That Warm Fuzzy Feeling When Puppets Use Apple Pay in Japan

NTT Docomo TV ads are running in connection with the Apple Pay Japan New Life campaign. I never understood the appeal of the d CARD bird mascot puppets but the in-joke that puppets don’t have finger prints to use Touch ID and Apple Pay is clever.

The Docomo iD Apple Pay posters in Shinjuku are also appearing in Tokyo trains. That gold wrapped Docomo iD Apple Pay Yamanote train should be hitting the rails soon.

Station Codes Arrive in Yamanote Line Trains

Station codes started appearing on the in-train information screens of the Yamanote line this week. As I said before, station codes, JY 17 SJK for Shinjuku, etc., are really designed as a convenience for visitors to Japan and not for the Japanese who live here. Station announcements on the PA confirm this: English announcements uses station codes but Japanese announcements do not.

fullsizeoutput_5fb9Tokyu in-train info screens (above) have been using station codes the past few months but they have not been added to PA announcements. I don’t think they will. All in-train info screens in Japan show information in Japanese and English. Station codes just end up as unnecessary screen clutter.

The whole station code effort feels like one of those 1970’s era UNESCO projects to solve a problem that isn’t a problem. Would anybody of right mind say, ‘Hey I’ll meet you at station JY 17 SJK’?  Of course not. ‘I’ll meet you at Shinjuku station’ works best, in any language.

Apple Maps Japanese Names: The Long and Longer of It

The Apple Maps Japanese product has always suffered from poor quality local data suppliers. The situation improved a little in late 2016 with the addition of quality public transit data from Jourdan, the same Japanese supplier for Google Maps.

The bulk of the product however, map data from IPC, listings from Yelp Japan, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, etc. remains C-grade. The problem is precisely what Dr. Mike Dobson explained in 2012:

If you go back over this blog and follow my recounting of the history of Google’s attempts at developing a quality mapping service, you will notice that they initially tried to automate the entire process and failed miserably, as has Apple. Google learned that you cannot take the human out of the equation.

Has Apple learned that lesson? In Japan the answer is no. Their product still fails because they don’t have (enough? any?) Japanese humans coordinating, vetting, and editing Japanese 3rd party data.

The problem is easy to see in the unnecessarily long and verbose Japanese place-names deployed everywhere, especially in schools, hospitals, clinics, police stations, fire stations, and similar public institution names. Long place-names obscure important underlying map detail and degrade map quality. In short they get in the way of what you are looking for.

Problem Place Names
Here is a standard view of Ikegami, Tokyo from Apple, Google and Yahoo Japan. Right away you see that Apple uses much longer place names.

The Japanese name for Ikegami General Hospital have been underlined in all three. Note the different text string lengths:

  • Apple Maps: 15 kanji characters
  • Google Maps: 6 kanji characters
  • Yahoo Japan Maps: 6 kanji characters

The actual Ikegami General Hospital sign pictured below has the same six big bold kanji characters used in Google and Yahoo Japan maps. The extraneous information of the smaller kanji characters above the bold name is what Apple Maps uses in place-name.

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The proper way to display extraneous information is where it belongs, the info card, not directly on the map.

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Long form place-names belong on the info card and not on the map. It also helps to have better quality data suppliers than Yelp Japan.

The Fix
Unfortunately the fix is not so simple as reporting a map issue. Even if you do submit a map correction, in my experience there is a 50-50 chance any correction will be lost when the data supplier refreshes the data set, or when Apple switches out the data point from different supplier.

The only way to fix the problem is the old-fashioned human way: an experienced team of editors who know how to intelligently edit Japanese map names for every situation.

It comes down to two questions: is this something Apple wants to do for the Japanese product, and is the effort sustainable?