I should have guessed that when I found the ‘Refine Location’ icon looking at me this morning, something else was up. Indeed, a closer inspection revealed that Apple Maps activated step-by-step walking guidance in augmented reality for the Tokyo area. AR walking guidance has apparently been added for other Look Around mapped regions in Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Yokohama. There may be others but AR can only be confirmed on site.
It’s good that Apple is finally doing something more with their Japanese image collected data than just Look Around as AR walking guidance needs to be in place for iOS 16 indoor station maps to happen. As Google Maps Live has shown in Tokyo station, AR walking guidance is the perfect fit for a new kind of indoor maps that navigate users through intricate, information dense underground station mazes like Shinjuku, Tokyo and Ikebukuro, the very places where Apple Image Collection backpacks are busy collecting data. Apple is clearly up to something new, we’ll find out at WWDC22.
The video at the bottom gives an idea of using it. It certainly has entertainment value but for me there are too many left and right ‘look this way’ prompts to find the AR ‘walk this way’ arrow, even when the route is a simple straight ahead. Even so I can see how AR would be much more helpful than 2D walking guidance. Bad thing: AR guidance is limited to Look Around areas and there are many side streets not covered where AR guidance stops working in the middle of a route. Good things: location recognition is fast, guidance quickly switches back to 2D when iPhone is horizontal and toggles to AR when vertical.
2022-05-27 Update: cycling directions and Look Around expansion
A busy week for Apple Maps Japan, first AR walking directions, 2 days later we got cycling directions and long awaited Look Around expansions to Sapporo, Niigata, Shizuoka and Akashi. Cycling directions are confirmed for greater Tokyo, greater Yokohama, Kyoto and work nation wide. Google Maps Japan cycling directions do not work nation wide and are limited to specific regions.
No guarantee for cycling route quality however as Apple Maps image collection cars have not gone many places yet and image collection in Japan is very limited compared to American and European regions. The 3rd party data Apple uses for cycling has routes on streets clearly not mapped for Look Around yet offers detailed choices for fastest routes, less trafficked routes, routes with no walking sections and so on. One thing’s for sure, Uber Eats delivery part-timers will be happy to have another route direction tool for their work.
This leaves Real-Time Transit, Detailed City Experience and New Apple Map Data as the last big iOS 15 marquee features still missing from Japan. Real-Time Transit has been offered by Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps for a while now, and there are plenty of data suppliers too, so it’s likely coming considering the recent false announcement. A detailed city experience for Tokyo is certainly doable but there are deep, long running problems with the basic Japanese map data supplied by GeoTechnologies. Until Apple lines up a new major map data supplier, or seriously ramp up their own data collection and use it beyond Look Around, new maps and detailed city experiences for Japan will remain an elusive goal.