or search for different train times on the fly.
For a map app the geosynchronous functions of Apple Map Transit are curiously weak. Even after engaging a route Apple Maps Transit has trouble keeping track of where it is or letting you know. Forget about geo anything if you are riding the subway, you’ll be in the dark the whole way.
Apple Maps Transit is a plodding one trick pony. That’s why everybody in Japan uses dedicated transit apps like Yahoo Japan Transit or the venerable Eki-supato (cleverly combining station-eki + expert = eki-supato, get it?). Not only do these dedicated apps find great transit routes quickly they let you sort results quickly by fare, fast, number of transit points, etc., or just quickly move to earlier~later blocks of departure times.
After you engage a route you have all kinds of granular alerts for transit points and destination points, and great geosynchronous feedback, you are here and your station is coming up. Eki-supato really knows their user base though, I mean a transit app really isn’t a Japanese transit app without “Drunk Mode” to make sure hard-working, hard-drinking salarymen don’t miss the last train home.