Apple Maps Japan Reboot Start Line

Apple Japan Map Data CollectionNow that the Apple Maps reboot has been announced and is starting a slow rollout in San Francisco, what kind of improvements can Japanese users expect in the months ahead? It will be a very slow rollout as Apple’s map data collection effort has only just started in Japan. Slow is good: 3rd party Japanese map data suppliers, imperfect though they may be, should only be swapped out when Apple’s own map data is properly collected, vetted and edited.

It’s clear that Apple plans to incorporate local cultural user conventions with the new map data. Matthew Panzarino:

The maps need to be usable, but they also need to fulfill cognitive goals on cultural levels that go beyond what any given user might know they need. For instance, in the U.S., it is very common to have maps that have a relatively low level of detail even at a medium zoom. In Japan, however, the maps are absolutely packed with details at the same zoom, because that increased information density is what is expected by users.

Actually Matthew they don’t. The biggest challenge of mapping Japan is presenting information density intelligently. Like a good editor who cleans up and brings clarity to a cluttered and confused article submission, a good map team intelligently edits complex information making it easy to understand and find things on the map.

I have been highly critical of the Justin O’Beirne led Apple Maps 2012 cartography design that is still in place because it’s a poor design fit for high density maps areas like Japan. Here’s a quick big 3 (Yahoo Japan Maps, Google, Apple) comparison of Shinjuku Station west exit area:

It’s easy to see that Apple Maps shows way too much stuff and overwhelms the user with information. To paraphrase Mean Girls, this is map vomit. The poor cartography design and poor editing, Apple’s misuse of ‘3C’ color coded icons for restaurants, hotels, schools, etc., gobbles up precious screen real estate forcing users to hunt for things.

Google Maps goes too far the other way and strips out too much information forcing the user to zoom in and Google’s 3C icon scheme is curiously lame.

The Yahoo Japan Maps team gets it just right with better color contrast, easy to read Japanese text labels with different sizes and intelligently deployed icons that reserve 3C icons for map search views. This is good map editing in action.

Here are possible changes I will be on the lookout for:

  • Higher contrast cartography with better Japanese text labeling
  • No map vomit: a default map view with far fewer, better designed icons and 3C icons reserved for map search
  • Intelligent indoor mapping for major Japanese stations
  • 3D mapping that doesn’t obscure surrounding map information
  • Traffic, Lane Guidance, Speed Limits and other missing iOS features of Apple Maps Japan
  • More Apple collected Japanese map information with missing pieces proved by top-tier JP map supplier Zenrin. The less 3rd rate 3rd party JP map data from Yelp, Foursquare and IPC the better
  • Destination check lists: smart transit information that updates on the fly and lets me set more than one destination

It will be slow but slow, constant intelligent updates will get Apple Maps Japan where it needs to go and finally deliver a superior map experience for Japanese iOS customers.

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Apple Is Rebuilding Maps From The Ground Up

Apple Map vans coming to Japan was just a small taste of things to come. Matthew Panzarino got the big scoop on the new Apple Maps. In addition to Apple collecting their own map data, cartography is also due for a major makeover.

Instead of doing the “Google Maps is the world standard so screw local cultural conventions” thing, Apple seems to be going out of its way to embrace them:

The maps need to be usable, but they also need to fulfill cognitive goals on cultural levels that go beyond what any given user might know they need. For instance, in the U.S., it is very common to have maps that have a relatively low level of detail even at a medium zoom. In Japan, however, the maps are absolutely packed with details at the same zoom, because that increased information density is what is expected by users.

In Japan Yahoo Japan Maps is the gold standard to beat but it looks like Apple Maps is about to get interesting again.

iPhone X Suica Problem As Opportunity

Sony founder Akio Morita, Steve Jobs’s model hero, had a unique approach with technical problems and product repair centers. Back in the day Sony maintained a large domestic walk-in repair center network in Japan. I repaired my first Sony FireWire digital video camera at one.

Technicians not only fixed customer Sony products they also evaluated the broken parts and feed the information back to the product engineers and designers. But it didn’t stop there. Sony repair technicians also listened to how customers used Sony products and what features they wanted to have.

In short Akio Morita’s Sony used repair centers as an important part of product development. Morita’s successors dropped the practice and Sony’s product development quality declined because of it.

Apple has an opportunity with the iPhone X Suica problem. They could communicate with customers while fixing the problem, find out how they use NFC on iPhone, what they like, what they want to work better. Japanese iPhone X customers could be a great resource that could help Apple build a much better iPhone NFC experience.

Instead we have silence and confused users like this one who doesn’t like the way Suica works on iPhone X and wants to switch to a Galaxy smartphone.

What a wasted opportunity.

iPhone X Suica Problem Unit? Do Not Install iOS 12 Public Beta

The public beta should be dropping soon and I’m traveling the next few weeks without connections so this public announcement is going out now: if you have an iPhone X Suica Problem unit do not install the iOS 12 public beta. Leave beta testing to developers and fools.

The current iOS 12 developer beta 2 is wreaking havoc on iPhone X Suica problem units with users reporting much higher error rates everywhere, transit gates, cash registers, vending machines, you name it. Stick with the iOS 11.4 devil you know: at least you have a 50% chance of getting through the transit gate without an error. Wait until the official release and then some. You’ll be happy you did.

Huawei Joins the FeliCa Android Party but Only in Japan

HUAWEI P20 Pro FeliCa only works on the Docomo carrier locked versionDespite the Google Pay Japan flop, Huawei made good on its promise to deliver a FeliCa capable Android smartphone for the Japanese market in 2018. The HUAWEI P20 delivers it via a Docomo carrier locked UIM card that incorporates the FeliCa Secure Element. The same approach used in Hong Kong for Octopus Mobile but not Smart Octopus for Samsung Pay.

Google Pay Suica will be the same mess on HUAWEI that it is on all other Android smartphones, and of course there is no joining the FeliCa party for inbound visitors. After all Android has yet to come up with an answer to the Global FeliCa iPhone.

I’m unsure how well any HUAWEI FeliCa device will be received by Japanese customers in light of the weird remarks that HUAWEI’s Jeff Wang made last February. We live in the age of supply chain risk so make your device choices carefully.