Apple Maps Japan rolls out Look Around and Improved Map features (Updated)

Look Around is available in the greater Tokyo Kanto, Osaka Kansai and Nagoya areas in purple.. Green areas indicate Apple Maps 2.0 data updates nationwide

Apple flipped the switch for Apple Maps Japan ‘improved maps’ with Look Around for Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, and new map details nationwide. 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, improved maps, improved Siri guidance, the new higher quality Japanese Siri voices and other Siri improvements will make iOS 14 a 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 pedestrian 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.

The Tokyo Olympics Update
The Apple Maps team worked 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 Japan is the first country outside of the USA to get Look Around and Apple Maps 2.0 improved map data.


Look Around Impressions and Reactions
The Japanese online reaction to Look Around has been largely positive. People seem impressed with the quality, the level of detail and the ease of use compared with Google Maps Japan Street View. The biggest complaints are, ‘I want it in my area too’, a good complaint to have, and ‘this street data is already out of date’, which is not. Things move quickly in Tokyo, the Look Around imagery is from spring~summer 2019 and people already notice the age.

Tokyo in particular has a lot of rebuilding going on in residential areas. I don’t know if this is because of the Olympics or cheap interest rates, but everywhere I see yet another building with scaffolding going up around it for demolition or makeover. Keeping Look Around up to date in Tokyo will be a challenge.

While main streets are covered well, the vast maze of Tokyo side streets have yet to be mapped and pedestrian maps are missing altogether for public areas like parks, shrines and temples all of which Google Street Maps comprehensively covers. Use Look Around on iPhone for a bit and you soon feel the ‘you can’t go there’ haptic feedback bump. Look Around Tokyo is off to a good start but has a long way to go.

And I still see evidence of long standing Apple Maps Japan data problems, in particular the weak Increment P supplied data. Even with all the great new image collection, ground truth checks will be a problem: it can’t be done with AI or from a car, and Increment P simply does’t have the quality manpower to do it.

This is where Zenrin would be a huge help, as they field a ground truth human team with no equal. Having Zenrin on board instead of Increment P would really truly make Apple Maps Japan, the dope choice.


Apple Maps Japan 2.0: New Improved Maps is not new
Apple Maps Japan 2.0 is a tossup. Look Around is off to a good start but limited, and people complain about mislabeled places from poor quality 3rd party data suppliers which drags down Look Around quality. The more you use it the less it looks or feels like a comprehensive update. Justin O’Beirne posted a before and after collection of Apple Maps Japan screen shots.

As a former member of the Apple Maps cartography team, O’Beirne has helpful insights into the differences between the Apple collected and created ‘Improved Map’ cartography 2.0 update rolled out in the USA. His conclusion is that all of the new details are from Japanese map data supplier Increment P (IPC), not Apple image collection vans. This update is not a true Apple Maps 2.0 update. This is correct but not the whole story.

As I have pointed out in many posts over the years, and as an Apple Maps team member admitted to me, there were two basic long standing problems:

  1. Despite being a subsidiary of Pioneer, the P in Increment P, IPC data has never been a strong 1st tier quality map data supplier like Zenrin. Japanese users have complained that IPC takes years to update road and train station information. The further out from metropolitan areas, the weaker IPC map data becomes. This is something Apple can only fix by using a new supplier which they have not done.
  2. Apple only used a subset of IPC map data mixed with OpenStreet map data. For years IPC pushed Apple to integrate all available IPC supplied data more effectively, it seems they finally worked things out and did this.

Apple Maps Japan 2.0 Summary
The Apple Maps Japan update consists of: (1) the Apple created Look Around and, (2) finally incorporates the full set of IPC map data that Apple should have been using all along. Even though the map data and cartography is not Apple collected, they consider this a full blown ‘Improved Map’ update:

iOS 14 Maps ‘New Features’ splash screen

Look Around and a map refresh add up to a big update for Apple Maps Japan but it’s really just a new starting point. Apple image collection vans and walkers can only do so much and are hamstrung by the weak points of the Apple Maps team itself, in particular the poor integration of local data suppliers.

What is Apple aiming for in the long run? To equal or better Google Maps Japan and Yahoo Maps Japan? Or just be a better me-too map? Time will tell but the seven year 2012~2019 run suggests the latter. The Apple Maps Japan makeover challenge is just beginning.

iOS 14 Apple Maps Japan Wish List: filling the blanks (Updated)

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.

Missing Pieces

There are several iOS 13 Apple Maps features that have not made it to Japan:

Apple Maps 2.0 and Look Around (Updated)
New maps were rolled out in America in January 2020 with Europe slated next. A rollout for Japan has not been announced but Apple Maps vans and walkers are in the field working on it. Justin O’Beirne posted screenshots of Apple Maps’ cartography evolution from 2013~2019. The basic design language for urban areas hasn’t really changed the entire time. Cartography for Japanese urban areas is already drowning in detail and screams for an overhaul to make it intelligent and easy to use: a more unified cartography that does a better job of incorporating transit instead of useless separate ‘views’.

More accurate detail is always welcome but I don’t think Apple can ever get the whole picture by themselves especially with the 2nd rate Japanese map data supplier they currently use. 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 2nd rate map data from Increment P (IPC) on down to 3rd rate Foursquare JP. 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.

August 2020 UPDATE
Apple Maps updated Japan maps with Look Around for the greater Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya areas, and a full set of IPC data which has been available all these years, but Apple didn’t, or couldn’t, integrate it for some reason until now. Whether Apple call this ‘new maps’ or not isn’t clear. And at any rate it is not Apple collected map data.

Justin O’Beirne: The Evolution of Apple Maps’s Cartography

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.


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.


New Features

The iOS 14 Apple Maps wish list has some repeats from the 2019 wish list:

  • 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.

Siri Adds Japan Transit Directions

I’m not exactly sure when Siri added Japan Transit directions, but it didn’t work 3 weeks ago. I had basically given up hope on this Apple Maps wish list item, but had some free time today to kill with Apple Watch and viola. Transit directions. Transit is tricky because place names, especially Japanese place names and directions, depend on the context. For example when I asked iPhone Siri for the ‘next train to Gotanda’, I got a few route options to a place in Iwate prefecture. When I asked for the ‘next train to Gotanda station‘, iPhone Siri got it right. Apple Watch Siri however got it right every time.

Based on Siri tests in JP language mode so far, it seems like a solid service addition that users will find useful. I suspect it will be a very nice fit with AirPods Pro and will give it the noisy station acid test. It will be interesting to see online reactions and analysis from Japanese users. It will also be interesting to see if or when Apple announces transit directions for Siri. Traffic has been showing for months in Apple Maps Japan with no official listing on the iOS feature availability page.

The sea of no name

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 a boneheaded move to avoid having to deal with a problem of what to call said place.

Apple Maps 2.0 not coming to Japan for Tokyo Olympics

Apple finally delivered Apple Maps 2.0 for all users in the United States, one month past their original ‘end of 2019’ deadline. The press release showcases the new details and includes a Eddie Cue quote about what’s next for Apple Maps 2.0: “We look forward to bringing this new map to the rest of the world starting with Europe later this year.” Europe later this year doesn’t jive with Apple’s earlier WWDC19 promise to deliver a Tokyo Olympics ready Apple Maps. When it comes to all things Apple Maps, a promise is the plastic twisty for tying up the garbage bag of broken dreams.

Since Apple only made that promise to a few Japanese journalists instead of English language media, perhaps it doesn’t matter. If they are serious however, Apple can still deliver a limited sub-set of Apple Maps 2.0 features that would be very useful for iOS users in time for the July 24~August 9 event.

Real-time transit
Forget the the real time label nonsense, Google Maps is far better delivering real important Tokyo transit details from the same suppliers that Apple does not: station platform numbers, optimum car exit positions, crowd status, and last but not least refreshable transit search results. No more dead data. Better Tokyo area public transit information is the single most important and useful map item that Apple needs to improve.

Apple can also improve the service with better transit integration between iPhone and Apple Watch. Apple Watch would be far more useful with turn by turn like notifications for transit. The current version of Apple Watch transit goes off the rails whenever iPhone Apple Maps is in the background.

Indoor Maps
Apple Indoor Maps are limited to airports and malls, nice but not very useful. Major stations like Tokyo, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Shinagawa, etc. must be added as they will major travel points during the Olympics. These areas are the Godzilla of indoor mapping: they are massive, insanely dense structures. Google Maps and Yahoo Japan maps don’t do it particularly well, but at least it is there and Google Maps has multi-lingual support which Yahoo Japan Maps does not.

The most reliable inbound smartphone transit combo for getting around Tokyo during the Olympics remains Apple Pay Suica and Google Maps.

August 2020 UPDATE
Apple Maps updated Japan maps with Look Around for the greater Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya areas, and a full set of IPC data which has been available all these years, but Apple didn’t, or couldn’t, integrate it for some reason until now. Whether Apple call this ‘new maps’ or not isn’t clear. And at any rate it is not Apple collected map data.