Apple flipped the switch for Apple Maps Japan ‘new maps’ with Look Around for Tokyo and other locations in greater Osaka and Nagoya, and vastly improved 2.0 map details nationwide. During the initial rollout users outside of Japan may not see all the changes. Initial navigation tests indicate turn by turn incorporates the new date for better directions. Siri also seems to have gained improved guidance with finer details: turn left, walk over the bridge, etc. Taken altogether, the new maps, improved Siri guidance, the new higher quality Japanese Siri voices and other Siri improvements make iOS 14 a very nice upgrade.
Tokyo area parks like Shinjuku Gyoen and Yoyogi are packed with new Apple Maps 2.0 details. A quick examination reveals Look Around is pretty much limited to roadside views. Major walking data collection efforts are still ongoing across Japan through October and will be very important in rounding out both the feature set and improving navigation in later updates. I will be checking locations around Japan and updating this post throughout the day.
It looks like the Apple Maps team worked very hard to get this major update ready in time for the, now postponed, Tokyo Olympics. It’s great that Apple Maps Japan users can enjoy the benefits of the effort and the fact that Japan is the first country outside of the USA to get Look Around and Apple Maps 2.0.
Apple Maps Japan can’t catch a break. Traffic has been available since September 2019 but only got listed on the feature availability page last week, June 2020. Handa International Airport is currently listed for indoor maps but the data isn’t there. And so it goes for the Apple Maps 2.0 reboot. Here is a quick list of missing features along with some new feature requests.
There are several iOS 13 Apple Maps features that have not made it to Japan:
More accurate detail is welcome but I don’t think Apple can ever get the whole picture by themselves. Google Maps real genius is it’s deft ability to synthesize disparate data suppliers in a seamlessly whole service. Apple Maps biggest single failure, from day one to today, is it’s utter inability to synthesize various data suppliers into a solid service.
It’s a chunky clunky Japanese product, from eternally 3rd rate map data from IPC on down to Foursquare. Top Japanese map data supplier Zenrin is the logical choice especially since Google dropped them, but Apple doesn’t seem inclined to switch, nor could they intelligently integrate it.
Look Around It would be very nice to have this feature in Japan.
Junction View Navigating complicated elevated expressways in urban areas isn’t just in mainland China, it’s been a fact of Japanese urban driving since the 1960s’. Junction View like navigation has been standard in Japanese navigation systems for a long time, it should be standard in Apple Maps too.
Real-time transit Another no-brainer transit feature for Japan, but Japan is a low priority and the transit system is complex. There are plenty of transit data suppliers but given Apple Maps limited ability to integrate different transit data sets, I think it will be a long time before we see the addition of real-time transit in Japan, if ever.
There are small tweaks Apple could make to transit directions that would make them much more useful such as transfer station platform numbers and crowd conditions, features that Google and Yahoo Japan have offered for a long time.
Adaptive transit times: car and walk navigation is adaptive: if you take a different road the navigation route updates automatically. Transit directions need to be adaptive too.
Crowding information: Yahoo Japan offers crowd heat maps for locations, both Yahoo Japan and Google Japan maps offer rudimentary transit crowd information. In the COVID era crowd information for transit and locations is a must have feature.
Improved Apple Watch transit integration: Apple Watch turn by turn navigation integration with iPhone is excellent but transit integration is weak and passive. The current iOS 13/watchOS 6 version ‘sits on the wrist’ without alerts, haptic feedback or much interaction, and it’s brain dead after switching to another watch app.
Indoor/Underground Station Maps: Last but not least real indoor maps for vital station hubs covering Tokyo, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Osaka, Namba, etc.
Offline navigation: Apple Maps turn by turn won’t be completely reliable unless it navigates in expressway tunnels instead of dying.
Some Japanese Twitter users have noticed and are complaining (tongue in cheek faux angry Greta style) that Apple Maps no longer displays the Sea of Japan name in English or Japanese language settings. It may be connected with recent South Korean moves to get international recognition of ‘East Sea’ instead of, or in conjunction with Sea of Japan. For reference Yahoo Japan Maps does not list any sea names, while Google Maps sticks with Sea of Japan but Google uses different place naming depending on the device region setting.
Apple might be preparing to follow the Google Map naming method with updated map assets, it might not, we shall see. Whatever the reason, removing a place name altogether is one way to avoid having to deal with a problem of what to call said place.
Yahoo Japan Maps has the best cartography in Japan in comparison with Apple and Google and remains the local leader. They are the only major map that gets notoriously difficult map places like Shinjuku station just right for road and rail navigation. No fuss, no layer on/off nonsense. And they keep improving things like the latest cartography tweaks. Compare today’s Shinjuku station screenshots at the same zoom level and see for yourself:
Japan App Store reviews are fun to read because the Japanese write wonderfully scathing reviews. Never ‘this sucks’, but a numbing dry, oh so super dry analysis of everything wrong. Every last detail. It’s the ultimate put down kiss off because, while Japanese are endlessly forgiving of honest mistakes, they have zero tolerance for professional ‘I know better than you’ fools who make mistakes.
So they are, rightfully, ripping the CASHLESS iOS/Google Play Rebate Map app for being useless with a parade of one star reviews. Too bad the App Store doesn’t come with a zero review star. I have used the iOS app these past few days and it suffers the same problem of Apple Maps Japan Point of Interest mess: unreliable data, poorly managed, seldom updated.
Case in point, the Cafe Colorado in Ikegami is listed in the CASHLESS map for credit cards only, but the store owner got AirPay just for the CASHLESS program and proudly displays the full range of cashless options next to the register with the CASHLESS 2% rebate logo. He has assured me that all options are good for the rebate.
But the receipts do not show any sign of a rebate. This might be normal for a post-transaction rebate via JRE POINT, it might not. It might be a AirPay problem. I called the CASHLESS Rebate program customer support line and was instantly connected to a person with no voice machine option nonsense. The support person was nice and quickly said the map data is not current, the best course of action is asking the store. I called again and talked with another nice support person who basically gave me the same answer. Neither answer was the one I was looking for. A mystery to be solved another day.
A Japanese friend complained about the CASHLESS rebate program so far, “How does the Japanese government expect people to use cashless when it’s serving up so much stupid with it.” Very well put, the once mighty Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) tripped and fell on a stupid stick gouging out their collective brain. Let’s hope they find it and start serving up some common sense. Until then, forget the CASHLESS smartphone map and stick with the ground truth.
UPDATE: According to Japanese media news reports the maps mess is not a METI mistake, many settlement companies input wrong data sets into the maps database and now it has to be sorted out. Hopefully sooner than later.